Friday, December 23, 2005

Great Lyrics: "Someone in April"

Alan Jay Lerner was never a very consistent writer, and after the retirement of his songwriting partner, Frederick Loewe, he spent twenty-plus years writing a series of frustrating near-misses: shows that had something good in them but were sunk by crippling flaws that Lerner couldn't be prevailed upon to address.

Of those post-Loewe shows, probably the best was Carmelina, written in 1979 with composer Burton Lane. (Lane was Lerner's most congenial partner, other than Loewe; they also did the film Royal Wedding and the show On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.) This show was based on the movie Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, about three American soldiers who were in Italy during the wartime occupation. The return to Italy after twenty years, not realizing that the heroine, Mrs. Campbell, slept with all three of them during the occupation and had a child by one of them -- she's not sure which one.

The show only ran about a week, having been pilloried by the critics as old-fashioned and out of touch; that was what was good about it, though. The score and style of the show were remeniscent of a good solid musical comedy from the '50s or early '60s, the kind of thing Broadway could really have used in 1979 and still could use now. Lerner and Lane's work wasn't up to their very best, but it was very good; Lerner in particular turned out his best lyrics in many years.

The key song in the show, and a great example of how great songwriters can make a memorable song out of a situation that doesn't seem inherently musical, was "Someone in April." This is the part where Mrs. Campbell fills in the backstory, telling us the details necessary to understand what happened twenty years ago and how her daughter was fathered by one of three men. Instead of doing it as a dry, dull patch of dialogue, Lerner and Lane did it as a song -- and Lane provided the most beautiful melody in the score, a melody that makes something almost romantic out of a situation that could come off as unpleasant or even depressing. And Lerner's lyric, which I post below, is a model of how to do expository material within a Broadway song, with a verse/refrain structure. It's also free of the sloppiness that sometimes plagued Lerner's lyrics, and includes great touches like the references to Italian popular culture (Vittorio De Sica, La Boheme) and the fact that the singer's age gets lower each time she mentions it.

All alone. Seventeen.
The type that De Sica has in every scene.
A poor little sparrow in the human storm,
My hands with no other hands to keep them warm.
And then, in a way you couldn't plan,
I looked and saw a man,
And my life began

Someone in April,
A stranger in April,
Said, could he come in for a while?
Somehow I knew from his smile
That he would be
Gentle with me.
Little by little my heart
Began to fill.
Soon we were never apart,
Someone in April,
One morning in April,
Before he went out of the door,
Said "Thank you for April,"
And I was all alone once more.

All alone. Just sixteen.
You'd think I was Mimi in the final scene.
I wept, I don't know, till almost four o'clock,
And then, very faintly, I heard someone knock.
"Come in," I suppose I must have said.
And when I turned my head,
All my sorrow fled,

Someone in April
Was lonesome in April,
As lonesome and helpless as I.
Oh, but how bashful and shy!
Could I...? Could he...?
That is, could we...?
Holding him close for dear life,
I lived again.
Mother and sister and wife,
But then
One day in April,
My someone in April
Left roses with love at the door
That faded in April
And left me all alone once more.

All alone. Blue with cold.
My hands with no other hands for me to hold.
A child with a woman lurking in her breast,
A poor little pigeon in an empty nest,
And then out of nowhere I was blessed

Someone in April,
My life became April
The moment he kneeled at my side.
Something about him implied
He hoped he might
Stay for the night.
Soon all the room in my heart
Was filled again.
Soon we were never apart,
But then
Someone in April
One evening in April
Went out to the neighborhood store,
Leaving the soup to get colder,
Leaving the wine to grow older,
Leaving me all alone once more.

Someone in April,
It had to be April,
That one little month I was with
Braddock, Karzinski and Smith.
It had to be
One of the three.
All of them came through the door
Like cavaliers.
One of them left me with more
Than tears.
Someone in April,
It happened in April
That one of those generous men
Made certain in April
I'd never be alone again.

(copyright 1979 by Alan Jay Lerner)


eddyprice32949885 said...
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Larry Becker said...

I googled Someone in April lyrics and found your site. Thanks! This has been one of my favorite numbers ever since I heard the OC recording and simply the best example of what songs are supposed to do in Broadway shows. Don't know where you are, but the York Theater in Manhattan did a revised version of Carmelina about 2-3 years ago. I didn't see the original production, but I enjoyed this version very much.