Giving Them What They Want: The Best of David Yazbek
With The Band’s Visit readying itself for its Broadway opening on November 9, I am reminded by how much I love a David Yazbek score. For me, Yazbek comes the closest to bringing the old-fashioned Broadway musical comedy sound into the contemporary musical. His work is tuneful, character-driven, brimming with emotion, and always laced with fun. Distinctly working in his own style, it is also clear that he is influenced by the likes of Cy Coleman, Jule Styne, and Frank Loesser. Today, I want to celebrate Yazbek’s work and revel in how it makes me feel. I am certain we will be adding some songs from The Band’s Visit to this list very soon, but for now, here are ten songs by Yazbek that we already love.
10. “All About Ruprecht” from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Okay, the song is vulgar, inappropriate, and goes against everything we expect in a Broadway showtune, but “All About Ruprecht” certainly leaves an impression. In Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, high-stakes imposter and extortionist Lawrence Jamison is trying to shed himself of his clingy fiancée from Oklahoma. What better way to do so than to introduce her to his brother “Ruprecht” who is merely missing a chromosome and likes to save his farts in a mason jar? Actually, he is just the low-life huckster Freddy Benson pretending to be his peculiar sibling.
9. “You Walk with Me” from The Full Monty
At the funeral of his mother, the depressed and jobless steel worker Malcolm has much to be suicidal about. Fortunately, his friend and new-found romantic partner Ethan steps up to his side and, with his help, Malcolm will be okay. Gentle and understated, “You Walk with Me” tugs at our heartstrings while also demonstrating the myriad ways we find our strength.
8. “Model Behavior” from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
For this song to be fully enjoyed, one really needed to be in the theatre and witness Laura Benanti play the bubble-headed model Candela who will stop at literally nothing for romance. The number is a series of voicemails she leaves on her friend Pepa’s voicemail, detailing with growing hilarity and hysteria the saga of her new boyfriend who might just be an international terrorist. It’s always a treat when the perfect performer is married to the perfect song.
7. “Big-Ass Rock” from The Full Monty
Suicide is typically not a reason for humor, and the men of The Full Monty agree with that sentiment. Instead of letting their co-worker end his life, the recently laid-off steel workers want to save their friend from the humiliation of having to take his own life, and instead offer up ways they can put him out of his misery. If you love a little dark comedy, this is the song for you.
6. “Here I Am” from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
When American “Soap Queen” Christine Colgate shows up in the French Riviera, she is nearly bursting with excitement for her first big adventure. Everything she encounters is a reason for her to celebrate, from the hotel to the French fries. Could she be masking a secret in all her exuberance and naiveté? Only the musical’s finale will reveal all, but the song “Here I Am” is a catchy and effective introduction to her character as well as a clever misdirect.
5. “Breeze Off the River” from The Full Monty
How about some love for this tender, unassuming number sung by a loving father to his son? Jerry, who is out of work and divorced, only gets to see his son for the occasional visitation. He loves his son and is moved by the child’s understanding of him. Still, he wishes he were a better father. “Breeze Off the River” is that special song where character, emotion, and moment are all encapsulated with economy and simplicity.
4. “Island” from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
It all culminates with a bed going up in flames while the character Pepa sits there singing, but the song “Island” from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is more than pyrotechnics. The song is an intoxicating lament of a relationship gone bad, how suspicion and secrets can pull a relationship apart.
3. “Maid of the Mist” cut from The Full Monty
It breaks one’s heart to learn that a song as perfect as “Maid of the Mist” was cut from the musical The Full Monty, but for reasons of tightening up the show, the number was excised. Jerry’s ex-wife originally sang the haunting tune to her husband, reminding him of their wedding vows and the people they had hoped they would evolve into. It’s a heartbreaking reminder of how we should always be a work-in-progress, growing towards something greater, not mired in stasis.
2. “Invisible” from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
I am always intrigued by how a certain type of song can stir emotion, managing to pack everything from humor to melancholy, from passive-resignation to inflamed hysteria, into the confines of just a few minutes. “Invisible” is that kind of a song, a monologue delivered by a forgotten wife, detailing the how she had once been someone special, but who has watched herself fade into something that is overlooked. It is a painfully-honest song, one that maybe each of us understands all too well, for a variety of reasons.
1. “Nothing is Too Wonderful to Be True” from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
There are great songs and then there are the ones that totally transport you. “Nothing is Too Wonderful to Be True” from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is so mesmerizing with its earnest lyrics and its rapturous melody, it is hard to believe that both the characters singing it are insincere. Christine Colgate and Freddy Benson both have ulterior motives with their mutual seductions, but one would never believe this song is anything other than a first-rate love song meant to hypnotize one with the atmosphere for amore. Why aren’t more singers performing this song in their cabarets and on their compilation albums? It is truly one of the finest Broadway love songs of the last twenty-five years.