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Can Filichia find musical theater references to all 50 states? Need you ask?

By New York City
On my flight home from Sacramento, I perused the in-flight magazine and eventually got to the inevitable page with the map that shows all the places to which the airline flies. When I saw Oklahoma, I of course thought of Oklahoma! -- just as, when I saw Montana, I thought of the eleven o'clock number in Whoop-Up that starts, "Montana -- who needs it?" (I daresay that this little ditty will never become the state song of Montana.)

There was Arkansas, which was celebrated in song by Roger Miller in his 1985 musical Big River; Maine, which was a song with both words and music by Richard Rodgers in No Strings; and Texas, where there was once a little whorehouse. Utah reminded me of The Girl from Utah, the musical that featured Jerome Kern's first monster hit song, "They Didn't Believe Me."

It started me thinking: We always hear that the musical is the quintessential American art form, but does it celebrate each of America's 50 states? Oklahoma, Montana, Arkansas, Maine, Texas, Utah -- that's six. I can quickly get the figure up to 19 by adding the first 13 states that joined the union, all of which are mentioned in 1776. But did you know that these 13 were also set to music in the 1964 musical Ben Franklin in Paris? The opening song has the U.S. Marines singing, "We come from Massachusetts, old New Hampshire, Carolinas; Rhode Island and Connecticut, Georgia, Jersey and New York; Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware." To those who always make fun of New Jersey, may I point out that composer Mark Sandrich, Jr. reserved his highest note for the word "Jersey?"

Many states are mentioned in "A Patriotic Finale," the heavenly production number that ends the first act of the 1996 Off-Broadway show Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly. In addition to some I've already noted, add Colorado, Mississippi, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Illinois. All are very wittily used (God bless Mark Waldrop for the invention he showed in this lyric), and if you don't know how, don't expect me to spoil the fun. Just go out and get the show's original cast album -- whatever state you're in. When Pigs Fly also contains a new take on "The Hawaiian Wedding Song," which crosses another state off our list. That makes 27 I've mentioned so far. As Ruth Sherwood might say, "23 states to go." Hey -- speaking of Ruth Sherwood, there's "Ohio" in Wonderful Town. So we actually have only 22 states to go.

Almost 50 years before the opening of When Pigs Fly -- in 1948 -- a Broadway musical titled Inside U.S.A. featured Howard Dietz's hellishly clever lyric for a song that begins with "Copper comes from Arizona" before coming to the conclusion that "Rhode Island Is Famous for You." Before all is sung and done, Kansas, Louisiana, Idaho, Missouri, and Nevada are also mentioned, as well as some I've already noted. The song also includes "Dakota" without specifying North or South, but I'm going to take the liberty of counting the reference for both states. Almost but not quite mentioned is Wyoming. (What do I mean by "almost but not quite?" Again, I'll keep mum so as not to spoil the lyric's surprise for you; savor its pleasures yourself by getting your hands on Michael Feinstein's Live at the Algonquin CD and listening to his terrific rendition of the song.)

Wyoming does get mentioned in "I'm a Bad, Bad Man," originally in Annie Get Your Gun: "There's a girl in Wyoming, and they're combing Wyoming..." That gives us only a dozen states to go. Song titles can help: "Florida" from Tip-Toes, "Michigan Water" from Jelly's Last Jam, "Minnesota Strip" from Runaways, and "Casamagordo, New Mexico" from Look to the Lilies. The Music Man provides us with two ("Iowa Stubborn" and "Gary, Indiana") as does Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill ("The Alabama Song" and "Deep in Alaska"). And the big state in which you'll find "Grant Avenue," San Francisco -- i.e., California, USA -- is mentioned in Flower Drum Song.

Now we have only three states to go. Oregon? Well, in The Most Happy Fella, Joey mentions "a perfumed woman...smellin' of Oregon cherries." Washington? While there are both "The Washington Square Dance" from Call Me Madam and "The Washington Twist" from Mr. President, these refer not to Washington state but to the District of Columbia -- though that little sliver of land must be part of our survey, too. While I can't think of any song that mentions Washington state by name, there is "See Seattle" from Jennie, Mary Martin's 1963 fiasco.

So what's left? Just Vermont. While I was searching my brain for a reference to the Green Mountain State in a musical, I remembered once reading in USA Today that those who advertise foodstuffs love to use the word "Vermont" as an adjective because the word itself suggests wholesomeness. Small wonder that no musical has ever gone near the place!

But wait: Somehwere in the back of my brain, I recall hearing that John Latouche died in Vermont. Did Erik Haagensen include this fact in Taking a Chance on Love, his nifty revue of the lyricist's life? When I returned home, I called Haagensen to ask. He wasn't in and I decided not to leave a message -- but wouldn't you know that I ran into him at Taboo (which isn't remotely the disaster we'd been led to expect) and he said that, indeed, Vermont was mentioned in the Latouche show. By that time, I'd also remembered that, while Hazel Flagg has that wonderful song "Every Street's a Boulevard in Old New York," the action starts in Vermont.

Yes indeed, the musical makes good on its claim to being a quintessential American art form by representing every state from sea to shining sea.

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[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at pfilichia@aol.com]


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