STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: The Most Used Musical Theater Lyric

STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: The Most Used Musical Theater Lyric What's the rhyme musical theater lyricists have used the most? June Moon? Croon-Spoon? Home-Rome? Love-Above?
Andy Paris in The Laramie Project.
Andy Paris in The Laramie Project. (Photo by Photo by Dan McNeil)

What's the rhyme musical theater lyricists have used the most? June Moon? Croon-Spoon? Home-Rome? Love-Above?

Maybe. But may I put in a vote for "Wife-Life"?

Seems that everywhere I turn, I run into a Wife-Life rhyme. This season alone, in Parade's "How Can I Call This Home?" -- "I'm trapped inside this life and trapped beside a wife."). The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936's "He Hasn't a Thing Except Me" -- ("Betcha somewhere there's a wife ... I can only say, 'That's life!'"); Bright Lights, Big City's title song ("How's your life? How's your wife?" At Goodspeed's On the Twentieth Century, when Mrs. Primrose urge that we "Repent!" -- "Every man and boy and wife ... stop those wicked little wooings that are screwing up your life."

One Wife-Life came up very early in The Civil War, too, but not early enough to set the record for Earliest Wife-Life in a Musical, which I suspect goes to Oscar Hammerstein II for in his Allegro opening number. His very first rhyme was "Dr. Joseph Taylor's wife ... this is the happiest day of her life."

Wife-Life is in other opening numbers: Out of This World's "Prologue" ("The son of Jupiter and Juno, his wife ... Still, at least I lead an int'resting life.") and Mayor's title song ("Cause the city's like a wife. Being mayor, that's my life!"). It's also in finales (Yours, Anne's "When We Are Free" -- "My wife! My life!"), reprises (The Sound of Music's "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" -- "Gone are your old ideas of life ... You're someone's wife."), and interpolations (Big Deal's "Chicago" -- "You'll have the time, the time of your life. I saw a man, he danced with his wife.") Makes sense why lyricists would go for the rhyme. The words are thematically related, in that a wife, at least in theory, is supposed to be for life. Of course, that's why the two words can often be found rhyming with "strife," as Dorothy Fields had it in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn's "He Had Refinement." Seems that no matter what I listen to, there's a Wife-Life: Baby's "Easier to Love" -- ("Your wife is your life.") Falsettos' "What Would I Do?" -- ("Who knew it could end your life? I left my kid and left my wife.") Ben Franklin in Paris' "Look for Small Pleasures" -- ("Who'll be husband or wife to you, be the love of all your life to you.")

Some shows have two: in Silk Stockings, listen to both "Without Love" and "As on through the Seasons We Sail." Some shows even have two different ones in one song: Try The Baker's Wife's "Merci, Madame" and Beauty and the Beast's "Belle." They're there, too.

At the end of Dreamgirls's "Ain't No Party," I easily heard "If you want me in your life," but what with the song fading to silence in that pop music fashion, I wasn't sure of the rhyme. I checked the sheet music, and, sure enough, there it was: "You'd better make me your wife."

Wife-Life was there early in the century, via George M. Cohan, in his Running for Office (He matched his title "Then I'd Be Satisfied with Life" with "If I only had an heiress for a wife.") and George Washington, Jr.'s "All Aboard for Broadway" -- ("Gonna stay there all your life, so send for kids and cat and wife.")

Of course it showed up the era of romantically-inclined operettas. Take The Red Mill's "Every Day Is Ladies' Day with Me" -- ("But I must say I've enjoyed the best of what there is in life ... I've never had a wife.") The Chocolate Soldier's "Never Was There Such a Lover" -- ("Should I say I'll be your wife? ... You'll be happy all your life.") The Count of Luxembourg's "Tell Me This Can Be Love -- ("Farewell, wife ... Hail to the happy life.") The Princess Pat's "When Your Ankle Wears the Ball and Chain" -- ("The stony-hearted jailer is your wife ... which is later on for life.")

The next generation didn't leave Wife-Life behind. Cole Porter did it: Red Hot, and Blue's "Down in the Depths" ("Why, even the janitor's wife has a perfectly good love life") and Nymph Errant's "Experiment" -- ("And when you've picked a perfect wife ... Till she is yours, and yours for life.")

