“Try to Remember”: The Autumnal Opening of “The Fantasticks”

The world’s longest-running musical ran for 42 years and 17,162 performances, blocks away from the bright lights and glitter of Broadway’s Great White Way. The Fantasticks opened at the intimate Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York’s Greenwich Village on May 3, 1960. For the original production, $900 were spent on the set and $541 were spent on costumes at a time when budgets for Broadway musicals typically exceeded $250,000. The story is an …

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Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are,” Leon Fleisher

In January we explored Jerome Kern’s extraordinary 1939 ballad, All the Things You Are. It’s one of the most beautiful and harmonically sophisticated songs to come out of the Broadway theater. Allusive and dreamy, it’s a melody which floats from one key to another, taking a magical journey part way around the circle of fifths through a series of continuous modulations. The late Leon Fleisher included his version of All the Things You Are on a 2014 Grammy nominated …

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“I Got Rhythm”: Gershwin in 1931

Even in the midst of the Great Depression, George Gershwin’s 1931 piano performance of I Got Rhythm swings with youthful vitality and optimism. The melody, tossed off with sparkling virtuosity, displays an elegance comparable to the composer’s sleek, finely tailored suit. Gershwin remains eternally young in our collective imagination. Tragically, six years after the recording of this clip, he would succumb to brain cancer at the age of 38. Gershwin wrote I Got Rhythm for …

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Frank Loesser at 110

Today marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of Frank Loesser (1910-1969), the American songwriter who wrote music and lyrics for such legendary Broadway musicals as Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Loesser’s hit songs include Baby, It’s Cold Outside (1944), Luck Be a Lady (1950), Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat (1950), Standing on the Corner (1956), and The Brotherhood of Man (1961). In terms of the integrated musical, Guys …

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Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies”: Fritz Kreisler’s 1927 Recording

Irving Berlin’s timeless 1926 song, Blue Skies, was a last-minute addition to a Rodgers and Hart musical called Betsy, produced by Florenz Ziegfeld. The vaudeville singer and actress, Belle Baker, called up Berlin complaining that the show’s score didn’t contain a “Belle Baker song.” According to Philip Furia and Michael Lasser, Berlin resented the interpolation of songs by other composers into the score of his shows, but he must have been delighted at the …

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Sondheim’s “The Miller’s Son”: A Celebration of What Passes By

Stephen Sondheim turned 90 last Sunday. This year, as Broadway is scheduled to remain dark through April 12, it seems especially important to honor Sondheim’s vast and enduring contribution to American musical theater. Sondheim’s songs take us deep into the psychology of the character. Gradually, they reveal layers of meaning in a way similar to the puzzles that have been a source of lifelong fasciation for the composer and lyricist. One such song …

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Stephen Sondheim’s Ironic Twist on the Romantic Ballad

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, let’s consider the “romantic ballad.” Surely, one of the most majestic and soaring examples of this genre is the song, “If Ever I Would Leave You,” which opens the second act of the 1960 Broadway musical, Camelot. Alan Jay Lerner’s lyrics befit the heroic and chivalrous Lancelot. The melody, by the Austrian-American composer Frederick Loewe, is expansive and noble. Lerner and Loewe is the team that, four years earlier, …

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