VINTAGE BROADWAY: Orchestral Selections
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Cole Porter Rodgers and Hammerstein II Jule Styne Burton Lane
The Broadway musical has a tradition traceable to theNew York premi?¿re of John Gay's Beggar's Opera atthe Nassau Theater, Manhattan Island in 1751. By 1900the commercially-inspired modern musical hadevolved, via American burlesque and Negro minstrelsy,with imported European conventions added, into thetuneful, stylish, 'native American' bourgeois operettasof Kerker and Victor Herbert. During the twentiethcentury more than 2,000 productions were staged inBroadway theatres, all of which owed something to thetime-honoured traditions of pantomime, ballet,Viennese operetta and English comic-opera, vaudevilleand farce, although only fifty or so of these musicalsenjoyed initial runs of over five hundred performancesand far fewer exceeded one thousand or wereblockbusters on a par with (to cite a few obviousexamples) Show Boat (1927 - the first truly modernmusical in its marriage of music to a realistic storyline),Oklahoma! (1947), South Pacific (1949), My Fair Lady(1956), West Side Story and The Music Man (both 1957)and The Sound Of Music (1959), as well as Kiss Me,Kate (1948) and Funny Girl (1964), two more megamusicalsincluded here alongside several others lessfamous, but which nonetheless qualify as light classicsand, being now half a century or more old, have earnedthe tag 'vintage'.
With sophistication and elegance his keynotes, ColePorter (1891-1964) was a major figure of the twentiethcenturyscreen and stage musical. For many years avirtual synonym for Broadway, the Peru (Indiana)-borncomposer-lyricist who wrote over twenty shows for theGolden Mile is represented here by arrangements fromthree of his mature efforts. The most durable of these,the monumental Kiss Me, Kate, opened in New York inDecember 1948, with Alfred Drake and PatriciaMorison taking the leads. Running for an initial 1,077performances, it won a first Tony 'best musical' awardand two citations (best book, best score). With scoreranking among Porter's finest and with libretto by Sam(1899-1971) and Bella Spewack (1899-1990), this wittyplay-within-a-play paraphrase of Shakespeare's Tamingof the Shrew like its model traces family feud andreconciliation. Staged by Jack Hylton in March 1951 inLondon (501 performances) it was subsequentlyrevived at various international locations over the nextforty years and memorably filmed by MGM in 1953,starring Howard Keel and Katherine Grayson.
Can-Can, with libretto by Abe Burrows (aliasBorowitz, 1910-1985) and produced by conductor CyFeuer and Ernest Martin, opened in New York in May,1953. A typically Parisian piece of froth, with somewell-honed numbers, at 892 performances its Broadwaysojourn was Porter's second longest, and although itnever won the international acclaim of Kiss Me, Kate, itenjoyed creditable New York revivals, in 1959, 1962and 1981. In London it ran for 394 performances (fromOctober 1954) but is now best remembered through theheavily adapted 1960 filming by Twentieth CenturyFox, starring Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, MauriceChevalier and Louis Jordan, which earned an Oscarnomination for Nelson Riddle's musical direction.
Porter's last stage musical (discounting Aladdin,originally filmed for television) Silk Stockings wasconceived as a sequel to Can-Can. Paris again is thesetting and its libretto, by George Simon Kaufman(1889-1961), Leueen McGrath and Abe Burrows, isderived from the screenplay of Ninotchka, a 1939 GretaGarbo vehicle produced by Ernst Lubitsch for MGM.
The show ran on Broadway from February 1955 (478performances) and whereas it received no Londoncommission, its film-version of 1957, by MGM,starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, choreographyby Eugene Loring, was favourably received.
The fifteen-year association of the New Yorktheatrical giants Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) andOscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) began withOklahoma! in 1943. Chronologically their sixthBroadway collaboration, their 'backstage' musical MeAnd Juliet opened in New York in May 1953 and ran for358 performances. Upstaged by Golden Milecompetition from Can-Can, from Harold Rome's WishYou Were Here and Bernstein's Wonderful Town,however, it was overlooked by critics who had praisedtheir earlier shows, notably Carousel and The King AndI. Me And Juliet had no London run and nowadays isforgotten apart from its main theme, 'No Other Love', aborrowing from Rodgers' filmscore of the 1954 screendocumentary Victory At Sea, its one enduring standard.
With book by Hammerstein, who was also lyricist,and Joseph Albert Fields (1885-1966), Flower DrumSong was Rodgers and Hammerstein's ninth Broadwayproduction. An adaptation of a Chinese-American novelby Chin Y. Lee, it was directed by Gene Kelly and ranfor 600 performances on Broadway from December,1958. Staged in London in March 1960, the followingyear it was filmed by United Artists, featuring itsoriginal stars Miyoshi Emeki, Nancy Kwan and JamesShigeta.
The New York team of lyricist Edgar 'Yip' Harburg(alias Isidore Hochberg, 1898-1981) and composerBurton Lane (alias Levy, born 1912) enjoyed variouskey screen and stage successes from about 1940.
Harburg had earlier co-run an electrical business beforeturning to song-writing in 1929, while until that sameyear Lane was a staff writer with Tin Pan Alley musicpublishers Remick. Before joining forces both workedprolifically for Broadway and Hollywood. Opening inJanuary 1947, at 725 performances Finian's Rainbowwas easily the duo's greatest Broadway success,although Emile Littler's parallel London production(also 1947) failed after only 55 performances. The filmversion(Warners, 1968) starred Fred Astaire, PetulaClarke and Tommy Steele.
Born in London but raised in Chicago, Jule Styne(alias Jules Kerwin Stein, 1905-1994) first wonrecognition as a concert pianist and Hollywoodarranger, working variously with Sammy Cahn, FrankLoesser, Harburg and Sondheim. From 1947 heextended his activity to the Broadway stage, scoring hisfirst significant hit in 1949 with Gentlemen PreferBlondes (filmed in 1953). With book by Isobel Lennartand lyrics by Bob Merrill, Funny Girl opened in March,1964. Loosely based on the larger-than-life adventuresof New York east side comedienne Fanny Brice, itprovided the youthful Barbra Streisand with an idealstarring vehicle. A subsequent high-gloss film(Columbia, 1968) also starred the Oscar-winningStreisand, as also did the less than auspicious 1975screen sequel, Funny Lady.Peter Dempsey