What’s In a Song? (webway video)

Inside Track   What’s In a Song? (webway video)
Juliet once asked Romeo: “What’s in a name?” This past theatre season had me asking: “What’s in a song?”

The directors of a few recent musicals have been playing musical chairs with songs in their scores — shuffling in tunes from the Billboard charts, Hollywood and elsewhere. For this Webway Wednesday, we take a look at a few now well-known songs of the stage that found their glory off Broadway.

This past season, Promises, Promises returned to Broadway after two decades and brought with it two new(ish) songs. Director Rob Ashford decided to “beef up” the Burt Bacharach/Hal David score with two well-known (but new to Promises) songs plucked from the Bacharach/David songbook: “I Say a Little Prayer” and “A House Is Not a Home.” The breakout hit from Promises, Promises was "I'll Never Fall in Love Again."

Here's a case of a hit song from a movie that was conceived for the stage... and it proves that sometimes, no matter how great a song is, it can’t rescue a failed show. I recently learned from my colleague (and walking theatre-history book) Louis Botto, that the song “As Time Goes By” (aka my parents' wedding song!) was not written for "Casablanca," but rather for the 1931 Broadway musical Everybody’s Welcome.  (Apparently, it was welcome on Broadway for only four months.) But, once Dooley Wilson sang “it again, Sam” for Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca," it became an instant classic. And can you picture "Casablanca" without it? Could Bogie have “had Paris” with Bergman without it?! Who knows? If my parents never danced to it at their wedding, would I have been had? Perhaps not.

In Sondheim on Sondheim, Stephen Sondheim regaled us with stories of songs that ended up on the cutting room floor, only to be swept up again and turned into classics. “Marry Me a Little” was cut from the original Broadway production of Company in 1970. It became the title (and a song) in another Sondheim show that played Off-Broadway. It was then restored to the Broadway revival of Company, and has remained a fixture of the score ever since.

This past winter, Dreamgirls was revived at the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem before hitting the road on tour across the country. The profile of this newest production was raised by the popular movie version which starred Jamie Foxx, Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson (who snagged an Oscar for her performance as Effie White). The new tour uses a rewritten version of the movie's solo song, “Listen,” which Beyonce recorded for the film. It's now an R&B power-ballad duet between Deena and Effie.

So, the moral of this story? Some songs deserve a second listen.

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