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Ring Them Bells

Filichia ponders the appropriateness of various musical theater ringtones designed for cell phones. logo
When someone calls this the greatest musical, does that
ring any bells for you?
So I found out about this 100 Greatest Musicals List compiled by Channel 4 in England, where the station's viewers could chime in to vote on which were their favorite tuners. The way the list is structured is that you're brought to #100 first, which is Let's Make Love, the 1960 Marilyn Monroe movie. My heart sank. Then this was a movie musicals list? But no -- #99 is Miss Saigon. So it's an amalgam. My heart still sank.

I continued to search through the pages and felt much anguish along the way. Given that only those musicals with a Broadway pedigree particularly interested me, I raised an eyebrow to most of the rankings, going from "That should be higher" (Sweeney Todd, #80) to "That should be lower" (The Hello, Dolly! movie, #50) to "That shouldn't be on the list at all" (A Chorus Line, the movie, #46) to "Where's [fill-in-the-blank]?" (The 1951 Show Boat movie makes the list at #71 while the far superior 1936 film doesn't rank at all!) And imagine the gasp I emitted when I saw that the #1 answer was Grease.

Before I could get too apoplectic, though, I had to remind myself that this is a vox populi poll and those who wrote in just have different vantage points from those of us who care and study musicals as an art form. As I always say, I'd rather that someone has a good time than agree with me. But my feelings were suddenly sidetracked when I noticed the links by which one could purchase whatever disc or tape was available. "Buy video," said Half a Sixpence (#73). "Buy DVD," offered The King and I (#23). "Buy soundtrack," claimed Blood Brothers (#31). (There IS no "soundtrack" to Blood Brothers! There IS an original cast album, a revival cast album, and a bunch of foreign cast albums, but until Blood Brothers is made into a movie or TV special, there won't be a soundtrack album.)

But wait: What is this "Buy Ringtone," which Cats (#30, believe it or not) advertises? I clicked on the link and was brought to the Ringtones site, where one can order for his cell phone a distinctive few bars of a song to signal an incoming call. The categories included (in this order) "Film Themes, TV Themes, Rock/Pop, Chart Top 20, Riff Tones (does that include "The Jet Song" from West Side Story?), Sport, Metal, Dance, Classical, Jazz, and Musicals, which is just a step above Miscellaneous. (Another slap in the face to us!)

Before I decided to click on "Musicals" to see what was offered, I started thinking what might be there. The obvious choice, of course, would be the title song from Bells Are Ringing, not just because of the title but also because the show deals with telephoning. It would be nice if, coincidence of coincidences, you got a call from 756-4433 -- which translates to Plaza-O-double-four-double-three -- and that Jule Styne melody could be played.

What else would be apt? Well, maybe "With This Ring," a big number from Sherry! (the 1967 musical version of The Man Who Came to Dinner). The song was sung by Sheridan Whiteside in reference to the phone call he was about to make to actress Lorraine Sheldon in order to get her to vamp Bert Jefferson, who'd just proposed to his indispensable secretary Maggie Cutler, who then sang, "With This Ring," too, but in reference to the bauble now on her finger. Whether or not Ringtones offers this tune, you'll finally be able to hear it when the Sherry! studio cast album with Nathan Lane (Whiteside), Carol Burnett (Lorraine), and Bernadette Peters (Maggie) is released in the next few weeks.

Given that this is a British site, maybe there'd be "I'll Give My Love a Ring" from Canterbury Tales, a show that opened in London in 1968 and amassed a then-staggering 2,080 performances. (Much better than the 121 performances Broadway saw in 1969). What else? "That old familiar ring" from Jimmy? Maybe Rosie O'Donnell could order "Ring around a Rosy" from Candide or "Too Many Rings around Rosie" from No, No, Nanette. How about "Could Have Been a Ring" from Greenwillow?

There's another Greenwillow option here: "Clang Dang the Bell." And speaking of bells, does Ringtones offer "I Can Hear the Bells, "I Hear Bells, "If I Were a Bell," "The Bells of St. Sebastian," "Bell-y up to the Bar, Boys," or the title song from Prettybelle? Or -- again, because this is a British site -- "Belle, the Sleeping Car" from Starlight Express. Given that show's 7,406-performance run, a song from it is more likely to turn up than "With Bells On," a wonderfully melodic showstopper from Twang!! (Yes, Lionel Bart insisted on two exclamation points, which the show apparently didn't deserve them; it lasted all of 49 performances). But wait again: Given that neither home nor cell phones ring with bells anymore, the logical choice would be "What's the Buzz" from Jesus Christ Superstar, not only because of the sound a cell phone makes but also because we all do wonder what the buzz is when our cell phones go off.

Of course, when I clicked on Ringtones' "Musicals" icon, I wasn't rewarded with any of these. Instead, I saw "The Sound of Music: 'Edelweiss' -- Julie Andrews." (I'll admit that Andrews does make an appearance in "Edelweiss" on the soundtrack but I'd call it Christopher Plummer's song). Next was "42nd Street: 'We're in the Money -- Dubin." (Hmm, a lack of consistency there, what with the artist mentioned for "Edelweiss" and the lyricist for 42nd Street -- but no mention of ace composer Harry Warren, I'm sorry to say. No mention of Charles Strouse, either, for the next selection: "Annie: Tomorrow -- Charnin.")

There were others: "Cabaret: 'Main Theme -- Lisa Minnelli." (No! It's Liza-with-a-z, not Lisa-with-an-s.) "Can-Can: Offenbach." (Then that's not OUR Can-Can, for ours features music by Cole Porter. It'd be all right to attribute Offenbach, though, if there were a cut from The Happiest Girl in the World.) "Cats: Memory -- Lloyd Webber." (It had to happen.) "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: 'Oompah Loompah.'" (But that's the name of the source material, not the film.) "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: 'Theme' -- Sherman." (That's now officially a second-hand show song.) "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik -- Mozart." (Come on! In a "Musicals" section, I'd expect something from A Little Night Music.)

After those: "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" with a choice between Elaine Paige and Madonna (I sure know whom I'd rather hear), "If I Were a Rich Man" (slugged "Bock," so we don't know whose rendition it is), "'It's a Hard Knock Life'": Dr. Evil" (I demand the original cast!), Jesus Christ Superstar: Theme" (but not "What's the Buzz?"?) "A Spoonful of Sugar" (which soon will be a second-hand show song when Mary Poppins opens this year in London), "'I Could Have Danced All Night'" -- Audrey Hepburn" (Marni Nixon is slighted once again!), "'New York, New York' -- Frank Sinatra" (Kander and Ebb have written many more Broadway musicals than Hollywood movies but this is their only inclusion here). Then there are four selections from Oliver! (all labeled "Lionel Bart"): "Consider Yourself," "Food, Glorious Food," "Oop (sic) Pa Pa," and "Theme" (which I assume is the title song). And then we get to some classics: "Summertime," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right out of My Hair," "The Phantom of the Opera," "Time-Warp," and four tunes (the most from any show) from West Side Story: "Cool," "Maria," "Tonight," and "When You're a Jet," as Ringtones calls "The Jet Song." (Hey, Riff is represented after all!)

But "Musicals" also includes songs not remotely from musicals, including, "Music to Watch Girls by" sung by Andy Williams and Handel's "Water Music." Oh, and there's Britney Spears's "Me against the Music" -- which, given the lack of craft in her songs, I firmly believe she is. But I still like my selections better, so excuse me while I go and give Ringtones a ring.


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

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