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Play It with Music

Some thoughts engendered by the soundtrack album -- yes, that?s right! -- of the Broadway version of The Graduate. logo

Saw The Graduate and enjoyed it very much. Liked that it wasn't just the movie on stage and that adapter Terry Johnson added about 30% new material but was able to match the voice that novelist Charles Webb and screenwriter Buck Henry used. Liked that the character of Elaine was changed to a completely different type of young woman but someone just as valid. Liked Kathleen Turner, though I do think she's come to resemble Susan Johnson, the musical comedy quasi-diva we adored in the late '50s and early '60s in The Most Happy Fella, Donnybrook, Oh, Captain!, and, of course, Whoop-Up. (Actually, Turner's 2002 face suggests she'd also be ideal as Maggie in a revival of Bringing up Father, the musical version of that venerable comic strip.)

What did surprise me was how little of the show's incidental music matched the soundtrack album of the show. (Yes, soundtrack: While we all know that a stage property can have an original cast album and a movie property may have a soundtrack, here's a rare case--like Contact--where a stage show does have a soundtrack because the songs in the show aren't sung by the performers. Rather, they are recordings played over the theater's sound system.)

Anyway, The Graduate is one of comparatively few properties to get two soundtracks: the platinum seller from the 1967 film and the new one from Sony Columbia Legacy. But I believe I only heard five of the 15 songs on the album actually played during the show. I may have missed one or two, but I know I didn't hear "Moon River," "A Summer Place," or "Red Rubber Ball." Still, with hits like "Wouldn't It Be Nice?" "California Dreamin'" and, of course, those Simon & Garfunkel standards included, it's a pleasant little album for those of us who grew up liking '60s pop music or for young 'uns who have come to admire it.

(By the way, we may yet have an original cast album of The Graduate. About 15 years or so ago, Bob Merrill, the songwriter who started out on Broadway with great successes (New Girl in Town, Take Me Along, Carnival!, and Funny Girl) before achieving far less prosperity with other shows (Breakfast at Tiffany's, Henry, Sweet Henry, Prettybelle, Sugar, The Prince of Grand Street, and Hannah ...1939), wrote the score and book for a musical version of the property. Nothing ever came of it, but you know as well as I that old musicals never die and don't necessarily fade away; there's always someone to dust them off and try to make them work. Would Wright and Forrest have believed anyone who said in 1958, after their At the Grand closed out of town, that the show would emerge as Grand Hotel 31 years later and become one of Broadway's grandest musicals?)

The idea of an album of songs used in a play started me thinking how nice it would be if we had albums that included other songs that have enhanced straight plays over the years. Here I mean songs, unlike The Graduate's, that were specifically written for shows. We're now getting to hear one of the best of these courtesy of the new Bernadette Peters Loves Rodgers and Hammerstein CD. The esteemed team wrote "I Haven't a Worry in the World" for Happy Birthday, an Anita Loos play they produced in 1946. Peters does a lovely rendition of the song that comes to the conclusion, "My heart is in a flurry; my pulse is in a hurry, but I haven't got a worry in the world." Actually, I'm surprised this wasn't a smash hit single in those post-war times, as it was the perfect song for a country that had just finished vanquishing its enemies and was truly sitting on top of the world.

Of course, some songs from plays have been recorded. For the 1962 Garson Kanin flop Come on Strong, which Van Johnson and Carroll Baker played for 32 performances, Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn wrote a title song that was recorded by Lena Horne. RCA Victor released it as the B-side of a single of "Where Is Love?" because Oliver! was the hot incoming show then. (I used to have this record but, in 1977, when I saw that an Off-Off-Broadway production of Come on Strong was being mounted, I called the theater out of the goodness of my heart and told them they could borrow the record if they needed it. They had no idea the song even existed and were thrilled to get the single--so thrilled, in fact, that they never returned it. And they didn't even offer me comps to see the show. You'd think I'd learn from that, but no: Some years later, when an Off-Off-Broadway production of Loot was being mounted, I called the company to say I had a copy of the theme used in the 1968 Broadway production (an instrumental by The Looters). And what happened? Same song, second verse.

