Saturday, April 30, 2005

In Enterprise of Martial Kind

I got the last copy of Li'l Abner in my local DVD store; for a relatively obscure movie with a lot of flaws (it's incredibly stagebound, cuts too much of the music and too little of the dialogue), it sure seems to be popular. The DVD looks very good, but I can't say the same for the sound; it's no fault of the DVD producers, but the mono soundtrack of the film (there was never a stereo soundtrack) is very thin and features surprisingly poor choral singing -- it sounds like there's maybe two singers backing up Stubby Kaye in the "Jubilation T. Cornpone" number. My suggestion is to supplement the DVD with the Broadway cast recording, which has all the songs the movie cut, and, despite being in mono as well, has much better sound than the movie.

One thing I wanted to point out is that "Jublilation T. Cornpone," one of the most beloved of Broadway comedy songs and a number I have been known to play ten times in a row (as part of my plot to drive all friends and co-workers into the street screaming), is very clearly based on the Duke of Plaza-Toro's song from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers. The songs have exactly the same subject, a celebration of an inept and cowardly military leader, and very similar jokes:

In enterprise of martial kind,
When there was any fighting,
He led his regiment from behind--
He found it less exciting.
But when away his regiment ran,
His place was at the fore, O--
That celebrated,
The Duke of Plaza-Toro! (G&S)

When we fought the Yankees and annihilation was near,
Who was there to lead the charge that took us safe to the rear?
Why, it was Jubilation T. Cornpone,
Old toot-your-own-horn-pone,
Jubilation T. Cornpone,
A man who knew no fear.

It doesn't make "Jubilation T. Cornpone" any less of a great song; it just shows the enormous influence that G&S had on the American musical comedy.

1 comment:

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