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Ride-Outs, Play-Offs, Tabs, and Fade Outs

In celebration of the ingenuity of orchestrators, Filichia fawns over the ''ride-outs'' in Seesaw, Bar Mitzvah Boy, and a bevy of other musicals. logo

Got a nice e-mail from noted orchestrator Larry Blank, who was grateful that, in my recent piece on Bar Mitzvah Boy, I mentioned Irwin Kostal's terrific orchestrations. "I was Irwin Kostal's protégé and kind of a surrogate son," Mr. Blank wrote. "We met when I was conductor for Copperfield. He guided me to Los Angeles and encouraged me to orchestrate and arrange rather than to continue in the (orchestra) pits of New York. He continued to look over my shoulder until the day he died. He always thought 'The Sun Shines Out of Your Eyes' to be one of Jule Styne's finest songs...Jule also offered Irv Do Re Mi in 1960, but Irv turned it down because he was very busy with television, so doing this musical would've put him into the next tax bracket! (At least, that's the story he told me.)"

I wrote back to wax even more rhapsodic on Kostal's work on Bar Mitzvah Boy, and also mentioned how much I love what happens at the end of Thou Shalt Not: After everyone has finished singing, the trumpets keep playing a wonderfully intoxicating series of syncopated notes. I always refer to this type of thing as a "ride-out," though I don't know where I picked up that term or even if it's accurate. I wrote Mr. Blank that I'd love to know the correct term for those wonderful notes that the orchestra (most often trumpets) plays at the end of "So Long, Dearie" in Hello, Dolly! and "I Want to Be Seen with You Tonight" in Funny Girl.

He immediately wrote back: "Ride-out is a vaudeville term and is correct. Sometimes the term 'play-off' is used, too -- though usually the play-off is a separate piece that follows. In the United Kingdom, they call them 'tabs,' because the curtain/tabs would come in for the scene change. I have to admit that the end of the Sarava title song was my invention. I did the show in workshop when I was a youngster in 1979. The end of 'I Want to be Seen with You' is a typical ride-out, but another good one is at the end of 'You Don't Tell Me' in No Strings."

I'd add "Be My Host" from the same show to the list of memorable ride-outs. Orchestrator Ralph Burns was, I presume, responsible for both -- though you never really know, do you? Perhaps there are times when the composer at his piano might provide the actual tune of the ride-out, which the orchestrator just embellishes. In the case of "Nobody Thought of It But Me," a rouser from the 1973 British musical The Card, the composer and orchestrator were one and the same: Tony Hatch. So we know whom to give credit for this terrific ride-out. (No -- tab, I should say, given that it's a British show.)

Don Walker
Could it be that Jule Styne provided his own ride-outs? Lord knows that so many of his tunes have great ones. So, shall we thank Styne or his orchestrators for the ones that conclude "I Want to Be Seen With You" (Ralph Burns), "I'm Goin' Back" (Robert Russell Bennett) in Bells Are Ringing, or "It's Legitimate" (Luther Henderson) in Do Re Mi. The last-named item begs the question: If Kostal had taken the job, would he have provided as good a ride-out? And did Kostal or Robert Ginzler, both of whom got orchestrator credit for Gypsy, conclude "Some People" with its marvelous ride-out?

Ramin and Ginzler apparently worked together on other shows, though we didn't necessarily know it at the time. According to Mr. Blank, "Irwin Kostal, Sid Ramin, Robert Ginzler, and many others ghosted on ALL of Don Walker's shows throughout the '50s." If Walker continued this farming-out practice into the '60s, perhaps one of the above-named orchestrators actually provided that delicious ride-out on "Miracle Song" in Anyone Can Whistle.

And was it Kostal or Ramin, both of whom orchestrated A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, who did the sensational ride-out that brings "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid" to a rousing conclusion? Similarly speaking, whom do we credit for the catchy ride-out that finishes "Venice Gavotte" in Candide, given that its two credited orchestrators in 1956 were Hershy Kay and composer Leonard Bernstein? Interesting that, for the 1974 revival of that show, the orchestrations were solely credited to Kay (as the number morphed into the even more fetching "Life Is Happiness Indeed"). But that doesn't mean we should assume that Kay did either song. As we well know from West Side Story, Bernstein sometimes graciously gave credit where it wasn't entirely due -- such as when he awarded Sondheim full credit for writing the show's lyrics even though Bernstein himself had penned a few, as early window cards for the Washington tryout attested.

There's a superb ride-out in "What Can It Be?" from the little-known 1961 musical All in Love, a musicalization of The Rivals. Who wrote it? Damn if the old Mercury LP (there is yet no CD) will tell you. There are credits for the hair stylist and the production stage manager (which they deserve, of course), but none for orchestrator. So I got out my Best Plays of 1961-1962 and whom did I find did the orchestrations? Jonathan Tunick, that's who! There I was the other day, bragging about having "discovered" him early in 1967, only now to learn that he'd already been toiling in the orchestration trenches for six years.

I thought of other ride-outs I admired: Michael Starobin's "Ballad of Czolgosz" in Assassins; Robert Russell Bennett's "Hurry! It's Lovely up Here" in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever; Jonathan Tunick's "Broadway Baby" in Follies; John Cameron's "Master of the House" in Les Miserables; Philip J. Lang's "Shakespeare Lied" in How Now Dow Jones; Larry Fallon's "We Got It" in Seesaw. That last one started me thinking about another Seesaw song: Does "Ride Out the Storm" have a good ride-out?

Actually, I'm not the person to ask. In 1973, when the Seesaw LP was released on Buddah Records, I bought it the day it came out and anxiously took it home -- only to find that the entire first side had scads of little specks and flecks of vinyl stuck to the surface. I took it back to the store, got another, came home, and found this one had the same flaws, though fewer. I returned again (oh, how happy the clerk was to see me!) and this time opened it right there in the store -- and, as it turned out, plenty of other copies, too. All of them had some of this damage, but one had it just on the final cut of the first side -- "Ride Out the Storm" -- so I figured I'd have to make do with it and pick up the needle of my stereo when it started skipping. (Later, I heard that disgruntled Buddah employees had been sabotaging all of the company's releases by giving a sprinkling of vinyl to many discs until they got what they wanted from the company.)

Truth to tell, the bit of "Ride Out the Storm" that I did hear back then didn't make me particularly sorry I wasn't hearing the whole song. Those who bought the album late and didn't get speckled Seesaws often told me what a rotten song it was. Indeed, composer Cy Coleman and lyricist Dorothy Fields replaced it with a better song, "The Party's on Me," for the show's much-heralded national tour. (It was reported to be Fields's last lyric.) So I gave a listen to the Seesaw CD to find if "Ride Out the Storm" had a good ride-out, and found that it had none at all! "Ride Out the Storm," which was supposed to be a pop tune sung at a nightspot, had that all-too-familiar pop device of just fading to silence.

Show music doesn't often use fade-outs -- nice, definitive "buttons" are preferred -- but there are a few, at least as the songs are recorded on their respective cast albums. You might be able to think of more, but the musical theater savants I checked with remembered "Together, Wherever We Go" (Gypsy), "Weary Near to Dying" (Henry, Sweet Henry), "Entrance of the Courtesans" (The Happiest Girl in the World), "You've Got Possibilities" (Superman), "A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing" (Promises, Promises), and "Night Letter" (Two Gentlemen of Verona). None of us, though, could recall a fade-out in Fade Out-Fade In.


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

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