Single-Song Showstopper: “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat”

To purchase the Original Broadway Cast Recording of GUYS AND DOLLS, click on the image above.

The theme for April 2012 at Musical Cyberspace is “Single-Song Showstoppers”, a series of big numbers sung by a featured characters in a show – typically their only solo, although they might sing minor bits and pieces elsewhere – each of which raise the roof.

The first single-song showstopper for the month is “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat”, from Guys and Dolls, a musical comedy with book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows and music and lyrics by Frank Loesser. The song is sung by Nicely-Nicely Johnson, who has been played in various productions by Stubbey Kaye (1950), Ken Page (1976), Walter Bobbie (1992) and Tituss Burgess (2009).

The Setup: Nicely-Nicely sings at other points in the show: he sings a part in the opening trio (“Fugue for Tinhorns”) and even has a duet that happens to be the show’s title tune. However, nothing defines his character like this moment, late in the show, in which Nicely-Nicely delivers his testimony at the Mission’s prayer meeting, spinning a yarn about a dream that showed him the error of his ways and urged him to repent.

The Song: “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” is instantly memorable. In 1950, it was a number that epitomised the big Broadway-style showtune, with Stubby Kaye (who also played the role in the film) selling the song all the way. 1976 was the year in which Guys and Dolls was produced on Broadway with an all African American cast. Ken Page sang the song, which was flavoured with gospel overtones that suited the style of that particular revival, which offered new arrangements for many of the songs. When the 1992 revival played Broadway, the number (performed by Walter Bobbie) did not seem to have the same effect it had achieved in previous productions. Some attributed this to Bobbie’s performance, but let’s face it – sometimes what stopped a show in 1950 is run-of-the-mill forty years later. The creative team responded by creating a new ending with a nod to both the 1976 revival’s gospel flavour and to the composer’s own How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying by having General Cartwright break out with a top note as the chorus continued singing underneath. This has become my favourite arrangement of the song. The most recent revival tried to top this with a flat-out gospel ending and gimmicky projections – and failed miserably. Titus Burgess’s vocal stylings – impressive as they might have been towards the end of the number – and the new additions for General Cartwright betrayed the characters and the mileau of the show. The number played more like something out of a cheap revue rather than a first class production of a classic Broadway musical. Such a pity.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat”. Click on the comments link at the end of this post and share them with us!

This entry was posted in Abe Burrows, Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Single-Song Showstopper: “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat”

  1. Kevin Lobat says:

    There was only one Stubby Kaye and he was wonderful indeed.
    His tenor rings true, not contrived, to the material as evidenced on the Guys and Dolls original cast album and on Li’l Abner as well – his legendary show stopping performances as Nicely-Nicely and Marryin’ Sam set a high bar and standard that few can achieve no matter how many superfluous high notes they manage squeeze in and belt out.
    And his gentle comedic quality and face and body are the stuff that funny dreams and bits are made of. Bravo.
    Mr. Kaye is an inimitable Broadway legend and rightly so – there’ll never be another like him.
    Mr. Page was a wonderful Nicely in his own special way as well – nicely done sir.

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