Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"Moon of My Delight"

My favorite song by Rodgers and Hart, and my favorite musical-theatre song of all, is "It Never Entered My Mind" (from Higher and Higher, a 1940 bomb that has a far better score than R&H's hit from the same year, Pal Joey). But this song is probably my second or third-favorite among their work.

It's from another bomb, a very strange one: Chee-Chee, a 1928 musical about the son of the Grand Eunuch of China, who, to avoid taking over his father's job, goes on the run with his beautiful young wife. Yes, a musical built on castration jokes (and with a chorus of singing eunuchs, yet). Show Boat had changed the way musicals were written, and it seems like Rodgers, Hart and their regular scriptwriter Herbert Fields tried to write a musical in an entirely new way, too: there were a few separate songs, but most of the songs were short fragments, going in and out of the narrative so quickly that they weren't even listed in the program. (Stephen Sondheim's Passion tried something similar, but I hate that show so I won't go into detailed comparisons.)

The best of the longer songs was "Moon of My Delight," a love ballad with one of Hart's ironic, off-center love lyrics; it's hard to tell at first that it even is a love song. The song has such a unique feel and sound, so much of a piece with the whole show, that it could never become a pop hit. Hart wrote a new lyric for the song, re-titled "Thank You In Advance," but it didn't become a hit in that form, either, and the new lyric was much less strong than the original.

There have been a few recordings of the song, but this recording, from mezzo-soprano Frederica Von Stade's crossover album "My Funny Valentine: Frederica Von Stade Sings Rodgers and Hart" (conducted by the late John McGlinn) is the only recording to use the gorgeous original orchestrations, by Roy Webb. Movie buffs will recognize Webb's name because when talkies came in, he left Broadway to join RKO Radio Pictures, where he composed the music for Notorious, most of the Val Lewton films and many RKO noirs. He was a wonderful orchestrator, but unfortunately much of his work on Rodgers and Hart shows has been lost.

The over-reverberant sound of this recording, combined with some of Von Stade's peculiarities of diction, make the lyrics a little hard to understand at times, so I've transcribed them below.


Moon of moons, when you are mine,
Bright the night will be.
But remember, when you shine,
Concentrate on me.
Moon of moons, be mine alone,
Mine alone -- don't laugh, moon!
I could never care to own
A quarter or a half moon.

Moon of my delight,
I'm going to put a ring around you.
You'll stay home tonight,
Scintillating where I found you.
When you were a little crescent,
Your manners were as soft as wool.
Now you're getting effervescent,
But maybe that's because you're full.
Moon of my delight,
If you'd only treat me right,
We could have a satellite or two,
Moon of my delight.

You're my moon and I'm your earth,
Bless me with your gaze!
What are lovely evenings worth
If I lose your rays?
If you ever should depart,
I would be a mean cheese.
If you leave me, then your heart
Must be made of green cheese.


Whit said...

Had Howard Ashman still been around, he might have done something in this vein for Disney's Mulan. No other latter day songwriter could (or did) come close. The original orchestrations are marvellous and the numerous choral refrains never wear out their welcome.

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