1 to 5 Musical Theatre Month: Lerner and Loewe’s Big Five

Today’s five musicals are all written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. As a team, Lerner and Loewe wrote a number of hit shows during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, with their final collaboration being a film adaptation of The Little Prince in the 1970s. Today, I’m going to take a look at their ‘Big Five’: Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, My Fair Lady, Camelot and Gigi.

1. My Fair Lady

To purchase the Original Broadway Cast Recording of MY FAIR LADY, click on the image above.

Many people refer to My Fair Lady as the perfect musical. Newsflash: it isn’t. Where do its faults lie? In the lyrics. For a man who had a reputation of agonizing for weeks over a single lyric, Lerner certainly let his share of duds through and a few make their way into My Fair Lady, the worst offender being the use of ‘hung’ instead of ‘hanged’ in the opening number, a choice which hamstrings the leading man even as it establishes him. That said, the show is the best of the Lerner and Loewe shows: it is exquisitely constructed, the characters play off one another wonderfully and the songs became standards the instant they were introduced by Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews.

2. Camelot

To purchase the Original Broadway Cast Recording of CAMELOT, click on the image above.

Camelot is Lerner and Loewe’s most deeply emotional show. Due to its complicated production history, it’s something of a flawed masterpiece. A prologue, added later, helped audiences to reconcile the tone of the start of the show with its ending. If only, somewhere on the troubled road to its initial production, someone had pruned away the excesses that haunt it even today, especially given that the delightful “Then You May Take Me to the Fair” managed to be cut during the run of the original production, the show might have had a definitive form and been truly excellent. As it is, the show is incredibly moving and there’s no better introduction to it than through the Original Broadway Cast Recording.

3. Gigi

Gigi differs from the other musicals on this list, because it originated as a film musical which was then adapted for the stage 15 years later. While some people cringe at the film’s opening sentiment (“Thank Heaven for Little Girls”), that’s really the only flaw in what is a delightful coming-of-age story set against a very specific social backdrop. While the stage show perhaps dilutes the charm somewhat, it still has those great musical numbers that made the film memorable, including “Gigi”, “The Night They Invented Champagne” and “I Remember It Well”. However, I’d hate to be a young actress going up against the memory of Leslie Caron in the star role. Caron is, in a word, unforgettable – even if she was – to her distress – dubbed by Betty Wand after filming the songs to her own voice tracks.

4. Paint Your Wagon

To purchase the Original Broadway Cast Recording of PAINT YOUR WAGON, click on the image above.

I wonder whether Paint Your Wagon with its bizarre and misogynistic wife-selling narrative thread will ever have a major commercial revival. If “I’m a Bad, Bad Man” was too racy for audiences at the turn of the century, Paint Your Wagon isn’t likely to be seen in an unrevised form any time soon. (A revised version was already produced in Utah in 2007.) It’s a pity, because the show has a simply marvellous score, including memorable tunes like “They Call the Wind Maria”, “How Can I Wait?” and “Wand’rin’ Star”. The show also spawned what must be one of the weirdest movie musicals out, adapting the show to create a polyamorous marriage between Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood and Jean Seberg.

5. Brigadoon

To purchase the Original Broadway Cast Recording of BRIGADOON, click on the image above.

I love the idea of Brigadoon. On paper, it intrigues me no end. The show itself, and the even lesser film that was adapted from it, confound me. I adore “The Heather On The Hill” and “Almost Like Being In Love” (when it’s swung), but the rest of the score is either forgettable (while it isn’t a favourite of mine, “Music of the Night” uses the musical phrase that Andrew Lloyd Webber is so often accused of lifting from “Come to Me, Bend to Me” far better) or ridiculous (“Waitin’ For My Dearie”). Rumours of a “revisal” of the show surfaced in 2008, mentioning a book by John Guare that turned Brigadoon into a pacifist town that disappeared in 1939, sank without a trace.

Every day this December, I’m choosing 5 musicals linked by a common theme and ranking them from best to worst. I’d love to see your rankings of the musicals posted each day, so head on down to the comment box and share your thoughts.

This entry was posted in Alan Jay Lerner, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Frederick Loewe, Fun Stuff and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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