How to Reconcile Broadway Musicals & The Super Bowl
I have no business writing a piece about football, let alone one that is in celebration of the Super Bowl. In all fairness, until I was fifteen, I thought the Super Bowl was the large concert venue where Bette Midler in the movie Beaches. It turns out, that was the Hollywood Bowl. When I was in college, my theatre friends and I would have an anti-Super Bowl party where we would drink, eat homemade chili, and watch videotapes of old Tony Awards ceremonies. My understanding of football (or lack thereof) is limited to some poor instruction in high school gym class (my school did not have a football team) and what little I have picked up from people talking about it around me. Once, I even won $400 on a football pool for the Super Bowl, though I had a more-knowledgeable friend choose the details of the scores for me (yes, I split my winnings with him). So, I have no understanding of football. Except…
There are a handful of musicals where football figures into the story, and there is usually a rousing song or two where everyone is getting excited about the big game. So, since I can offer no other brilliant commentary on today’s proceedings, I thought I’d just share some songs from musicals that are about or revolve around football, albeit college football and not professional.
Leave it to Jane
Leave it to Jane (1917) is one of the earliest examples of football figuring into a Broadway musical. The musical’s love story centers around a football rivalry between two colleges. There is a big game on Thanksgiving Day, and the students and alumni gather outside the stadium to sing “The Football Song” written by Jerome Kern (music) and Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse. The rousing number is a spirited cheer for the game to come. Leave it to Jane, although it did not play the Princess Theatre, was typical of Kern’s Princess musicals: lighthearted and fun. The football frenzy played right into the energy of those early musical comedies where screwball farce and youthful, joyous casts prevailed.
The 1927 musical Good News, with music by Ray Henderson, lyrics by B.G. DeSylva and Lew Brown, and a book by DeSylva and Laurence Schwab, had much in common with its heir apparent Leave it to Jane. Once again, we find ourselves at university where the star football player Tom Marlowe must get his grades up to play in the big game. Thus, the nerdy Connie Lane must tutor him in astronomy, and of course the “opposites attract” scenario plays out and the two fall in love. Of course, there are myriad complications along the way that threaten that conclusion, but when Tom wins the big game and all miscommunications are sorted out, they celebrate the victory with the song “Good News”.
“Grand Old Ivy”
How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying
Frank Loesser’s score for How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (1961) is not entirely “business as usual”. J. Pierrepont Finch, in an effort to ascend the company ladder in record time, kisses up to the boss J.B. Biggley by pretending they attended the same alma mater. Striking up small talk over the “big game” the coming weekend, the two eventually break into the college fight song “Grand Old Ivy”. Loesser’s music is especially adept at capturing that pep band sound and crisp, autumn flavor. Finch’s scheme works, by the way, and he finds himself on Biggley’s radar for promotion. Football, uniting college alums in favoritism since 1869.
“The Fight Song”
Not many Broadway fans recall the musical All American (1962) with a score by Charles Strouse (music) and Lee Adams (lyrics) the team who brought us Bye, Bye, Birdie and Applause, and a book by comedy writer Mel Brooks who gave us The Producers. The musical starred the Scarecrow of all Scarecrows Ray Bolger (of The Wizard of Oz). Based on the book Professor Fodorski by Robert Lewis Taylor, the story is about an immigrant, engineering professor who comes to America to teach. When his lectures begin to fail, he uses football as a basis for making his lessons exciting to his students. They come in droves as he instructs the football team how to apply engineering toward strengthening their game. “The Fight Song” is another one of those ditties meant to stir up a cheering crowd and ignite their spirit.
“The Aggie Song”
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Perhaps the most delightful of all Broadway musical numbers comes from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, a raucous and sexually suggestive number called “The Aggie Song”. The college football team the Aggies have just won the big game and are being treated to a night at the whorehouse as their reward. Cavorting around a locker room, changing clothes for their outing, they gyrate and strut with cocksure ego as they imagine their libidinous night to come. The sexually-punctuated music and provocative lyrics are by Carol Hall, who also wrote music for Sesame Street and the children’s album Free to Be…You and Me. Talk about eclectic (and talented).
So there is a little sampling of how football figured its way into musical theatre. I guess the real question now is which team this Sunday has the better production number and which one makes the most home runs. Did I get that right? No? I guess it’s the football penalty box for me!