Over a month without new postings? Are you even pretending to give a damn about this blog anymore?
Ouch. But fair. I haven't been able to think of much to post here, and I'll admit that's partly because of over-use of Social Media™. If I want to link to something I wind up doing it on the Twitter Box, and then I feel like I can't do it here, because I've done it there.
Also I thought the tone of this blog was becoming a bit predictable, or going over past territory: I would pick a subject and then pontificate. Talking at people is part of blogging, I guess, but I grew more fond of other ways of talking, and I didn't really know how to incorporate them here.
I considered (see below) re-posting old posts expanded and with repaired links. But I wrote up a couple of reworked posts and didn't feel they quite worked. Maybe I just got self-conscious.
Anyway, one thing I sometimes still talk about here that I don't talk about much elsewhere is the Show Tune. (I actually get more call to write about classical than show tunes.) So I'll briefly illustrate something I was talking about the other day in a verbal, and therefore ephemeral, conversation.
The song "Bill" from Show Boat is one of the most famous examples of a "trunk song": Jerome Kern had written it for a musical in 1918, it was cut from that show and one other, and Kern interpolated it into Show Boat in 1927. It works, in part, because in the second act of Show Boat most of the "show-within-a-show" numbers are real songs from the period, and the slightly old-fashioned sound of "Bill" (in a gentler style that Kern had abandoned for a richer sound) sounds about right as an example of something Julie might have been singing in her stage career.
To put the song into Show Boat, though, Kern rewrote the music a little bit, which required Oscar Hammerstein to add some new lyrics to P.G. Wodehouse's original. Here are the lyrics (unearthed by John McGlinn, though not included in his huge three-disc Show Boat recording; he did it on his "Broadway Showstoppers" disc instead) originally written by Wodehouse for Oh, Lady! Lady!
And here's the Show Boat version made famous by Helen Morgan:
As you can hear, most of the lyrics are Wodehouse's. There used to be some confusion about that, and both Wodehouse and Hammerstein had to correct people who said that Hammerstein rewrote the whole thing. The verses are all Wodehouse and the endings of both refrains are Wodehouse. But Kern rewrote the melody to give each "A" section a less clunky ending: instead of both "A" sections ending the same way (just with different modulations), Kern created a longer melodic line that flowed into the "B" section. Instead of a short melodic line ("of all the men...") the more mature Kern substituted a longer one ("You'd meet him on the street and never notice him"). Hammerstein wrote the new words to go with the new melody.
The other thing Hammerstein did was to make the lyrics a little more sentimental. "Bill" is famous as a torch song, but in neither version is it actually a torch song; it's a classic example of a number whose meaning comes from its context. But the original song, as Kern and Wodehouse wrote it, is a light comedy number with a tone familiar from almost any Wodehouse novel: a sensible, cute girl loves a young man of no particular accomplishments, someone whose very name ("Bill") suggests blandness. She loves him "because he's... I don't know," and Wodehouse first has her compare him unfavorably to classical heroes:
In grace and looks,
I know that Apollo
Would beat him all hollow
And in the second refrain, she criticizes his dancing skills, with a couplet that was one of Ira Gershwin's favorite Wodehouse lyrics:
Whenever he dances,
His partner takes chances.
The school-level classical references and the joke about a clumsy but lovable hero are very Wodehousian, of course, and they wouldn't have worked in the Show Boat version. The dancing couplet, in particular, wouldn't work because it would get a laugh, and laughs are not what you want when Julie sings it in Show Boat. So Hammerstein changed them to lines that are less comical in tone:
And yet to be
Upon his knee
So comfy and roomy
Feels natural to me.
(I once heard someone criticize Wodehouse as a lyricist for the line "Are not the kind that you/Would find in a statue," because of the mis-accenting of "that." Not realizing that that was a Hammerstein contribution. But the Wodehouse original has the mis-accented "opposite." No lyricist is immune to mis-accenting, I guess.)
There has not been a lot of work, particularly since McGlinn died, on rediscovering Wodehouse's work for the theatre; the Wodehouse cult that's grown up around his books hasn't really spread to his musicals, even though he and Guy Bolton stuffed them full of the same jokes and themes he used in the novels. (He actually turned Oh, Lady! Lady! into a rather good novel, "The Small Bachelor.") I wouldn't say they're up to the standard of his best novels, since he was a more skilful prose stylist than playwright or lyricist -- and arguably his strongest work as a lyricist, for the musical "Sitting Pretty" (which McGlinn recorded) is married to a duller-than-usual Kern score (suffering, I think, from being right in between Kern's early period and the heavier Show Boat sound he was transitioning into; it doesn't have the light charm of his early work, but it doesn't have the melodic forcefulness we're used to from Kern, either). Still, Wodehouse and Kern and Bolton were a wonderful team, and it's good that "Bill" at least has managed to preserve one partial example of the Kern-Wodehouse collaboration for all time.