Thursday, May 29, 2008

Up Goes Fiorello, And Everybody Cheers

Bob Elisberg argues that Fiorello! is one of the greatest musicals of all time. (link via Mark Evanier.) While he mistakenly says that Fiorello! beat West Side Story for the Tony -- it was actually Gypsy that it beat; WSS was beaten by The Music Man -- he's right about everything else.

It has one of the best scripts ever written for a musical, combining political issues, history and fast-paced comedy. The veteran director and co-writer of the show, George Abbott, was famed for inventing all sorts of ways to keep a play moving faster; he was obsessed with never wasting time for a second, and came up with ideas like covering scene changes with a short scene in front of the curtain. (So if there's a big scene change, instead of making the audience wait for the next scene, he'll have two characters walk across the stage discussing something or singing a reprise until the next set is ready.) It's amazingly fast and funny for a what is basically a serious story about politics, and it also incorporates all the musical-comedy conventions later "serious" musicals would do without: a secondary romantic couple, dance specialty numbers (choreographed by Peter Gennaro, formerly Jerome Robbins' assistant). And the score has a unique sound that fits the story perfectly, a sort of hard-driving, punchy, tinny sound, played up by Irwin Kostal's orchestrations -- the overture begins with a police whistle. It may be the best "Serious Musical Comedy" of all time.

And, though I've posted it before, one of the best comedy songs ever (and only one of several great comedy songs in the show; how many musicals with serious subjects would have so many comedy songs and so few introspective songs?):


Unknown said...

Lyricist Sheldon Harnick interviewed in conjunction with a Chicago production of Fiorello.

ajm said...

It won the Pulitzer, and it was probably only Bock and Harnick's third-best score (after Fiddler on the Roof and She Loves Me).