This song began its life as a cut number from the score of the classic Lerner and Loewe film musical Gigi. After being excised from the film, the bittersweet waltz ballad was recorded by a couple of second-tier crooners and wound up becoming a very minor semistandard that is still heard occasionally on radio stations dedicated to so-called Traditional Pop. Years later, when a stage version was made of the film, the team co-opted the melody of “A Toujours” for one of the new numbers they were composing for the stage. Written to give a musical opportunity to the great Agnes Moorehead as Gigi’s mercenary Aunt Alicia, it set a cold-blooded negotiation about the terms of Gigi’s status as Gaston’s mistress to the rhapsodic waltz melody, a juxteposition that is both hilarious and a perfect illustration of the scene’s concept…the reduction of love and romance to a mere business negotiation. The stage version of Gigi has never worked in either its original stage production or its surprisingly long string of revivals, but what sets it slightly apart from the other terrible stage adaptations of great musical movies from around the same time (Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Meet Me In St. Louis, Singin’ In the Rain) is that it at least contains five new Lerner and Loewe songs that are pretty much on the level of the original score, and “The Contract” is easily the best of them.
Archives for November 2015
This song is far too much of a forgotten gem, given that it’s an essential part of virtually every stage production of one of history’s most successful musicals, but because it was left out of the movie, it seems to be largely unknown outside of hardcore theater-buff circles. It’s the principle character song for Oklahoma’s villain, Jud Fry, and reminds us of why he’s one of musical theater’s most fascinating antagonists. The thing about Jud is, he isn’t evil; he’s crazy. He’s genuinely too insane to help any of the thing he does, and is simultaneously a psychotic sexual predator and potential killer and a tragic outcast who just wants to be loved. This song focuses on both sides of this persona, developing his desperate loneliness and his fantasies about Laurie but climaxing in a burst of psychopathic rage. It might have been cut from the film because the filmmakers were uncomfortable with its sheer darkness and ferocity (it is easily the most intense and dramatic number in the score), but since those filmmakers were, essentially, Rodgers and Hammerstein themselves, and since the movie version is so authentic to the stage show’s spirit in every other respect, I’d tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. It probably had more to do with Rob Steiger, the actor playing Jud, who was absolutely perfect for the part in every other way but probably didn’t have the voice for a number as challenging as “Lonely Room”. And given how hard it would have been to find a Hollywood studio ringer with a suitable sound for the character, it may have actually been the lesser of two evils under the circumstances to simply cut the number. Even so, it seems regrettable, since the only songs from Oklahoma that aren’t household-name tunes are the ones that didn’t make it into the movie, and this song certainly does not deserve to be forgotten the way it has.
This song was cut from the stage version of The Wiz, but reinserted for the disastrous 1978 film version. It’s the only one of the new numbers added for that film that is any good, or that sounds remotely like it belongs alongside the stage songs, probably because it was actually written by the original stage songwriters and actually had a natural slot in the original story. It’s more upbeat than the number that replaced it in the stage version, “I Was Born On the Day Before Yesterday”, and it makes a big impression in the film, but that’s mostly because it’s being sung by Michael Jackson (he couldn’t act, but he did a fine job with his big musical number, even if his Scarecrow still being on his pole at that point meant his dance options were limited). That said, it isn’t as lyrically interesting or as relevant to the character as “I Was Born On the Day Before Yesterday”; the music in The Wiz may have been intentionally in the style of Motown-esque Pop-R&B, but the lyrics to “You Can’t Win” sound more like an actual pop tune and less like a theater song than “I Was Born On the Day Before Yesterday”, which does a much better job of setting up the Scarecrow’s character, so I can see why they thought it would ultimately be more valuable to the show.
This is the song that was replaced by “Something Good” in the film version, and even productions that are rigorous about fidelity to the original stage version usually use “Something Good” in its place. There are two reasons for this: one, the way the songs are set up means you can substitute one for the other without changing a single line of dialogue, and two, given that fact, it’s only common sense to replace a bad song with a great one. This has to be the dullest, least tuneful ballad Rodgers and Hammerstein ever wrote, and while some of the songs in The Sound of Music may get some flack for being excessively sugary, the fact remains that this is the only clear dud in the entire score. Granted, it has slightly more to do with the actual dramatic situation than “Something Good”, but its dreariness drains all the dramatic life out of what should be a thrilling moment in the show…and let’s face it, almost none of the songs in The Sound of Music are tightly integrated into the drama anyway. The other two songs from the stage version of The Sound of Music that didn’t make it into the film, “How Can Love Survive” and “No Way To Stop It”, were cut for the sake of tonal changes and so they wouldn’t have to hire singers to play the Baroness and Max, but this song was cut because it simply wasn’t a good enough song, and I’d say that was one of the smartest decisions the makers of the film made.
