“Happy Birthday” Broadway Style
Today is @theatreguy22's birthday (me) and I was trying to find a topic that centered around birthdays in Broadway musicals. At first, I thought this would be an easy task, but birthdays in musicals are not as common as one might think. Birthdays have only been occasionally addressed, so some digging was required. Thanks to my dear friend (and sparring partner) Robbie Rozelle, we came up with these titles that were a musical theatre reason to light the candles, cut the cake, and pop the champagne. “Happy Birthday” Broadway style!
The birthday of all birthday musicals is, of course, Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Company. Bobby, a confirmed bachelor, is turning 30 and the show commences with his married friends throwing him a party. Bobby then begins to reflect on all the couples and wonders why he has had such a hard time connecting to anyone and making the commitment of marriage. There is nothing like a birthday to open your eyes to how you have missed the bus on certain life milestones!
In the William Finn/James Lamont musical Falsettos, the boy Jason is preparing for the Jewish rite of becoming a man. Confused by his father Marvin's recently revealed homosexuality, his father's lover Whizzer's life-threatening sickness (AIDS), not to mention his own addled pubescent perceptions of girls, the event is not turning out to be the celebration that he had hoped. Unconventionally, he chooses to hold his 13th birthday in Whizzer's hospital room where they toast to "Jason's Bar Mitzvah".
Conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton share many things, and their birthday is obviously one of those things. The musical Side Show featured the Henry Krieger/Bill Russell song “Happy Birthday to You and to You” sung to the pair at their birthday party. The event turns into a business opportunity for the ladies when a talent scout attends and makes an offer to bring them to the vaudeville stage as a novelty act.
Rodgers and Hammerstein's short-lived musical Allegro starts with the birth of the show's central character Joseph Taylor, Jr. As the little boy comes into the world, a Greek chorus details what he sees and feels as he gets his first glimpse of the world. The whole cast is enthralled by his arrival in the song "Joseph Taylor, Jr." The musical follows little Joseph as he grows up and becomes a man.
Perhaps the saddest of all Broadway musical birthdays is that of Louise (eventually stripper Gypsy Rose Lee) in Gypsy. Her mother, the notorious vaudeville stage mother Rose Hovick, in an effort to keep her kids' act perceivably young, has lied to Louise and her sister June about their ages. Louise, excited about her birthday, only to have it destroyed by news that the act has been booked on the Orpheum Circuit, quietly queries about her real age in the tender Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim song "Little Lamb".
In Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh, and Neil Simon’s Little Me, Belle Poitrine is from the wrong side of the tracks, but is thrilled when Noble Eggleston from “snob knob” invitees her to his sixteenth birthday party. She dreams about what it would be like to live in his highbrow neighborhood up on “The Bluff”, singing the wishful ditty ‘The Other Side of the Track”. She is hurt, however, when he asks her to come to his party, but enter through the service entrance. At the birthday bash (to the chagrin of his parents), Noble announces his love for Belle.
Guido Contini is a philandering, womanizing movie director who is celebrated for his art. but not for his treatment of the women in his life. His emotional maturity barely exceeds that of a nine-year-old, a time in his life where he is permanently mired. In a flashback scene with his mother, she sings the little boy a song on his birthday about the maturity that comes with turning nine. The song “Nine” by Maury Yeston is a tender moment between a mother and her son.
When 12-year-old Josh Baskin is granted his wish to become “big”, he goes to the city where he becomes a successful developer in toy manufacturing. His mother misses him, and on the boy’s birthday, she mourns the disappearance of her son. “Stop Time” is a heartfelt ballad by David Shire and Richard Matlby, Jr. about how time for a mother is fleeting. She realizes she has so few birthday’s with her son and pours out her heart with her grief.
Based on the experiences of composer/lyricist Jonathan Larson, tick, tick… boom! follows a young composer named Jon who questions his choice to make a career in the performing arts. For his 30th birthday, his girlfriend leaves him, but gifts him with 1000 sheets of blank manuscript paper to fill with his art. At the end of the song “Louder than Words”, Jon plays “Happy Birthday” to himself while sitting at a piano.
This musical, about the miracles and mayhem of childbirth, is perhaps the quintessential Birthday musical. Following three couples and their journey toward parenthood, Baby's penultimate moments come with the arrival of three newborns. The arrival of a child is the happiest of all birthdays, celebrated with the David Shire and Richard Maltby, Jr. song "The Story Goes On".