A Baker's Dozen of Musical Ditties for Mother's Day
Today is Mother's Day and it's time to celebrate all of the great ladies who have loved us and nurtured us. What better way in musical theatre circles to celebrate the moms in our lives than to create a playlist of songs that capture the true essence of the mother. So, to go with your baker's dozen of bagels for your Mother's Day brunch, I present:
A Baker's Dozen of Musical Ditties for Mother's Day.
"Mama Will Provide"
Broadway: Once on this Island
Mothers are providers, the people who make sure we are fed, clothed, protected and loved. In the musical Once on this Island it is Asaka (Mother Earth) who watches over the young Ti Moune as she crosses a Caribbean island, braving the elements, to be with the young man she loves. In the song "Mama Will Provide", Asaka sings of all the things she will provide her child. Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music) paint a colorful collage of the flora, fauna and other provisions she will encounter on her journey, all gifts from her loving Mama.
Broadway: Kiss of the Spider Woman
There is not much motherly love to be found inside a cell of a South American prison. That is, of course, unless you are the window dresser Molina whose active imagination can conjure his mum (Merle Louise) out of the darkness for love and support. Dressed in the movie usherette uniform (she works in a cinema), she comforts her incarcerated son with the heartbreaking "Dear One" by Kander and Ebb." He soon joins in and they are together in one place, sharing the love of a gay man and his devoted mother.
Disney's animated film Dumbo may well-be one of the most touching stories ever about a mother and child. The circus elephant Mrs. Jumbo (Verna Felton) gives birth to the floppy-eared, flying elephant Dumbo. While trying to protect her little boy during a performance that spirals out of control, she is deemed "mad" and locked up in a circus train car. Through the bars on her cell, she cradles her baby with her trunk and sings him the reassuring "Baby Mine" by Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace. The song was sung by popular voiceover artist Betty Noyes and was nominated for a 1941 Academy Award.
"The Story Goes On"
If ever a musical was about the trials and tribulations of becoming a mother, Maltby and Shire's Baby comes the closest to being a celebration of the honor and sacrifice. One song, "The Story Goes On", sung by Liz Callaway in the original production, is the anthem of motherhood, a swelling and emotional bubble that bursts with the possibilities that bringing a new life into the world can mean.
"The Glamorous Life"
Film: A Little Night Music
The stage production of A Little Night Music featured a song called "The Glamorous Life" that effectively demonstrated the ups and downs of the life of a traveling performer. When the musical was turned into a film, Stephen Sondheim used the same title, but wrote a hauntingly elegant new melody and deftly astute lyrics to be sung from the point of view of the touring stage star Desiree Armfeldt's (Elizabeth Taylor) daughter Fredrika (Chloe Franks). The perspective is that of an adoring daughter who reflects on the trade-offs her mother makes to be a working actress.
"Your Mother and Mine"
Film: Peter Pan
Walt Disney's animated film Peter Pan is full of exciting adventures of flying over London, swashbuckling pirate battles, swimming with mermaids and lovely songs courtesy of Sammy Cahn and Sammy Fain. Peter Pan (Bobby Driscoll), the boy who swears to "never grow up", whisks away the young Wendy Darling (Kathryn Beaumont) to be a mother to him and the Lost Boys. To lull the children to sleep, Wendy sings the lullaby "Your Mother and Mine". It is also to help her brothers John and Michael to remember their real mother back in London as their adventures in Neverland begin to wipe away her memory.
"Mama, A Rainbow"
Broadway: Minnie's Boys
Not many people know the 1970 musical Minnie's Boys, the story of Minnie Marx the woman who raised the boys who would eventually become the stage and screen act The Marx Brothers. One song from this flop musical had continued to live on and that is "Mama, a Rainbow" by Larry Grossman and Hal Hackady. Sung by Daniel Fortus as Harpo Marx (ironically the silent member of the act), the song is a tribute to all the simple gestures of love a mother brings to the lives of her children.
"Spread a Little Sunshine"
Not all mothers are devoted to their children and families in an altruistic way. Fastrada, the Queen in the Stephen Schwartz musical Pippin, is the title character's stepmother. Conniving and scheming, she will do anything to assure that her son Louis is next-in-line for the throne. In her song "Spread a Little Sunshine" she plots her husband's murder to ensure this will happen. Hoping Pippin will do the dirty deed for her, she plays stupid while creating the perfect storm for patricide. Feigning innocence, she announces "After all, I'm just an ordinary housewife and mother."
One of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most experimental works was the musical Allegro. Following the life of the idealistic doctor named Joseph Taylor, Jr. (John Battles) from his birth through college, career and his eventual return home to be a small town physician, the story is anchored by his loving relationship with his parents. His mother, Marjorie Taylor (Annamary Dickey) is a constant voice in his head and a loving guide even after her death. Her song "Come Home" is a mother's reminder of where love, family and a life worth living can be found.
"If He Walked Into My Life"
Jerry Herman's score for Mame is big and brassy for the post part, a fizzy glass of champagne with bubbles to spare. One song, "If He Walked Into My Life", is sung by the title character (Angela Lansbury) when she fears that the nephew she has raised as her own has grown up and grown away from her. This fear resonates with any parent who struggles with letting go and giving their child the room to become their own person. The song is one of Herman's most emotionally charged and poignant.
"The Bear, The Tiger, The Hamster and The Mole"
Off-Broadway: Closer Than Ever
The composing team of Maltby and Shire have made a career out of exploring motherhood as a theme in their works. Usually, it is an affectionate look at the institution, but in the Off-Broadway musical Closer Than Ever, they make a more practical and clinical examination. Sung by a scientist (Lynne Winterstellar), "The Bear, The Tiger, The Hamster and The Mole" is a celebration of all the female animals who use the male for one thing: fertilization, and then raise their young alone.
"Come to My Garden"
Broadway: The Secret Garden
It is tear-jerking to watch the ghost of Lily Craven (Rebecca Luker) look down over her sick little boy and to listen to her invite him into the secret garden she once adored so that its magic can make him well again. It’s a mother's love so powerful, it reaches from beyond the grave. The Lucy Simon (music) and Marsha Norman (lyrics) are transformative unto themselves: a mystical incantation to invite rebirth which is the very heart of what The Secret Garden is about.
The 1996 Maltby and Shire musical Big may not have been the hit that everyone hoped it would be, but it certainly did cement the composing team as one of the best at celebrating motherhood. The musical's most tender and gentle piece, "Stop Time", was sung by Mrs. Baskin (Barbara Walsh), a mother whose son has, through a wish to grow up quickly, has become an adult overnight. Thinking her son has disappeared, she reflects on how, for a mother, time passes too quickly and his absence is only taking away from what little time a mother has with her child. She wishes for time to simply "stop" and keep her little boy young.