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Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Updated: May 19, 2023

I feel the need to further elaborate on my post which was primarily focused on what I regarded to be the greatest composers, including lyricists in the American Theater.

I received a numbers of comments asking why I had not included such extraordinary talents as Leonard Bernstein or Lin Manual Miranda. These two are completely different.

Both are geniuses. ”Hamilton”. Is both innovative and great but it is one work. I selected composers and lyricists who, over decades, contributed great work to the musical theater. In fact, without their contributions, there would not be a Great American Songbook.

“West Side Story” is Bernstein’s major contribution. I never liked “Candide” and “On The Town” and “Wonderful Town” are not on my list of the 200 best musicals of all time. Were it not for Rosalind Russell, the only good song in “Wonderful Town” is “Ohio”.


If I left anyone off my first list of true greats, it was Jules Styne. Just his “Gypsy” score puts him in the Hall of Fame, but he also wrote other great musicals. “High Button Shoes, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Bells are Ringing” are all great musicals.

“I Still Get Jealous” from “High Button Shoes” is one of my all time favorite songs. Judy Holliday’s performance in “Bells Are Ringing” was one of the best in all Broadway history,. “The Party’s Over” is the most enduring song but my favorites are “Is It A Crime” and “I’m Going Back”.

If you do not know the score to “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, you need a primer but just “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend”, “ I’m Just A Little Girl From Little Rock” and “Bye Bye Baby” make this a great score.

The names Burton Lane and E. Y. Harburg may mean nothing to you. They wrote what I consider to be one of the top 20 scores in the history of the theater—“Finian’s Rainbow”. I remember being tormented because for my 8th birthday, my parents gave me a choice of seeing this show or “Annie Get Your Gun” and I chose to see Ethel Merman in the latter.

A little show biz tidbit: Lane is, generally, credited with discovering Judy Garland. . “Finian’s Rainbow” has a fabulous score. There is not a bad song in the show. The most enduring is “Old Devil Moon” but I love them all. Listen to “When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich”, “How are Things in Glocca Morra”, “ Look to the Rainbow” and “ When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love” just to name a few.


Harburg wrote a lot of famous lyrics such as to “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” and to “Wizard of Oz”. This means he wrote “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. He also wrote the lyrics to “April in Paris”.


One of my favorite stories is about when someone once asked Harburg how he could write about Paris never having been there. He responded “I’ve never been over the rainbow either”.


In “Annie Get Your Gun”, same thing as not a bad song. A few hidden gems “ Moonshine Lullaby”, “ I Got Lost in his Arms”, “The Girl That I Marry”, “My Defenses Are Down” and” You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun”


Now, to further explain my original choices. Start with Jerome Kern often referred to as “the father of the American musical theater. He wrote dozens of musicals and his compositions rank with the best of all time. “ Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” ( my Mother’s favorite song), “Make Believe” and “All The Things You Are” are just a few examples of fabulous melodies that few have every equaled.


Richard Rogers wrote the very best melodies as well. He worked with many lyricists but two of the best. First, Lorenz Hart whose lyrics were very sophisticated, full of internal rhyme and simply great. Rogers and Hart wrote many great shows, my favorite being Pal Joey” which has two standards “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “I Could Write a Book”. It also has, perhaps the best novelty song or at least one of the best in “Zip” Listen to Elaine Stritch sing it. Another favorite is “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” from Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me Kate”.


From 1945 when Rogers started writing with the great, truly great, Oscar Hammerstein, the two wrote over a dozen musicals. The best known are “Oklahoma” “ Carousel”, South Pacific” “ King and I” and ”The Sound of Music” but they also wrote “Flower Drum Song”, “Pipe Dream”, “Allegro”, “Me and Juliet” and “ Cinderella”.


“Oklahoma” was a major break through in the musical theatre. No opening chorus line—just a lady in her rock in’ chair sitting on her front porch. Firs time dance incorporated in the plot by legendary choreographer Agnes DeMille. Unbelievable music such as “Surry With the Fringe on Top” and “People Will Say We’re in Love”.


“South Pacific” won the Pulitzer Prize “ The music is to die for including “Some Enchanted Evening”, but to me Hammerstein’s lyric to “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” is the single most important lyric ever written for the Broadway stage.


I saw every major cast change of this show and to “King and I” for about three years. I was mesmerized.


Irving Berlin was Broadway for decades. He bought his own theater the Music Box which is still operating . The music and lyrics he wrote will live forever. Read about Berlin. He had a fascinating life and wrote his first big hit in 1910——-“Alexander’s Ragtime Band” Then, give yourself a treat. Go on U Tube and listen to Madeleine Kahn sing “You’d Be Surprised” Look at a list of Berlin’s songs. You will not believe it.


Cole Porter probably wrote more songs that you know than any other composer. “Night and Day” may have been Sinatra’s favorite. I think he recorded it 7 times often with just the refrain” but sometimes with the great verse. Porter wrote the longest standard “Begin The Beguine” and even, I kid you not “ Don’t Fence Me in”.


He wrote, just to name a few others, “Anything Goes”, “I Get A Kick Out of You”, “You’re The Top”. and made stars out of Mary Martin and Ethel Merman whose voice was untrained but so big, she did not need a microphone to be heard in the last row of the balcony.

Porter ‘s lyrics are probably the cleverest. “Kiss Me Kate” is my favorite of his dozens of musicals. Porter wrote great verses as well as great refrains.


Harold Arlen is probably the least known of the great theatrical composers. He wrote over a dozen shows, nothing as great, in my view, as the others, but with great songs. His most famous are “”Over The Rainbow”, “ Stormy Weather”, “Blues in the Night” and “ Come Rain or Come Shine”. You would also know “Black Magic” and “Get Happy”. A personal favorite of mine is “Happiness is Just A Thing Called Joe”.


I have saved for last George and Ira Gershwin because there are not enough superlatives available to me. If you do not own it and have not listened to it at least two dozen times, buy Ella Fitzgerald’s five CD Gershwin Songbook arranged by Nelson Riddle. Then talk to me about the Gershwin’s. Pay particular attention to their great verses.


I do not expect everyone to agree with my opinions. They are simply expressed for your consideration.

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The wine luncheon was very nice. Met some very nice new people. Signed up for three master classes with the head sommelier from Seabourn. Classes over the next three sea days and dinner Sunday night.

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Marlins still cannot beat Braves.

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Tuned in MSNBC last night to see another shooting , this time in Atlanta. The headline at the bottom of the screen said something like “shooter believed to be dangerous”. Really?

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See you tomorrow. At least that is my plan.

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Go Ukraine

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