My, so many of you responded so enthusiastically about my recent column on The 25 Best Songs Dropped from Musicals. Of course, so many of you chided me for what I omitted. Still, I was delighted to learn that there are tons of fans of two songs that were excised from Once on This Island. Let's make those numbers 26 and 27.
Having given my opinions on the cutouts, may I move on to The 25 Best Songs Added to Musicals? For as incomprehensible as it may seem, there was a time when Annie Get Your Gun didn't contain "Anything You Can Do," and Wildcat didn't sport "Hey, Look Me Over."
Those, though, were added during rehearsals. What I'd like to concentrate on are those songs that were not in place at the first public performance -- be it in Philly, Boston, Baltimore, or the first New York preview. So, if I may cast my three electoral votes, here's what I'd endorse as the 25 Best:
1. "I'm Still Here" (Follies). As I wrote two weeks ago, when I heard during the Boston tryout that Sondheim was replacing "Can That Boy Fox-Trot," I couldn't understand why he'd drop something that was working so splendidly. But thank the Lord he did, for we otherwise wouldn't have this ultimate survival anthem.
2. "Oklahoma!" (Oklahoma!). So good, they had to re-name Away We Go! so this could be the title tune. The funny thing is, it wasn't written with harmony until Celeste Holm suggested that it should be. They couldn't say no to her. 3. "Neverland" (Peter Pan). Of course, once Styne, Comden, and Green joined the show in California, everything they added was superb, but this was especially haunting. It kinda makes you wonder if the three collaborators wrote so splendidly because they all felt comfortable in that neck of the woods where they'd all met with considerable success.
4. "Getting to Know You" (The King and I). See South Pacific now, and you'll feel the moment when Lieutenant Joe Cable once came forward and sang "Suddenly Lucky." Lucky for The King and I, though, that it was dropped, and that Oscar Hammerstein knew precisely what lyric to write to Rodgers' felicitous tune.
5. "Comedy Tonight" (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). Could one song really have made so much difference? Both Sondheim and Gelbart have assured me that, yes, this song was all it took to change the show from flop to hit. The story has circulated that Sondheim, stuck in his Washington hotel room, used "Cakewalk Your Lady" as his model for this new opener. Listen to the song on your recent (and terrific) Encores! cast album of St. Louis Woman, and you'll hear it.
6. "Edelweiss" (The Sound of Music). And not just because it's Oscar Hammerstein II's final lyric. The song also happens to be beautiful, perfect for the moment, and it gave Captain Von Trapp something all his, a significant moment that reiterated what was in his psyche long before Maria changed so much of him.
7. "You're Just in Love" (Call Me Madam). Can you say quodlibet? That's the technical musical term where two independent and harmonically complementary melodies are then played together. It's an Irving Berlin specialty, and some will say that "Old-Fashioned Wedding" belongs on this list, but Berlin had 20 years to fashion that. I'd prefer to concentrate on the one that he had to whisk together during a harried tryout.
8. "I'm Goin' Back" (Bells Are Ringing). Impossible to believe, isn't it, that the show went to New Haven without this, which happens to be my favorite 11 o'clock number of all-time. But musical director Milton Rosenstock once assured me that the story told so many times was true: Styne, Comden, and Green just didn't have their big finish, and Judy Holliday was getting mighty steamed. After many a false start, it was Styne who noticed that Ella's first act line -- "I might as well be back at the Bonjour Tristesse Brassiere Company" -- could spur a song. He wrote the opening phrase, both music and lyric, and played it for his collaborators. "Yes!" screamed Green, and by day's end, they had their closer.
9. A tie: "Before the Parade Passes By" and "So Long, Dearie" (Hello, Dolly!) And to think that the smash-to-be went out-of-town without its eventual first- and second-act closers. Jerry Herman got the job done, though we'll never really, really know if it was with or without a little help from his friends.
10. "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" (Promises, Promises). Take it from one who saw the Boston tryout before this was added: As wonderful as the song is, perfect for the mood and moment, the already-terrific show didn't need it. But I'm still awfully glad it's there.
11. "I Got Love" (Purlie). As Melba Moore tells the story, people just kept coming up to composer Gary Geld, lyricist Peter Udell, and director-producer-co-bookwriter Phil Rose and said that they just have to give that girl another song. All took to the suggestion, and delivered the piece of material that ensured Moore's Tony.
