Kander and Ebb’s The Act was one of the most relentlessly mediocre musicals of the Seventies. One of their many vehicles for Liza Minnelli, it was basically a glorified nightclub act masquerading as a musical. Granted, the idea of a Minnelli-fronted nightclub act doesn’t sound all that unpalatable in itself, but when you add in the least interesting score of Kander and Ebb’s career and the star being in extremely poor voice for most of the run, the result was a severe disappointment. That said, in the early stages of the show’s creation, it seems to be trying for something more ambitious than just a dressed-up nightclub act, as this cut song from an early draft of the show indicates. But while this song certainly doesn’t lack for serious content, it’s still a spectacularly unpleasant piece. It consists of an incredibly disturbing musical narrative from the perspective of a wealthy society lady who was abused as a child and now hires random thugs to beat her up because she gets off on it. The show this song was written for certainly sounds more interesting than the finished version of The Act, but it doesn’t really seem any more likely to succeed, or, frankly, any less awful.
“You’ll Find Your Happiness in Rio” from The Producers
This song was reportedly cut because the scene it was designed to be in would have cost too much money, but when it was reinserted for the ill-fated film version, it became clear that they made the right choice for more reasons than one. Firstly, they made a much better decision to focus this moment in the show on Max sitting forlorn in jail rather than showing Leo in Rio…Max’s showstopper “Betrayed” wound up being one of the show’s finest moments. Second, this just isn’t a very good song, and certainly not up to the material in the finished score. The Latin tune is incredibly synthetic and cheesy, sounding rather like a slower, less earworm-y version of “The Macarena”. And the shock humor in the lyrics (‘The tropic breezes always blow there/And so, I hear, do the girls’) just comes off as heavy-handed and lame rather than raucously funny like the numbers in the finished show. If this had wound up being the show’s eleven-o’clock number (remember, it was slated to go where “Betrayed” is now), it might have actually hurt the show’s chances for success, but thankfully, Brooks was smart enough to get rid of it. Now, if only he had shown that kind of sense about pretty much every number in the Young Frankenstein musical…
“Parents” from Annie
The only recording available of this song is a low-quality demo sung by the composer and lyricist that was included as a bonus track on a rerelease of the cast album, and frankly even that is probably too good for it. In fact, this may well be the worst song ever cut from a top-level Broadway classic. The premise of this song is, in fact, almost exactly the same as that of the legendarily awful Rob Reiner children’s film North (granted, this song came up with the idea twenty years before North did, but trust me, this routine was just as offensive in the Seventies as it would be in the Nineties). It basically consists of a bunch of extremely offensive ethnic caricatures trying to pretend to be Annie’s parents (so they can collect the reward money Warbucks is offering), and fighting with each other about which of them is supposedly telling the truth. Granted, even the songs in the finished score of Annie, while good, generally left something to be desired in the lyrics department, but there’s really no excuse for this monstrosity. Even songwriters Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin seem to be genuinely ashamed that they ever even considered putting this in the show…in the accompanying liner notes, Charnin seems extremely embarrassed that this song ever saw the light of day. Of course, there was no chance of this ever actually ending up in the finished version of a show as capably produced as Annie, but just the fact that they bothered to finish writing it, let alone recorded a demo of it and sang it at backer’s auditions, is more than horrifying enough in and of itself.
“Proud Lady” from The Baker’s Wife
This is less a case of ‘cut song’ per se, and more a case of ‘song revised out of recognition’, since there is still a song with the same melody and title in the current draft of the show, but the song’s lyrics would be pretty much rewritten from the ground up. People who know this show mainly from the cast album may resent these changes, since the song on its own actually works better in the original version, but I get why the changes were made. The original song is the direct ancestor of Gaston’s “Me” from Beauty and the Beast, albeit with more interesting music, and paints a hilariously perfect picture of swaggering male egotism. The problem is that it paints Dominique as a conceited, insincere, sexist sleaze, and since our heroine Genevieve is at least temporarily convinced that she’s in love with him, this winds up making her look like a shallow idiot who’s only interested in the sexual components of what she calls ‘love’, which is not who her character is supposed to be. This sabotages the show’s message, which is supposed to be to pit intense, passionate Romeo-and-Juliet romantic love against gentle, comfortable ‘share-our-lives-together’ love and see which one is more sustainable. For this to work, Dominique has to be at least vaguely plausible as an actual love interest, or Genevieve’s interest in him comes off not as passionate romance but mere lust, which makes the show’s central question a lot less interesting. In the current version, Dominique is still quite full of himself, but he at least seems to genuinely believe he is in love in Genevieve, and even shows a brief glimmer of sympathy and regret for the jilted husband he’s going to have to hurt to get her. Also, this more genuinely romantic version of the song is arguably a more natural match for the ravishing and extremely sensual music to which both versions are set. Both versions are excellent songs, the second version even arguably less so, but while the original version sounded great in the context of a cult cast album, the new version is far more effective at actually telling the story the show was meant to convey.