Irving Berlin did it, too: Louisana Purchase's "You Can't Brush Me Off -- ("He wants you for his wife ... You're stuck with him for life.") Ira Gershwin did it: Funny Face's "The Babbitt and the Bromide" -- ( "That's life ... Howza wife?") E.Y. Harburg did it: Life Begins at 8:40's title song -- "Wake up, you hoofer man, come to life ... wake up, you husband, lover, and wife.") Noel Coward did it: Conversation Piece's "Melanie's Aria" -- "Although I'm not the wife for him, I shall cherish all my life for him.") Even Maxwell Anderson did it: Knickerbocker Holiday's "One Touch of Alchemy -- ("Nor ditto any wife ... The regimented life!")

Lorenz Hart? In no less than The Girl Friend's "The Simple Life" (matching the title with "Ev'ry female in this tribe'll make a good wife."), Peggy-Ann's "A Little Birdie Told Me So" -- ("I must tell you the mysteries of life ... It's rather awkward if you're not a wife."), Present Arms' "This Rescue Is a Terrible Calamity" -- "I'd like to see some desert life ... he was finding out he really had a wife.") and Chee-Chee's "I Bow a Glad Good Day" -- ("And strange is my life ... a gentleman who's true to his wife.")

Sondheim? Even he. Take a look at, among many others, "The Miracle Song," "Unworthy of Your Love," "A Bowler Hat," and "Rich and Happy." Those who've attended Wise Guys readings tell me there's one in the title song, too. But -- leave it to Steve -- he didn't just settle for an ordinary Wife-Life in "The Ladies Who Lunch." He paired "Here's to the girls who play wife" with "clutching a copy of Life."

Funny thing: In Funny Thing, Sondheim didn't originally have a Wife Life in "Impossible," but wrote one for the revival. "He's a child, he's too repressed, while she's full of life," sings Senex, before Hero observes, "He's a man with chronic asthma, gout, and a wife."

Give credit to Alan Jay Lerner, though, for avoiding Wife-Life in "I'm an Ordinary Man." Wouldn't you assume that at least once, when advising not to "let a woman in your life" that he'd mention "wife" at least once? But he didn't.

Still, Wife-Life appears in antiques (Chu Chin Chow's "I Love Thee So" -- "You'll so devote your life to me. See how I'll be a wife to thee.") Leave It to Jane's "I'm Going to Find a Girl" -- ("I want the sort of wife who'll lead a calm domestic life.")

And in classics: The New Moon's "Marianne" -- ("I know the worry and the strife that comes with a wife, but I'd give up my life.") Fiddler on the Roof's "To Life" rhymes with "To Tzeitzel, my daughter, my wife."

And in hits: Sweet Charity's "The Rhythm of Life" rhymes with "Hit the road, daddy, leave your common-law wife." Plain and Fancy's "Why Not Katie" -- ("Comes a time in his life when a man should take a wife.") Drood's "No Good Can Come from Bad" -- ("I'd make my wife ... And share my life.") And you knew I'd mention the one in I Do! I Do's "I Love My Wife" -- ("You're stricken for life ... you happen to love your wife.")

And in semi-hits: Golden Boy's "Everything's Great" -- ("Milkin' me dry, my wife ... What a perfect life.") The Rothschilds' "One Room" -- ("Mother and wife is all that I look for in life.") The Roar of the Greaspaint--The Smell of the Crowd's "Things to Remember" -- ("As we travel the highway of life ... or, if you're a man, to your wife.")

And in respectable failures: Baker Street's "A Married Man -- ("I took a wife, and added love and laughter to my life.") Mack & Mabel's "Hundreds of Girls" -- ("I'll sprinkle spice into his his life to make him forget that he's stuck with his wife.") Skyscraper's "Delicatessen" - ("Oh, what a way of life. It could replace a wife.")