12. "Little Tin Box" (Fiorello!) Sheldon Harnick swears that one of the song's best jokes was an accident. He'd planned to write a Gilbert and-Sullivan-like ditty in which Ben Marino's political cronies would echo what he'd just sung. So when Ben mentioned the lame excuse that a crook gave the judge for where he got his money -- "For one whole week, I went without my lunches, and it mounted up, your honor, bit by bit" -- it spurred a risqué retort when the chorus sang only the final six words.
13. "Younger Than Springtime" (South Pacific). Others will put this higher, of course, but I've never been as much of a love-ballad man. So though it's a classic, notching it right around the halfway mark seems right to me.
14. "The Rhythm of Life" (Sweet Charity). How well I remember that opening night in New York when the audience burst into applause when those "Doobie-doobies" came in. The reason? At the time, there was a wildly popular group called The Swingle Singers who took that precise non-verbal approach with classical music. Not, though, any more felicitously than displayed here.
15. "A Little Brains, A Little Talent" (Damn Yankees). Richard Adler remembers that "Mr. Abbott ordered Jerry (Ross) and me to write a song that would introduce the character of Lola with a bang. We wrote it overnight, and were very disappointed when Gwen (Verdon) didn't immediately like it. After a long pause, she told us, 'King' and 'Siam' don't rhyme.' It took her a while before she saw the interior rhymes. Once she did, though, she was on her way."
16. "Children and Art" (Sunday in the Park with George). A nice rebuttal to all those who say Sondheim doesn't write with emotion.
17. "Where You Are" (Kiss of the Spider Woman). Of all the shows I've seen shutter in tryout and then try again, none remotely reached the heights of this show. And boy, did they work to make it happen. This lively song for Chita was one of the reasons for the newfound success.
18. "The Late Late Show" (Do Re Mi). What a great idea -- our not-so-grand hero must convince his partners that he's threatening his nemesis. So by quoting Edward G. Robinson and Jimmy Cagney's on-screen browbeating warnings, he appears to be getting tough with him. I'm looking forward to Nathan Lane's rendition on the upcoming Encores! album.
19. "Until Tomorrow Night" (Smile). As that 60 Minutes documentary on the musical taught us, this was penned in Baltimore. All the girls are so nervous about their chances on winning the Young American Miss Pageant, they share them in this frenetic first-act closer. And how wonderful of lyricist-director Howard Ashman to have it all end in a pillow fight, showing that, when all is said and sung, they're just kids.
20. "Honest Man" (Bajour). Sure, a tad tawdry, but right in the 11 o'clock tradition, and with one answer-echo that is just as sharp as (and similar to) the one in "Little Tin Box."
21. "Sadie, Sadie" (Funny Girl). Not a great song, but a genial piece of material that was judged good enough to make the movie (not every one of the Broadway songs, of course, did). Streisand sure knew what to do with it, too.
22. "I'm Past My Prime" (L'il Abner). To paraphrase Irene O'Dare, Daisy Mae got the daisiest song when she got to express what it's like to be an old maid teenager.
23. "100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man" (Wonderful Town). Comden and Green like to tell in their Party that Rosalind Russell wanted a song with not much vocal range, but with a joke at the end of each sequence. They gave her just that. I'd rank this one higher, but, you see, I'm a lifelong baseball fan, and Ruth's explanation of the bunt and triple play makes no strategical baseball sense.
24. "Grand Hotel" (Grand Hotel). As much as I loved the show as it was in Boston, I never complain when someone adds a memorable title tune. Maury Yeston did just that with this broodingly evocative song.
25. A tie among "Steam Heat" (The Pajama Game), "Take Back Your Mink" (Guys and Dolls), "It's Not Where You Start" (Seesaw), and "Takin' a Chance on Love" (Cabin in the Sky). All were trunk songs that existed long before the shows went into rehearsal. The first three pretty much went in as is, but as for the fourth, John Latouche had to do a little work on Ted Fetter's original lyric, "Foolin' Around with Love." I'm so glad he did.
-- Peter Filichia is the New Jersey theatre critic for the Star-Ledger. You may E-mail him at Pfilichia@aol.com