The Best of the Best
What combination of songs from various shows would be included on The Ultimate Broadway Cast Album?
Dennis Klaber sure liked what I picked. "When will this be released?" he wrote. "God, I wish it could be!" But Caldwell Titcomb asked, "How could you not include something from The Golden Apple?" Easy, Mr. T! While The Golden Apple is a glorious show -- and the production I saw at Boston University in 1974 is still one of the 10 best productions of a musical that I've seen in nearly 44 years of constant theatergoing -- the original cast recording is an abomination. Like so many others, I would like to see Encores! do The Golden Apple -- not just because it would be a thrilling evening, but because it might spawn a two-disc recording that could capture every glorious note of Jerome Moross's music and every syllable of John Latouche's lyrics.
Mark Motz wrote, "Some friends of mine and I have been trying to come up with what we're calling The Ultimate Broadway Cast Album. You know - something with our favorite overture, followed by our favorite opening number, exposition song, Act I comedy number, Act I duet, Act I finale, second-act gospel number, and 11 o'clock number. We've not gotten very far. In fact, '20 Million People' from My Favorite Year for the opening number is all we've been able to agree upon to date. I'm wondering if you would consider this for a column topic -- or at least give us some ideas."
Mark, let's do both! Andy, Aman1016, Josh Ellis, John W. Griffin, Paul Medenhall, and Rick Thompson weighed in with (at least) 15 songs each. I'm sure that we can all provide a suggestion or two -- or maybe even 15 -- that can fill up that album for you in no time. Let me tell you that some of the songs these people suggested made me smite my forehead and say, "Why didn't I think of that one?!"
But Mark, because you want the ultimate Broadway album, we're going to have to disqualify four suggestions from three readers right off the bat. First, Rick's endorsement of "The Last Man in My Life" from Song and Dance, because the song -- "the best one," Rick insists -- was dropped when the show was brought to New York. According to Rick, "Marti Webb delivers the goods on this song, which has the best lyrics that Don Black ever wrote -- though, granted, that isn't a high bar to clear."
Similarly, John's vote for the title song from the British musical The Good Companions must be cast aside, since that André Previn-Johnny Mercer show never played Broadway. Paul likes "We Will Never Be Younger," one of the very few changes that Kiss Me, Kate made from page to stage. "It was cut and replaced with 'So In Love,' " he acknowledges, "but this rueful, mature ballad is lovely in its own right. I'd like to see it replace the reprise of 'So In Love' in Act II." Great solution! How smart of Paul to also know "Meadow Serenade" from Strike Up the Band -- "Only Gershwin was talented enough to sacrifice material this good," he comments. I agree that it's a terrific number.
I'm also eliminating from their lists songs that I feel are very well known. Remember, I stressed that this should be an opportunity to introduce people to songs they wouldn't have otherwise heard. Josh, I too adore "Don't Rain on My Parade" and "I'm Flying." Andy, though I loved "Bring Him Home" and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" the first time I heard them, I can't admit them. But there are many suggestions worth taking. You want an overture to start? Take John's On the Twentieth Century. And Mark, while you have your opening number with "20 Million People" (good choice, by the way!), you might want to at least give a listen to Aman1016's "Six Months Out of Every Year" (Damn Yankees), Paul Mendenhall's "Chanson" (The Baker's Wife), or Josh's beloved "Hurry, It's Lovely Up Here" (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever). Josh once told me that every day since late 1965, he's sung this ditty to his plants and flowers.
Favorite exposition song? Paul suggests "Brave New World" (Rags), "a character piece that conveys the fears of a mother and child in a new land while also showing their fascination and delight." Josh wants "Glitter and Be Gay" (Candide), stressing that only the original rendition would do. John offers "The Sound of Money" (I Can Get It for You Wholesale). Both Josh and John want "Chain of Love" (The Grass Harp), and I'm proud of them for remembering it.
Act I comedy number? Paul suggests "The Picture of Happiness" (Tenderloin), which he describes as a "hilarious toe-tapper." (It's one of my favorites, too.) Rick wisely suggests "Don't Forget 127th Street" (Golden Boy), which he celebrates because "Lee Adams' lyrics are black humor (in both senses of the word) and Charles Strouse throws in a little soul flavor for those of us who remember Motown."
Act I duet? Andy insists on "Wheels of a Dream" (Ragtime), while Paul is astute enough to offer "Lily's Eyes" (The Secret Garden. Even more astutely, he choses "Sweet Danger" (Kean). "This is what operetta would have become if it hadn't been beaten to death by the critics," he feels. "It's Wright and Forrest at their swooniest."
Act I finale? Andy and Rick choose "Defying Gravity" (Wicked), which Rick describes as "fury set to music, the flip side of 'You'll Never Walk Alone.' " Andy also endorses "Who Will Love Me as I Am?" (Side Show), but Paul really impressed me by mentioning the much more obscure "Imagining You" (Birds Of Paradise) -- "an achingly beautiful ballad that conveys the pain and longing of unrequited love." (You can hear a smidgen of it in the movie Camp, directed by Todd Graff, who starred in Birds of Paradise.)
Mark, truth to tell, I'm surprised that you chose "second-act gospel number" as a genre, although Josh has the perfect one for you: "The Babylove Miracle Show" from The Grass Harp. I would have thought you would have selected "second-act opener." Lord knows the guys suggested them: Paul wants "Hey There, Good Times" (I Love My Wife), which he describes as "a show-stopper so over-the-top in its desire to please that it's irresistible." Rick seconds my emotion for "Come Follow the Band" (Barnum): "I just have to agree with you that this is a rousing opener."
Eleven o'clock number? Josh recommends "I'm Goin' Back" (Bells Are Ringing). Rick suggests "Suppertime" (You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Andy wants "Brotherhood of Man" (How to Succeed), while Paul taps "Nowadays" (Chicago). He concedes, "It's pretty well known since the movie came out, but still, it's yet another statement of optimism by Ebb with a tongue-in-cheek quality I love. It praises life 'nowadays' while listing all the ways one is free to sin! There's a 'this is as good as it gets so we might as well party' feeling to it that I love."
If you don't like these selections, Mark, let me quote the 11 o'clock number from On the Town, for which both Josh and Paul expressed their admiration: "We'll catch up some other time."