Wednesday, December 16, 2020

"Hit Songs" From Broadway Misfires: Showstoppers Edition

This edition of "Hit Songs" From Broadway Misfires proves two things. One, even the masters of the art form can have a flop, and, two, even a flop can generate a toe-tapping big number. These songs are those that I often skip to when I revisit the scores of Aspects of Love, The Goodbye Girl, and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Thanks, in part, to the greatness of some of the top composers and lyricists of the 20th century, we are fortunate that these scores were recorded.

"Hit Songs" From Broadway Misfires:
Showstoppers Edition

"Hand Me the Wine and the Dice" from Aspects of Love
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart
Sung by Giulietta (Kathleen Rowe McAllen) and the Company

Favorite Lyrics:

If death were given a voice,

That voice would scream through the sky:

Live while you may for I am coming...


Hand me the wine and the dice,

I want my carnival now,

While I have thirst and lust for living!

Hand me the wine and the dice,

The time is racing away --

There's not a taste that's not worth trying!

And if tomorrow it ends,

I won't have wasted today --

I will have lived like I am dying.

Considering that this song begins as a eulogy, one might not immediately think of this as showstopper, but it most definitely was.  Catchy and vibrant, the music matches the mood, the point, and the character whose life is being honored here. A truly memorable moment in an otherwise forgettable production. (I have since seen a production that made the whole show work. On Broadway, not so much.)

"A Beat Behind" from The Goodbye Girl
Music by Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics by David Zippel
Sung by Paula (Bernadette Peters), Billy (Scott Wise) and the Company

Favorite Lyrics:

Push it class
Cause it gets tougher
Paula, you're a beat behind
Arms apart
For your art, suffer
Paula, move your sweet behind
Stop looking glum
Overcome by inertia
Some season soon
Tommy Tune
May rehearse ya
He'll keep you on your feet
Till you lose your mind
You're a beat behind


Paula, what happened to Paula?
So sad to see Paula fall apart


Out of breath
Out of shape
And exactly as I thought,
Look at her
With the lungs of Madonna
And a taut behind
Get me an anti-depressant
She's at the post
Maybe post-adolescent
Time can be so unkind
I'm a beat behind
This is so perverse
Better call a nurse
Better yet a hearse.

I thought I'd bounce right back
A job would fall in place
But what is so appalling is
I'm falling on my face

As I am middle aged and currently unemployed, this song about bringing oneself "up to date" hits a little closer to home than it used to. But I've always loved this dance-y tune (its great to clean to...) and its name-dropping lyrics. What's fun is those names are both timely (Tommy Tune has just staged the intermissionless, never-stop-dancing Grand Hotel, and Madonna was as big as ever, vogue-ing away) and timeless (Tommy and Madonna are still and will always be superstars in their fields).

"On the Verge" from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Music and lyrics by David Yazbek
Sung by Lucia (Patti LuPone), Pepa (Sherie Rene Scott), Candela (Laura Benanti), Marisa (Nikka Graff Lanzarone) and the Women

Favorite Lyrics:

Welcome to the edge
The verge, the ledge
The bridge is out
You're looking in the mirror, baby

This is where it rips
A tear, a tear
A fear that what's been coming
Isn't coming 'cause it's here now

I admit it's kind of thrilling as you


Teeter on the brink and
You're thinking you're drunk and
A thought, or a word
Could break the thread
You're hanging by so

Keep it to yourself
Shut up. Or not
Let go. Hang on
And pretty soon you're ululating

Like a banshee
Can she cope?
She's out of rope but her
Lipstick's straight

Oh what might have been! The show that could've been a huge hit with just a little more time, work, and a cast change or two. The score, however, was not the problem (mostly), and has more hits than misses. Maybe it was the staging (Patti performing fellatio on a lollipop, a stage full of divas dangling overhead on bungee cord swings...) that makes this number stick out in my memory, but I really think it is the song. Daring, crazy, urgent, the song feels literally "on the verge." And the lyrics - fast, clipped, contradictory, playful, but strong. And the internal rhymes are delicious. But my favorite part is when Yazbek uses the word "ululating" (who does that?) and then has one of the women do just that! Brilliant. I'm already looking forward to the revival!


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