In this case, the song in question is still a treasured piece of virtually every stage production of The Music Man, but was left out of the famous film version. It’s a very serious, almost severe song with an almost aria-like construction, and it perfectly sums up Marian’s character, telling us exactly who she is and what she wants without ever seeming expository or heavy-handed for a moment. There’s no clear explanation for why it didn’t make it into the film, but there is a fairly obvious theory. There were persistent rumors for many years that this song was ghostwritten, as a kind of gift, by Meredith Wilson’s friend and colleague Frank Loesser, and those rumors have now essentially been confirmed: there are recordings available of the two pieces of music from The Most Happy Fella…a cut song and a bit of underscoring…that, when combined, form the tune of “My White Knight”. Loesser never attempted to claim credit for the song, so it seems unlikely that Wilson was forced to drop it from the film, but the most plausible explanation is that Wilson simply didn’t feel comfortable using a number written by someone else in the film for some reason. The problem is that the song it was replaced with, “Being In Love”, while certainly pretty, is entirely incorrect for Marian’s character, and its bubbly, upbeat sound clashes with the earnest tone of the original number’s recitative-like middle section, which was retained. Despite not being at all a bad song in its own right, the inclusion of “Being In Love” is the only major flaw in an otherwise near-perfect film adaptation, and you could argue “My White Knight” constitutes the primary incentive to actually see the show in the theater, given the quality of most revival versions.
Of the three songs to only appear on the very first Jekyll and Hyde concept album, this is easily the best of the three. It’s an ecstatic, anthemic ballad of epic proportions and features some of the most ravishing music Frank Wildhorn ever wrote. That said, I understand why it was not used in later productions. Presumably it fit better into the plot of the show’s early drafts, but there is no point in either the Broadway version of Jekyll and Hyde, or the version heard on the second concept album, at which it would make any sense. It’s sung to someone that Jekyll has apparently just met, so it was clearly meant to be addressed to Lucy rather than Lisa/Emma, and in all the later drafts of the show Jekyll simply does not care about Lucy even remotely enough to sing her this kind of rhapsodic love song. It sounds incredible as, essentially, a Pop song on that first album (which was basically a Pop album to begin with), but it simply doesn’t have a place in any of the more current versions of the show.
This was originally the Act Two opening for Spring Awakening, returning to the scene after Melchior and Wendla have sex. It’s actually one of the very finest songs written for the show…in the early, pre-Broadway productions, critics routinely singled it out as a highlight, or even the highlight, of the show. The reason it was cut is that the lyrics, while actually better written than most of the show’s lyrical material, are built on a very obscure metaphor for the situation onstage (to clarify, Melchior is the ‘pirate’ in the song, and Wendla is the ‘maiden’). So while it does actually have a concrete connection to the dramatic situation, audiences tended to be confused by the opaque lyrics, so the song was replaced by “The Guilty Ones”, which is almost as lovely a song, so it isn’t too much of a loss. Instead of employing a metaphorical narrative, the new song addressed the feelings of shame and uncertainty that the two lovers were feeling directly (well, as directly as Spring Awakening‘s lyrics ever address anything, which admittedly isn’t very).
I wouldn’t consider the songs on the second Jekyll and Hyde concept album that didn’t make it into the Broadway production ‘cut songs’ in the classic sense of the term, since that album’s version of the material is widely considered superior to the later versions and makes up many people’s primary experience of the show. However, the three songs that were only included on the first concept album, which consisted solely of Colm Wilkinson and Linda Eder sampling a few of the songs for Jekyll and the female leads, are a different story. This song was reportedly intended, in the earliest stages of the show’s writing, to be the centerpiece of the entire score, and while it is very pretty in a frothy, lightweight way, as a centerpiece it would have been rather underwhelming. Moreover, the song that replaced it, “Take Me As I Am”, is both prettier and has more dramatic weight, as well as having far more to do with the show’s actual story, so I don’t think we missed out on too much with this one.