Then there was "Any Wednesday" from Any Wednesday, the 1964 hit comedy that won a Tony for Sandy Dennis. Had Dennis stayed with the show, we wouldn't have this song sung by...yes, Barbara Cook, whose rare non-musical appearance in the show caused the producers to add a song for her. The song wasn't heard in the play itself, but was used just to promote it. (I mentioned this tune in my very first TheaterMania column and attributed it to Bock and Harnick, for that's what I read in the book I used as a reference. Plenty of readers wrote in to say it was the work of Albert Hague. Now I know!)

When Stephen Schwartz got to town in 1969, his agent told him that there would be a production of a new comedy called Butterflies Are Free and that, if he had the time or the inclination, he could write a song for the show and she'd submit it to the creative staff. Fledgling songwriters, take note: Schwartz did just that, never dreaming he'd be the winner. But he was, and his lovely little "Butterflies Are Free" was heard not only in all 1,128 Broadway performances of the play but also in the 1972 film version. It's been recorded a number of times.

Other songs from plays have not been so lucky. We've had no new Bock and Harnick score since 1970, so couldn't we at least get the title song they wrote for Never Too Late, the 1962 smash-hit comedy that cracked 1,000 performances at the Playhouse (the now-razed theater on West 48th Street where "Springtime for Hitler" played in the 1968 movie version of The Producers)? Or maybe we could get the title number they penned for Enter Laughing in 1963--not to be confused with the rather nice song heard in the 1966 film, for which Quincy Jones provided the music.

Terrence McNally's excellent It's Only a Play actually began life as Broadway, Broadway in 1978 but closed in Philadelphia. Back then, it had a title song with music by future Nunsense auteur Dan Goggin. No recording, though. And none for either "Banana Oil" or "The Soft Shoe Freak," which Carrie Fisher sang in Censored Scenes from King Kong in 1980 at the Princess Theatre on 48th Street and Broadway, where a Ramada Inn now sits. Given that I'm the world's biggest fan of The Grass Harp, I'd also love to hear the seven songs that its composer Claibe Richardson wrote for The Curse of the Aching Heart, the 1982 melodrama in which Faye Dunaway starred.

Jonathan Hogan
Others on my wish-list: "Your Lovin' Eyes," which actor Jonathan Hogan wrote for Fifth of July, the 1978 play in which he was then performing. "We're in a Salad," a nifty Christopher Durang parody of "We're in the Money" from his woefully underappreciated 1978 work A History of the American Film. "Where's the Devil in Evelyn?" John Guare's hellishly clever pastiche for The House of Blues Leaves. John Sebastian's jaunty title tune for Murray Schisgal's 1968 play Jimmy Shine. (I can still see the chorus swarming around Dustin Hoffman and singing, "He can do it ev'ry time, he can do it ev'ry time, the original Jimmy Shi-i-i-i-ne.") In William Goldman's The Season, he mentions that a newspaper columnist reported that Jeff Barry's songs for The Freaking out of Stephanie Blake were going over so well in previews that Barry would write some more. Because the play closed before it opened, most of us never got to hear either the old or the new ones. And I'd like to hear "Keep It in the Family," the title song that Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields wrote for the 1967 flop that had been a roaring London success under the title Spring and Port Wine. (I can't help wondering if this was the same song they wrote for Sweet Charity that was originally in the spot eventually taken by "The Rhythm of Life.")

But the song from a non-musical that really needs a definitive recording is "Hollywood and Vine" from George Furth's 1971 hit Twigs. There's no question that Sada Thompson was brilliant in all four of Furth's one-act plays, but what perhaps made her Tony inevitable was her performance of this song as a housewife who was once a showgirl and is now reminiscing by singing her big hit in her kitchen to an unappreciative husband. When I saw the show in its Boston tryout, there was no mention in the program that Sondheim had written the number, but I smugly inferred from its oh-so-clever lyrics that he had to have been responsible for it. For weeks, I told everyone who'd listen that it just had to be a Sondheim song; he and Furth had just worked together the year before on Company, so what further circumstantial evidence did anyone need? You can imagine how humbled I was when I found that, yes, Sondheim provided the music...but the charming lyric that I felt had his name written all over it was actually provided by Furth. Mea culpa!


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

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