"Walk Him Up the Stairs" - Setting the Mood
My apologies to my readers for my absentee behavior these last few days. I have been directing a youth theatre production of Rumpelstiltskin and it enveloped my life. The production is over, and now I blog on!
In my opinion there is no other musical more desperately deserving of a revival than the 1970 Purlie based on the play Purlie Victorious by Ossie Davis. With a score like no other Broadway musical I know, Purlie sets its unique tone with its inspirational opening number "Walk Him Up the Stairs." The curtain rises at a funeral in a rural southern church, the slow, heartfelt mourning of a gospel singer filling the room. Before we know what is happening, the aching melody tranforms into a revival-like celebration. Pall bearers are dancing with the coffin, the choir is swinging with jubilance and the preacherman Purlie is elevating his congregation to heights the Tower of Babel couldn't even reach.
What makes this a great opening number is its element of surprise. We start out thinking we are getting one kind of show, and then we take a jacknife turn in the music and we find ourselves jolted into the high energy, powerhouse world of the new-fangled preacherman and his aggressive approach to overcome the Jim Crow laws of the south. The entire score by Gary Geld and Peter Udell ignites like a firecracker in a gas tank, and "Walk Him Up the Stairs" establishes our understanding that each song to come will knock the wind out of us. Very few opening numbers of Broadway musicals can achieve this height of theatricality so early on. The opening of Purlie is an eleven-o'clock number at 8 PM.
What opening numbers do my readers believe have this kind of high-energy power so early in the show? I can think of a few others such as "Aquarius" from Hair, "Twenty-Million People" from My Favorite Year, the title tune from Ragtime, and "All that Jazz" from Chicago.