STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Song of the Year

STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Song of the Year So what was Broadway's Song of the Year?

So what was Broadway's Song of the Year?

"The Devil You Know" from Side Show?

The Tonys ought to name a Best Song. The Oscars do, don't they?

So should it be "Serenity" from Triumph of Love? Or was that Betty Buckley's triumph? Should Steel Pier's "Second Chance" get a second hearing?

One thing you've got to admit: 1997 gave us plenty of material from which to choose. When was the last time we had so many musicals appear on Main Stem stages, and so many potential Songs of the Year? So let us count the nominees, starting with Jekyll & Hyde, from which many would make their choice. Why not? Each day, the show proudly proclaims in its New York Times ABC ad that it's "featuring the hit songs 'This is the Moment,' 'A New Life,' and 'Someone Like You.'" When has a show ever so trumpeted three of its tunes in that little box?

Well, though all three must be considered contenders, don't you think they're a tad shopworn for 1997's Song of the Year, given that we've known them since Jekyll & Hyde's first concept album in 1990? The situation is similar to a worthy movie that was released in January -- and then has a tough time winning the Oscar over a film that debuts in December.

From the Tony-winning score of Titanic, I'd nominate "I Must Get on That Ship," "Doing the Latest Rag," "Autumn," "Still" -- and most everything else.

From The Life, most would nominate "(I'm Gettin' Too Old for) The Oldest Profession." But doesn't that title sound as if the lyricist, not the character, is speaking?

If I may cast my three electoral votes, I'd nominate "A Lovely Day to be Out of Jail" -- though that may be because of Cy Coleman's own rendition on the 1996 concept album. No offense meant to any original cast, but I often prefer a composer sitting at a piano and doing his own stuff. There's something special about that, don't you think?

But there's something else. When I heard Mr. C sing, I didn't know the show was going to be SO unsavory. I mean, I thought that the character singing would be a guy who'd just been released after a minor drunk 'n' disorderly charge. So to learn that the singer is a woman who'd been incarcerated for chronic prostitution makes the song too seedy for me. I have the same reaction to the tacky double-entendres of "Everybody's Gal" from Steel Pier.

Of course, this may be by own Puritanical Bostonian background talking. I must remember, to paraphrase 1776, that "Not everyone's from Boston, Peter."

We must remember Juan Darien, given that the Tony committee did when nominating it for Best Score. But did it give a listen to the cast album before voting? I think they still had Julie Taymor's wizardry in their heads. If you doubt me, then YOU listen to the cast album, and tell which tune you'd endorse for Song of the Year.

Taymor, of course, brings us to The Lion King. Now considering that Hollywood won't make a song previously heard on Broadway eligible for its Best Song Oscar, we'll rule out the Elton John-Time Rice tunes heard in the animated feature. While we're at it, let's drop "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," the 1961 #1 pop hit that was co-written by -- I swear it -- the guys who wrote Maggie Flynn.

Still, that leaves a dozen new Lion King songs to peruse. "They Live in You," "One by One," "Shadowlands," "Endless Night" "The Lioness Hunt" -- come to think of it, every song that John and Rice didn't do. Welcome to Broadway, Lebo M.

While we're at the New Amsterdam, let's not forget King David (and my particular favorite, "Saul Has Slain His Thousands"), though it was just a concert and not a genuine Broadway attraction. Of course, its production values were equivalent to the much ballyhooed Chicago revival. But that's another story.

And wait! The Capeman and Ragtime are now in previews, and both have had albums that have been with us for a portion of 1997. So, from the former, let's make eligible "Bernadette," "Born in Puerto Rico," and "Trailways Bus"; from the latter, the title song, "Crime of the Century," "New Music" and the fun-filled "What a Game." (At the risk of being sexist, may I say that I'm not surprised that a woman lyricist -- in this case, the marvelous Lynn Ahrens -- should look at a baseball game, and come away with the prevailing notion that there's so much spitting.)

All worthy contenders, no? And yet, my real criterion for Song of the Year must be this: Which song did I most program on "repeat" on my CD player? And that, believe it or not, was "Into the Fire" from The Scarlet Pimpernel. I must have played it 800 times this year, as my tormented neighbors will attest.

"Into the Fire" is the great grandson of "The Riff Song" from The Desert Song. Like that 1926 effort, "Into the Fire" is a butch paean to male camaraderie, with a musical majesty and power. Better still, onstage it provides a magnificent, frisson-inducing moment. The Englishmen decide to take off for France, and, through Andrew Jackness' smart set design, they're suddenly on a boat, and, just as the song ends, the boat disappears and they -- and we -- are in France.

But wait, you say, if I'd eliminate Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll & Hyde songs for being around for seven years, shouldn't I nix his five-year old "Into the Fire"? To be frank (no pun intended, Mr. W), I love it so that I just might vote it the Broadway's Best Song of 1992 through 1997. Sue me, sue me, shoot bullets through me.

-- Peter Filichia is the New Jersey theater critic for the Star-Ledger

You can e-mail him at PFilichia@aol.com