STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: And Incidentally...

Special Features   STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: And Incidentally...
Can we ever forgive those who filmed Broadway musicals for dropping some of our favorite songs? "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?" from The King and I. "Impossible" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. "Everybody Loves to Take a Bow" from Hazel Flagg's movie version, Living It Up.

Can we ever forgive those who filmed Broadway musicals for dropping some of our favorite songs? "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?" from The King and I. "Impossible" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. "Everybody Loves to Take a Bow" from Hazel Flagg's movie version, Living It Up.

Because Albert Peterson's profession in Bye Bye Birdie was changed from an English teacher to a biochemist in the theatrical film version, "An English Teacher" wasn't granted tenure. But was that necessary? The five-syllable "A Biochemist" scans perfectly with "An English Teacher."

We lost all of Jennifer's songs in Paint Your Wagon, but all of everyone's songs in Irma La Douce, Fanny, and Mexican Hayride. Don't you think these three last-named musicals should be revived on Broadway with their original scores intact? Many civilian theatergoers would probably think they were seeing brand-new musical versions, because they're only familiar with the movies as tuneless enterprises. ("Honey -- look! They made a musical out of Irma La Douce!")

At least with Irma and Fanny, the background score features the melodies of some songs from the show. But, if you listen hard enough, you'll find that a number of discarded songs from Broadway musicals do show up in the movie versions -- albeit only as incidental background music.

Lend an ear as Ann Sothern reads an apologetic letter from her (now-former) beau in Panama Hattie, and you'll notice an instrumental "Make It Another Old-Fashioned, Please." In Oliver, when Bill Sikes shows Fagin all the booty he's stolen, there's "My Name." If you remember the song from when it had a lyric, you'll occasionally find that the removed words comment on the action. In Paint Your Wagon, after Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood agree to Jean Seberg's outlandish suggestion that they all share each other, you hear, "What's Goin' on' Here?" In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, when Mr. Esmond gives Lorelei an enormous diamond engagement ring ("Looks like it should have a high ball around it," quips her best friend Dorothy), there's the appropriately placed "You Say You Care."

Before Gentlemen made that song incidental, it belonged to Dorothy and her new beau Henry. A similar switch occurred in Silk Stockings, where Steve sang the song on stage, but Ninotchka danced to it, lyric-less, in the film. Ditto "Only If You're in Love" the song Cliff used to romance Sally in the stage Top Banana, that became an incidental instrumental on the soundtrack when top banana Jerry Biffle (Phil Silvers, of course) hints at his affection to Sally.

Such disregard for the original stage context happens twice in the 49-minute animated You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. First, when Charlie hopes Marcie will give him a Valentine (of course she doesn't), you'll hear "My Blanket and Me," which initially belonged to Linus. Later, when Charlie is eating a peanut butter sandwich and contemplating approaching The Little Red-Headed Girl, there's "Dr. Lucy," the stage song in which Lucy analyzed Charlie's (many) weaknesses and (few) strengths.

Some lyric-impaired film instrumentals, though, stay in the exact same spots they were in the stage show. "Happy Birthday, Mrs. J.J. Brown" in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. "Lovelier Than Ever" in Where's Charley? "Henry Street" in Funny Girl. "Hello, Hello There" in Bells Are Ringing, as well as "Is It a Crime?" (Actually, Judy Holliday sang the latter for the movie, but it was later cut. It's on the laser disc.)

In Cabaret, four of the stage songs apparently were pop hits in old Berlin. When Brian first meets Sally Bowles, the record her Victrola sports contains the verse to "Don't Tell Mama." Later, when Sally is trying to seduce him, it's "It Couldn't Please Me More" that she has on the spindle to serve as mood music. "Sitting Pretty" occurs when Sally, Brian -- and Max -- dance together. And "Married" was so prominently used, it even made the soundtrack album.

But incidental instrumentals are most found shoehorned in as Muzak-y background music in lounges (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever has a cocktail pianist playing "On the S.S. Bernard Cohn."), taverns (In The Unsinkable Molly Brown, the pianist plays "Keep-a-Hoppin'"), and hotel lobbies (In On Your Toes, "Quiet Night" quietly plays as Eddie Albert and Leonard Kinsky enter. Considering where they are, you'd think it'd be "There's a Small Hotel," but that was saved to serve as incidental mood music when Albert and Vera Zorina reminisce on how they knew each other as kids.

A party is often the land where the lost songs go. In DuBarry Was a Lady, there's "Well, Did You Evah?"; "How Can Love Survive?" in The Sound of Music; "Tosy and Cosh" in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever; "Bea-u-tiful People of Denver" in The Unsinkable Molly Brown at the shindig thrown by Mrs. McGraw -- not, incidentally, Mrs. McGlone, as she was named in the stage show. And it's a nightclub in Pal Joey where the band plays "Do It the Hard Way," "Happy Hunting Horn," and "Plant You Now, Dig You Later." ("Take Him," on the other hand, is mere incidental music played as Joey kisses one of his women.)

A restaurant is also the site of the worst use of incidental music, in Deep in My Heart, the 1954 biopic of composer Sigmund Romberg. Early in the film, young "Rommy" is at a table, negotiating with Flo Ziegfeld and J.J. Shubert. And what's playing in the background? The title song to The Desert Song, which Romberg himself wouldn't write until many years in the future.

There are undoubtedly many, many more that I've missed. But I'm sure you'll let me know what they are. And when you do, it'll be incidental music to my ears.

Peter Filichia is the New Jersey drama critic for the Star-Ledger. You may E-mail him at

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