ON THE RECORD: "Hidden Treasures" Offers a Candy Box Assortment of Sheldon Harnick

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15 Jun 2014

Sheldon Harnick
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The rest are obscure, deleted songs from famous shows and lost songs from lost shows; I count only four selections that I have heard on commercial recordings (not including tracks from Harnick's various "and then I wrote" appearances). The format is chronological, beginning with a college song written in 1949 — just after his college mate Charlotte Rae brought him a souvenir from her spring break trip to New York, a copy of the original cast album of Harburg's Finian's Rainbow — and continuing until 2004. The last selection is "You Made My Day," a song he wrote for Marlo Thomas' follow-up to Free to Be You and Me. (This was a culturally groundbreaking concept album from 1972, for which Harnick made two memorable contributions. Neither are on this album, and I'd like to hear them again). Harnick's 2004 contribution was recorded — by Audra McDonald, no less — but not released; the producers thought it was "too sophisticated." Thus, the collection ends with a special treasure from Audra.

Bock and Harnick's seven Broadway musicals are all represented, as are selections from their 1966 television musical The Canterville Ghost; the abandoned 1967 London musical Trafalgar, about Lord Horatio Nelson; and Man on the Moon, a Bil Baird puppet show which played a week at the Biltmore just before She Loves Me opened in 1963. Not included are any of the songs they ghosted for Baker Street and Her First Roman, nor any of their special event or industrial show wares. We do get "Mr. A.," a dazzling ditty they wrote in 1962 for George Abbott's 75th which perfectly catches the facets and crotchets of the great director:

When surgery is urgent and there's trouble with the star
And the author's in the nearest bar
Who is busy with his scissors in his private abattoir?
Mr. A!

An abattoir, by the way, is not George Abbott's study but a slaughterhouse. Harnick also comments that it's a thrill "when he walks across the stage, when he walks across the links, when he walks across the pool" — which perfectly expresses the mixture of awe and admiration Abbott commanded from his many younger collaborators.

There are three selections from the Horatio Alger-themed Smiling the Boy Fell Dead, which Harnick wrote with David Baker prior to meeting Bock (although it wasn't produced until after Harnick won his Pulitzer for Fiorello!); four from Rex, the hapless Henry VIII musical written in collaboration with the aging and ailing Richard Rodgers; and single songs from A Christmas Carol (with composer Michel Legrand), Wonderful Life (with Joe Raposo), and Harnick's own still-in-progress Moliere-musical, Malpractice Makes Perfect.

Listeners unfamiliar with Harnick's origins should be delighted by his early satirical work. "Ballad of the Shape of Things" — written as nightclub material for Rae in 1950, and sung by her as an interpolation in the 1956 Littlest Revue — is a droll madrigal that turns murderous; "Merry Little Minuet," too, is an unexpected charmer. ("They're rioting in Africa! They're starving in Spain! There's hurricanes in Florida — and Texas needs rain.")


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