Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Enjoying Jule Styne

Having some more free time, I'm able to indulge in daytime lectures on subjects in which I've always been interested, such as theatrical history. Yesterday I went to a program in Bethesda on the Broadway composer Jule Styne. Just for openers, he wrote the music for Gypsy, Funny Girl, and Bells Are Ringing. Born in London with immigrant parents who took him to Chicago when he was eight, he was a prodigy and could have gone on as a pianist. 

Instead, he liked popular music, so after writing some songs, he went to Hollywood where he wrote a lot of songs, many with Sammy Cahn, including "It's Been a Long, Long Time" and "Three Coins in the Fountain" for the picture of the same name, for which he won his Oscar.

On Broadway, he  began with High Button Shoes, with Phil Silvers and Nanette Fabray, and then wrote "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" for Carol Channing in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. His "additional music" for Peter Pan included two wonderful numbers: "Captain Hook's Waltz" and "Neverland"--watching a video of Mary Martin singing "Neverland" was one of those golden moments of showbiz.

Then there were some greats: "The Party's Over" sung by Judy Holliday in Bells Are Ringing and "Don't Rain on My Parade" and "People" by the one and only Funny Girl,  La Streisand. I remember walking out of the theater after seeing that one and hearing an elderly lady comment to her companion, "She's funny but she's not Fanny." 

The lecturer--another lawyer gone right--didn't stop to mention Say, Darling, which was a clever show I remember seeing, which was the breakthrough show for the young Robert Morse. It was a show taken from a memoir of Richard Bissell, who wrote 7 1/2 Cents, the source book for The Pajama Game, now being revived here at Arena in D.C.

Nor did I recall a standard, "Make Someone Happy", from another Phil Silvers show, Do Re Mi. But probably his top show of all was Gypsy, and it was such a pleasure seeing Ethel Merman sing "Everything's Coming Up Roses" when she was 76 and gone forever a few months later. There was also an audio of her doing the inimitable "Rose's Turn." Alas, we also had to watch Rosalind Russell, whose husband bought her the part as a price of his investment in the show, try to do "Small World" and "Funny."

Jule Styne had some of the best collaborators in the business, too. Betty Comden and Adolph Green were with him for many of his best shows, beginning with Bells Are Ringing, and Stephen Sondheim did the lyrics for Gypsy. He really was one of the best.

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