“Growltiger’s Last Stand” from CATS
This song was cut from the ubiquitous video version of CATS, leaving it slightly more obscure among the younger generation of fans whose exposure to the show was largely limited to that video. The most obvious reason for this is that this number is presented as a flashback to Gus the Theater Cat’s glory years, and it is traditional for the actor playing Gus to play this role as well. In the video, they had famed British actor John Mills playing Gus for the sake of the obvious real-world parallels, and obviously Mills could never have pulled off such an athletic and vocally demanding part as Growltiger at his age. Other factors might have been that it is the only number in the show that requires an extra set beyond the junkyard background that serves in the rest of the show, or that it comes across as rather politically incorrect to a modern audience. The Siamese Cats are portrayed fairly respectfully from a character perspective, given that they are essentially the heroes of the story, but there is a lot of stereotypical language used in connection to them…at one point the word ‘chink’ is even uttered, although truthfully it wouldn’t be all that hard to neutralize this problem with some slight rewrites (if “It Depends on What You Pay” from The Fantasticks can be salvaged, surely this song can too). In any case, its deletion from the video is a real shame, because it really is one of the highlights of the show’s already marvelous score. The poem it is based on goes through several extreme changes in mood while sticking to one very simple meter throughout, making it inherently difficult to turn into a song, but Webber was up to the challenge. He managed to create a dark, stormy sea chanty, an exquisite lyrical ballad, an eerie Eastern-inflected theme for the Siamese, a Puccini-esque opera spoof, and a glowering march for the finale out of the same simple repeating melody. This was, of course, something that Webber had to do throughout CATS, since the T.S. Eliot children’s poems he was working with generally featured simple, repetitive meters, but nowhere is it more impressive than in this elaborate narrative set piece. In the original London production, the song also included an interpolated setting of another Eliot poem, “The Ballad of Billy McCaw”, and while this song has disappeared from future productions (it was replaced with the aforementioned opera parody), it is as exquisite as the rest of the sequence, and deserves to be better known among the show’s fans. This sequence as a whole constitutes one of Webber’s greatest achievements, and an impressive testament to his skill both as a melodist and a musical dramatist, and despite its relative obscurity, it stands as one of the show’s most magnificent moments.
“Marguerite” from The Scarlet Pimpernel
This song, which was written for an early draft of the show and is included on the concept album made during the show’s pre-Broadway stages, is haunting, devilishly erotic and infused with pure, irresistible evil. It’s arguably even an improvement on Frank Wildhorn’s earlier attempt at the same effect, in Hyde’s numbers “Alive” and “Dangerous Game” from Jekyll and Hyde. However, I understand why they ultimately replaced it with “Where’s the Girl?”. Both songs are seductive solos for primary villain Chauvelin, and both are absolutely exquisite songs, ranking with the best material Wildhorn ever wrote. The difference is that “Marguerite”, as stated, is deliciously and palpably evil, and the creators ultimately decided they wanted to portray Chauvelin as more of a tragic, misguided antivillain, a corrupted former hero who didn’t quite notice the point at which he turned into the bad guy. As such, “Where’s the Girl?” is a straightforward and rather sweet love song that doesn’t sound villainous at all, and it establishes this man as not evil by nature and his love for Marguerite as genuine. It also allowed for an intense and angry reprise when Chauvelin finally goes over the edge into unambiguous villainy, something that would have been extremely difficult to do with a song that was already as evil-sounding as “Marguerite”. This song is an interesting illustration of how a genuinely good song may not be right for a particular moment for reasons unrelated to it’s quality, but I will say I am genuinely happy that it did get preserved on the concept recording, because dramatic issues aside, it really is one of the best items written for this show.
“When Jealous Torments Rack My Soul” from The Yeomen of the Guard
This song was originally the establishing solo for Wilfred Shadbolt, the Head Jailer and Assistant Tormentor at the Tower of London and unwanted suitor to secondary female lead Phoebe Merrill. Had this song actually been included, it would have made Wilfred, who in the final version is little more than a comic stooge, a much more intimidating and frightening character. It is one of the most daring and disturbing songs Gilbert and Sullivan ever wrote, as perverse and kinky as you could conceivably get away with on the Victorian-era stage, which presumably had something to do with why it was cut. It revels in Wilfred’s frustrated lust for Phoebe and his obsession with pain and torment in a way that suggests the two are not entirely unrelated, which is particularly unnerving given that by the operetta’s end, he has succeeded in forcing her to marry him. The fact that they even considered including this song just shows how different Yeomen really is from their other operettas, and how much more serious and ambitious they really meant this material to be.
“Cool, Cool Considerate Men” from 1776
This is one of the cleverest songs from this score, which has a reputation for being inconsistent and uneven (slightly more of one than it deserves, actually), despite the show’s undeniably brilliant book. And while I feel the score as a whole is rather underrated, this is undoubtedly one of very few songs in it to approach the cleverness of the book. It consists of a minuet for the Loyalists (read: conservatives) in the Continental Congress, and draws viciously satirical parallels between them and modern conservatives. With a melody that repeatedly quotes “The Star-Spangled Banner” and cries of “Hosanna! Hosanna!”, it thus mocks the patriotic and religious trapping modern American conservatives like to surround themselves with. As witty as the lyrics are, the sharpest moment comes in a dialogue break, when villain John Dickenson sums up the reason that many lower-class people vote for conservative politicians…”Most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor”. The most probable reason it was cut from the show’s film version is the obvious one…that the accompanying visuals of portly gentlemen in wigs and frock coats dancing stiffly with one another around the Congress’ meeting-room, which is already the song’s one major liability on stage, looked so ridiculous on film that they didn’t think people would even notice the song itself. But there is a persistent rumor among Broadway and Hollywood conspiracy buffs that then-President Richard Nixon strong-armed the studio into cutting it for political reasons. This seems a bit far-fetched, but the rumors persist, probably because it doesn’t sound all that out-of-character for most people’s image of Nixon (although in reality, Nixon was reportedly rather a fan of the play). In any case, the film got by without it, and frankly I imagine that’s for the best: as sharp and clever as the number was, I tend to agree that it would just look giggle-inducing on film, and masterpiece though that film is, the visual components of it are awkward enough as it is.