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Musical Cross-Pollination

Cross-pollination in the musicals of Cole Porter and others results in some wonderful surprises. logo

Cole Porter
Went to Cole Porter's Fifty Million Frenchmen, Musicals Tonight's latest staged reading on East 14th Street. I was most amused at this pre-Oklahoma! show where a few words of dialogue were all that anyone expected as a lead-in to a song. But what most amused me was something Porter put in a song called "Do You Want to See Paris?" For after tour guide Peter (fetchingly played by Julian Rebolledo, by the way) pointed out the Arc de Triomphe and said "it was built in 1805 by Napoleon the Great," the chorus of tourists all sang, " 'Swonderful! 'Smarvelous!" to the tune of the famous Gershwin song.

I love cross-pollination in musicals--where one show cites another. And though Porter was doing it in 1929, it still hasn't gone out of fashion. Witness Leo Bloom in The Producers yelling out, "Stop the world--I want to get on!" What's interesting is that The Producers is set in 1959, a year before Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse started work on Stop the World--I Want to Get Off.

Both in Rent and tick, tick ... BOOM! Jonathan Larson paid homage to his mentor, Stephen Sondheim. The former show just mentions Sondheim as a lyric in "La vie bohème" but the latter has a song called "Sunday (in the blue silver chromium diner)." Larson was not the first to pay homage to Sondheim: David Zippel, in The Goodbye Girl, did it twice through Elliot Garfield, who mentioned Sweeney Todd in one song and referred to a clever lyric as being a "Sondheimlich maneuver" in another.

Sondheim isn't above the practice, either. He cites three Broadway hits in Merrily We Roll Along when he mentions that Frank and Charley's musical is bigger than "Fiddler and Funny Girl and Dolly combined." The composer-lyricist of Follies also references a very different type of Follies in his Sunday in the Park with George. Finally, he isn't above stealing from himself when, in Assassins, Sam Byck sings a little of "America" from West Side Story.

Plenty of writers have borrowed from themselves. When Conrad was brought back in Bring Back Birdie, lyricist Lee Adams had him drop in his first song the phrase "Honestly Sincere"--which was, of course, a song from Bye Bye Birdie. In Something for the Boys, Cole Porter had his heroine, Blossom Hart, after learning that she's inheriting hundreds of acres in Texas, say, "I'm ridin' high!"--referring to his 1936 song hit in Red, Hot and Blue. Later, two years after Porter wrote "Too Darn Hot" for Kiss Me, Kate, he inserted its title phrase both musically and lyrically into Out of This World's "I Got Beauty." He also paid homage to his pal Irving Berlin by having the god Mercury tell how he went to Call Me Madam, where he did nestle Essel Merman.

Lorenz Hart did it, too. He mentioned Babes in Arms in both "You Took Advantage of Me" and the verse to "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered." And in "This Can't Be Love" in The Boys from Syracuse, Hart wrote: "My heart does not stand still"--an apparent reference to his "My Heart Stood Still" in A Connecticut Yankee. Four years after Hart died, Rodgers and Hammerstein inserted Rodgers and Hart's "Mountain Greenery" into a dance sequence in Allegro.

You wouldn't know it from the cast album of Applause, but the show's title song had a sequence that cited Hello, Dolly!, Cabaret ("What good is singing without no applause?"), West Side Story, The Boy Friend, Fiddler on the Roof, Funny Girl ("Nobody, but nobody, is gonna step on my applause!"), Oklahoma!...and Oh! Calcutta!, at which point some actor/waiters removed their pants and underwear and showed us their bare bottoms. (When a TV version of Applause was done in the mid-'70s, the cameras cut to the customers putting up their hands to block their eyes and the eyes of others. None of us saw the guys' naked buns.)

Speaking of such matters, I'm reminded of two other citations. In Sail Away, one of the passengers says the movie he wants to see is "Joshua Logan's Fanny on a wide-screen." Then, in a topical 1975 revue called Tuscaloosa's Calling Me ... But I'm Not Going, Patti Perkins played a tourist who came to New York and, as she sang, "I went to the village where I saw this show / The actors were vital and alive / I can't for the life of me think of its title / It was something like Let My Folks Arrive." The actual title, of course, was Let My People Come; that show ran Off-Broadway then and almost forever because it featured frankly sexual themes and a good deal of nudity. Which brings us to Ms. Perkins' ultimate point of what she saw when she attended the show: "And their things were out, yes, their things were out. Really, I'm not kidding--their things were out." Leading her to eventually conclude that "Things aren't what they used to be!"

But my favorite example of one musical citing another is actually an inadvertent one. In 1964, in Ben Franklin in Paris, in "Look for Small Pleasures," Ben, played by Robert Preston, asks Countess Diane to marry him. After she says, "Franklin! Do you mean it?" he answers, "I do! I do!"--which just happened to be the name of the next musical Robert Preston would do.


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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