STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Music for the Fourth

News   STAGESTRUCK by Peter Filichia: Music for the Fourth
Getting ready for the Fourth of July? Making your foodstuffs for your picnic? Preparing for a happy journey to Camden, or Trenton, or points beyond? You'll have an even more enjoyable time if in advance you make a tape of Broadway's songs to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Getting ready for the Fourth of July? Making your foodstuffs for your picnic? Preparing for a happy journey to Camden, or Trenton, or points beyond? You'll have an even more enjoyable time if in advance you make a tape of Broadway's songs to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Alas, one of the quintessential examples of the genre -- "On the Fourth Day of July" from Rags -- was never recorded. But there are a number of other songs you can tape from your vast cast album collection, so you'll much more enjoy the time spent in the car, on the Walkman, or at your picnic site.

Start with "Hooray for George the Third," a song that points out "If it wasn't for George the Third" -- that unsympathetic British monarch of 1776 -- "would there be a Fourth of July? No, there'd never be a Fourth of July." With all due respect to lyricist Dorothy Fields, there would indeed be a Fourth of July. It just wouldn't be a holiday, that's all.

The song, by the way, is from By the Beautiful Sea, which is a pretty apt place to spend the Fourth. It'll probably be as hot as hell in Philadelphia, so you won't want to venture there.

Nevertheless, you absolutely must include on your tape a selection or two from the ultimate July 4 musical, 1776. Tape "The Egg" while you make deviled eggs for your picnic. Don't, though, dip into either the molasses or rum while cooking. Songs from Take Me Along belong on your tape -- because Bob Merrill's musical version of Ah, Wilderness, like Eugene O'Neill's original play, takes place on the Fourth of July. Residents of Waterbury, Connecticut, may take issue when Sid Miller (boisterously played by Jackie Gleason) notes that its "women are fat in the ankles, and they all kinda droop in the can" and that "the men are all boobs, a bushel o' rubes." How well I remembered this when reading a 1992 Money magazine survey that listed the worst places to live in America -- and judged Waterbury number one. How prescient Merrill and Miller were!

There are some recordings of George M. Cohan singing "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy" who was "born on the Fourth of July" (though Cohan was really born on July 3). Many assume the name of the song is "Yankee Doodle Dandy," thanks to that famed 1942 biopic of The Man Who Owned Broadway. But the actual title was "Yankee Doodle Boy" when Cohan introduced it in Little Johnny Jones in 1904.

Though "Yankee Doodle Boy" was used in the Broadway revues Music, Music in 1974 and Dancin' in 1978, neither show was recorded, so your best bet is the cut on the cast album of George M. Record that one, and your Fourth can be red, white, and blue and Grey.

Hey -- how about including some cuts from Red, Hot, and Blue? Cole Porter's score should make you feel "It's Delovely," that you're "Ridin' High," and should also keep you from being "Down in the Depths." If you've got a 45 hanging around of "Jubilee Joe" from Red, White, and Maddox (the song did get a few recordings, though the 1969 musical went cast-album-less), throw that one on, too.

Actually, given that this year the Fourth of July falls on a Saturday, the most apt song doesn't come from a show. "Saturday in the park, I think it was the Fourth of July" are the opening lines of a 1972 ditty by the group Chicago, not to be confused with our Chicago. The musical theatre song closest to that is "Sunday in the Park" from Pins and Needles, an album many own simply because Streisand has six cuts on it. But "Sunday in the Park" doesn't quite work in 1998. As Sondheim once wrote, "Well, maybe next year."

Although Jerry Herman wrote "The Independence Day Hora" to celebrate Israel's liberation, I'm sure he won't mind if you use the song to say shalom to our own Independence Day. Given the nature of the holiday, you should include at least one song from All-American. I'd recommend "Melt Us," one of the best rags Charles Strouse wrote until he wrote Rags.

The Fourth is also a time for fireworks, so include "Fireworks" from Do Re Mi. If, however, you have a demo of Meredith Willson singing "Fireworks" -- a song he eventually dropped from The Music Man -- do not only add it to the tape, but also come up to my place. I'll even take a recording of the "Fireworks" song Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby (whom we all remember from that delightful, fictitious biopic, Three Little Words) wrote for Top Speed, a 1929 musical -- even though it opened on Christmas and not Independence Day.

And what would the Fourth of July be without a parade? Happily, the musical theatre has given us plenty of parade songs -- three now-famous ones which were introduced in a scant 79-day period: "Before the Parade Passes By" (Hello, Dolly, Jan. 16, 1964), "Don't Rain on My Parade" (Funny Girl, March 26, 1964), and "A Parade in Town" (Anyone Can Whistle, April 4, 1964). My, what a parade of good songs and scores in such a short period of time! And it would have been even shorter had 1964 not been a Leap Year. Then, of course, there's Parade, the Jerry Herman revue that was recorded in 1960 by Kapp, but has never been transferred to CD by MCA, the conglomerate that swallowed the original label. Could it be that Herman doesn't want this rare recording to again emerge, because he later used one of its melodies in Mame ("No Tune Like a Show Tune" inspired "It's Today") and another in Mack & Mabel (one theme in the overture became fodder for "I Want to Make the World Laugh").

That's all right. By this time next year, if all goes well, we'll have another original cast album of Parade -- the Alfred Uhry-Jason Robert Brown show starting previews on Nov. 12. So save some room on the tape for this one.

After listening to all of these, you can be excused if, on the ride home Sunday night, you're all music-ed out. That would be the time to read Lanford Wilson's The 5th of July.

Peter Filichia is the New Jersey theater critic for the Star-Ledger.
You can e-mail him at

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