And in also-rans: Whoop-Up's "Men" -- ("No bum in boots is lousing up my life. To think I once thought I'd be some fella's wife.") The Grand Tour's "Mrs. S.S. Jacobowsky" -- "A girl who'll bring such magic to my life ... when Mrs. Jacobowsky is my wife.") Make a Wish's "Paris, France" -- ("She's a maiden, a madam, a mistress, a wife, the unrequited love of everybody's life.")

And in topical shows: The Hot Mikado's "I've Got a Little List" -- "There's the liberal excess of Franklin Delano and wife; all funny fellows, comic men, and clowns of private life.")

And, of course, in feminist and relationship musicals: Personals' "Moving in with Linda" -- ("It's your own life ... I was almost his wife."), Inside Out's "Behind Dena's Back" -- ("She needs a baby in her life. I think there's part of her that wants be a wife."), and A ... My Name Is Alice's "All-Girl Band" -- ("Discontented to just be a wife. I would drown in the car-pool of life.")

In the early '40s, I count a period of nearly seven straight years when Broadway always had a musical rhyme. Check it out:

9-2-41 to 5-30-42: Lady in the Dark's "The Best Years of His Life" - ("You gave her the best years of your life, and yet she refuses to be your wife.")

10-1-41 to 7-4-42: Best Foot Forward's "Shady Lady Bird" -- ("Just like little Jack Spratt's wife ... I'm gonna live a nine cat's life.")

6-3-42 to 6-12-43: By Jupiter's "No, Mother, No" -- ("Wife! For life!")

1-7-43 to 1-8-44: Something for the Boys' "I'm in Love with a Soldier Boy" -- ("He's the greaest event of my life ... I happen to be his wife.")

10-7-43 to 2-10-45: One Touch of Venus' "Dr. Crippen" -- ("I gave not only my life, but that of my wife.")

12-7-44 to 5-12-45: The Seven Lively Arts' "Wow-Ooh-Wolf!" -- ("If he says his wife leads a sep'rate life.")

4-19-45 to 5-24-47: Carousel's "Mr. Snow" -- ("If I could be wed with a wife ... I'd be yours fer the rest of my life.")

3-13-47 to 7-31-48: Brigadoon's "The Love of My Life" -- ("So I set out to become a wife, and found the real love of my life.")

For the next nine weeks, Broadway may have gone, as Agean was in The Boys from Syracuse, "lifeless" and "wifeless." Things returned to normal for a solid 15 months: From 10-7-48 to 5-14-49 with Love Life's "This Is the Life -- ("I've got my freedom, the perfect life. Don't have a fam'ly, a house, a wife.") and from 12-16-48 to 1-21-50 with Lend an Ear's "Molly O'Reilly" -- ("You're his whole life ... if maybe my wife...") Frankly, I wouldn't have known about the latter if sheet music collector (and pianist) extraordinaire Michael Lavine hadn't stepped up and informed me.

After that comes an almost nine month dry spell -- as far as I can tell. Remember, though, that 1948 brought us that ASCAP strike in which much went unrecorded.

But, believe it or not, since Call Me Madam, there has, for almost 49 straight years, always been a Wife-Life in New York musical theater. I mean always. Want proof? Even without a single one of the above-cited rhymes, we can still boast of 595 straight months (and counting) of Wife-Life: 10-12-50 to 4-3-52: Call Me Madam's "The Hostess with the Mostess on the Ball -- ("He'll have the best time of his life ... introduce her as his wife.")

3-29-51 to 3-20-54: The King and I's "A Puzzlement" -- ("I must go on living life ... and husband to each wife.")

5-7-53 to 6-25-55: Can-Can's "Never, Never Be an Artist" -- ("If you're faithful to your wife ... unless you want to have a wonderful life.")

11-4-54 to 12-16-56: Fanny's "To My Wife" -- ("To the flavor of my life, to my wife.")

11-15-56 to 7-12-58: L'il Abner's "A Typical Day" -- ("My one aim in life is to be a good wife.")

10-31-57 to 4-11-59: Jamaica's "Push De Button": -- ("What a life! All the money controlled by the wife.")

3-19-59 to 5-30-59: First Impressions' "Wasn't It Simply a Lovely Wedding?" -- ("There's no sweeter moment in life than when Mr. and Miss become man and wife.")

