All in Music That Makes Me Dance
The Grammy Awards are set to air this Sunday, February 10th, and with all the pop superstars about to take center stage to receive accolades on national television, I thought it might be nice to recognize the nominee for “Best Musical Theater Album”. A category that both pertains to our musical theatre interests and one that will not be awarded on the network broadcast, “Best Musical Theater Album” has some strong nominees this year. All five of them are great albums, but only one can be named the victor. Here are my thoughts on each nominee.
The other night I was making my way through Amazon Prime video, looking for something to watch. After sorting through hundreds of movies and television shows that I just knew wouldn’t hold my interest at that moment, I stumbled upon the 1956, Producer’s Showcase made-for-television version of the 1944 Broadway musical Bloomer Girl. My streaming choice for the evening was set. I have always adored the Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg score ever since I was first introduced to it in my History of American Musical Theatre class in college. Having listened to the score multiple times and read the book of Bloomer Girl for that glorious seminar, I was sad to realize that no one hardly ever produces this adventurous and courageous show that came fast on the heels of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s groundbreaking Oklahoma!. Watching an abridged, made-for-television version was most-likely the closest I would get to seeing a production of the show, so I hit the play button, sat back, and took a little jaunt into musical theatre history, where I admittedly spend most of my time.
Shirley Jones proved her mettle as a star of musicals, albeit predominantly in film musicals. She found her early start when the casting director for Rodgers and Hammerstein, John Fearnley, discovered her at a casting call. When Richard Rodgers saw what Jones was capable of, she was put under contract with the duo (the first and only singer to achieve this honor). She was immediately cast in a minor role in South Pacific, and then was given a chorus role in their musical Me and Juliet, working her way up to an understudy for the lead. When Rodgers and Hammerstein went to Hollywood to begin work on the film version of their groundbreaking Oklahoma! (1955), it was Jones that they cast in the role of the farm girl Laurey.
Hollywood proved to be a perfect fit for Jones, and Rodgers and Hammerstein were quick to usher her into the film version of Carousel (1956) when the casting of Judy Garland fell through. Other film musicals included April Love (1957) and the film adaptation of the Broadway hit The Music Manin the role of the uptight Marian the Librarian. She also won an Oscar for playing Lulu Baines in the nonmusical Elmer Gantry. Broadway, however, would eventually beckon Shirley Jones back, and the star vehicle that would be her triumphant return would be the short-lived Maggie Flynn (1968).
In 1964, a musical opened on Broadway that neither a runway hit, nor was it a calamitous flop. The musical drew its inspiration from two Joseph Mitchell New Yorker short stories: “The Gypsy Women” and “The King of the Gypsies”. The score for the show was written by Walter Marks (who is probably best known for writing the song standard “I Gotta Be Me” recorded by the likes of Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis, Jr.) and a book by playwright and screenwriter Ernest Kinoy. The musical was the also-ran Bajour, a show that, despite some detractions, also had much to recommend, particularly in Marks’ lively score.