"But Alive" - Remebering Lauren Bacall and Talking Music
Lauren Bacall's recent passing inspired me to pull out my original cast recording of the 1969 musical Applause, a then contemporary musical adaptation of the short story "The Wisdom of Eve" by Mary Orr, which was also the basis for the 1950 film All About Eve. The musical introduced Ms. Bacall to the Broadway stage as the dynamic, aging star Margo Channing, an acid-tongued diva masking her fragile ego with pithy retorts and blatant sarcasm. Bette Davis played her in the film and let's face it, Davis is a tough act to follow. For many, Bacall has always been an acquired taste: a somewhat abrasive personality and musically not the most attractive voice to hear belting a Broadway showtune. She was, however, the perfect stage Margo, bringing much of her own larger-than-life personality and personal demons to the role. She won a Tony Award for her performance.
Applause features a high-spirited (if uneven) score by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams that is cemented in the grooviness of the late 1960s/early 1970s. Some have made the case that this makes the show dated, but so much of the score is infectiously melodic that it is hard to dismiss the material's potential for revival (or perhaps "revisal"). One of the show's best numbers is "But Alive." a hyperkinetic list song sung by Margo in a Greenwich Village gay bar on the opening night of her latest Broadway hit. Celebratory and joyous, the song features Margo bursting with excitement as she decides to ditch the stuffy party planned by the producers for her opening, and instead exhuberantly cavorts with the young patrons of the establishment. A contrasting list of Margos' feelings, "But Alive" playfully highlights Margo's insecurities by juxtaposing her generalizations of young Margo with those of aging Margo. When the song has concluded, we have learned that perhaps age is relative and that Margo can be all of these things and still be the life of the party.