Thursday, January 29, 2009

"Out Come Pagliacci, Also Liberace"

Here's another song from Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg's score for Jamaica, this one involving not the late Ricardo Montalban but the show's top-billed star, Lena Horne. This was her show-stopping number (though her attempt to record it as a single was not a success, and I don't think I've ever even heard the single version). The lyric is Harburg's usual tweaking of American commercialism -- '50s-style, rather than the '40s-style commercialism satirized in Finian's Rainbow. And Arlen, as he often did, creates a long song with a complicated structure; no two sections of the refrain are really the same, and a section of the slow, dreamy verse becomes the energetic middle section of the refrain.

Because Horne wasn't really a theatre singer and had a relatively small-sized voice (great, but not big), she reportedly used amplification for her numbers; she also got her husband, arranger Lennie Hayton, to re-do the orchestrations for her songs so they were more congenial to her voice. The result was perfectly defensible, but reinforced the feeling that the show was more a pop showcase than a play.

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