5-11-59 to 7-2-60: Once upon a Mattress' "Opening for a Princess" - ("Oh, the lonely spinster's life ... and get the prince a royal wife.")

11-23-59 to 10-28-61: Fiorello's "When Did I Fall in Love?" -- ("His love, his wife, till the end of my life.")

10-12-61 to 12-9-61: Let It Ride's "I Wouldn't Have Had To" -- ("If I had met you early in life, I could have been a poet's wife.")

11-10-61 to to 3-18-62: All in Love's "Honour" -- ("Uncle Chris spent all his life kissing someone else's wife.")

3-15-62 to 8-3-63: No Strings' "Loads of Love" -- ("So far, I'm not a wife, so I organize my life so.")

1-6-63 to 11-14-64: Oliver's "It's a Fine Life -- ("Happy husband, happy wife.")

1-16-64 to 12-27-70: Hello, Dolly's "It Takes a Woman" -- ("A sweetheart, a mistress, a wife ... to bring you the sweet things in life.")

3-16-69 to 2-13-72: 1776's "He Plays the Violin" -- ("Loving wife, loving life.")

1-19-71 to 2-4-73: No, No, Nanette's "You Can Dance with Any Girl at All -- ("A model life ... produces sweeter harmony between a man and wife.")

4-9-72 to 6-23-73: Sugar's November Song" -- ("I tasted some life ... every Christmas, a different wife.")

2-25-73 to 8-3-74: A Little Night Music's "You Must Meet My Wife -"The happiest mistake of my life.")

1-8-74 to 10-2-76: Let My People Come's "The (vulgarism deleted) Champion of Company C -- "Now let me tell you all about the general's wife. She never saw a more enormous (vulgarism deleted) in her life.")

6-2-75 to 8-27-77: Chicago's "Roxie -- ("From just some dumb mechanic's wife ... She's givin' up her hum-drum life.")

4-17-77 to 5-20-79: I Love My Wife's title song with "Well, that's life."

5-18-78 to 3-15-81: I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road's "Smile" -- "You'll make a pretty wife ... for all your pretty life.")

10-14-80 to 6-13-81: Really Rosie's "The Awful Truth" -- ("It's the dream of my life to play Dracula's wife.")

3-29-81 to 3-13-83: Woman of the Year's title song -- ("And we honor her career in contemporary life ... As a writer and the fighter and a leader and a wife.")

5-9-82 to 2-4-84: Nine's "The Bells of St. Sebastian" -- ("To teach the facts of life ... One was a whore, one was a wife.")

8-21-83 to 11-18-87: La Cage aux Folles' title song -- ("You go alone to have the evening of your life. You meet your mistess and your boy friend and your wife.")

11-5-87 to 9-3-89: Into the Woods' "Prologue" -- ("With his wife ... more than life.")

5-18-89 to 10-15-89: Showing Off's "Rental Cruelty" -- ("Man and wife ... always must remember it's a wonderful life.")

9-14-89 to 2-25-90: Sweeney Todd's "The Barber and His Wife" rhymes with "She was his reason and his life.")

11-16-89 to 7-1-90: Closer Than Ever's "The Bear, the Tiger, the Hamster, and the Mole": ("I'm up to here with all that crap about man and wife ... I know the real facts of life.")

5-20-90 to 6-12-94: Forever Plaid's "Crazy About You, Baby" -- ("Woncha please be my wife? I will take good care of you the rest of your life.")

4-11-91 to now: Miss Saigon's "This is the Hour" -- ("You're my wife. Having that child of his brands us for life.")

And yet, with all of these, I have to say that my favorite use of Wife-Life goes to one in an unproduced show. Lyricist John Kroll was one who thought of musicalizing Marty, the story of the unattractive butcher who desperately wants to get married.

His mother wanted him to wed, too, but her sister told her to be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. After all, there was a time when her boy lived at home with her -- and then he married. As she sang, "Now my son and his wife have a son and a life." Doesn't that rank with the best of them?

Peter Filichia is the New Jersey theater critic for the Star-Ledger. You may E-mail him at Pfilichia@aol.com