Zoosical: Showtunes About Animals
Animal lovers that are Broadway lovers (and vice-versa), here is a collection that was designed just for you. I was on a long drive and a showtune came on that was about an animal. I started thinking about how many musical theatre songs that I could find were about animals (these are things I think about on car trips and during nights of insomnia). By the end of the car trip, I had come up with these. Please share with me any others you might think of. I hope you enjoy my corny need to catalogue such things in list form.
“The Eagle and Me” – Bloomer Girl
Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg’s score for the 1944 musical Bloomer Girlis both enchanting and poignant. How I wish they would make a new recording of this musical, giving it a better quality sound for new generations to enjoy. That aside, the song “The Eagle and Me” is sung by the slave Pompey who finds hope and optimism by imagining the freedoms enjoyed by the soaring eagle. He insists that all living things have the right to that kind of life.
“Octopus Song” – Fanny
Though not many Broadway fans remember Fanny or have seen many college or community theatre productions of this musical, it was a Broadway hit in 1954. Featuring a score by Harold Rome, the musical is set by the sea and draws on that location for many of its metaphors. One of the songs, “Octopus Song,” is sung by an Admiral who makes the comparison between an octopus and a girl he’s in love with, painting her as all arms and slinky.
“Monkey in the Mango Tree” – Jamaica
And here we are back in Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg territory. The musical Jamaica tell the story of the denizens of a small tropical island that is being overtaken with American ideas and tourism. One of the songs, the calypso-flavored “Money in the Mango Tree” is sly exploration of evolution that basically asks the question of what the monkey gained by being the precursor to mankind. The monkey is insulted by the comparison.
“Times Like This” – Lucky Stiff
Here is one that always brings a tear to eye. Ahrens and Flaherty’s musical Lucky Stiff is a relentless farce full of bawdy characters and crazy antics. Still, every once and a while, it slows down enough to have a gentle moment such as “Times Like This.” Annabel Glick is the uptight representative of the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn who is tasked with following a man who chaperoning a corpse on its final wish for a trip to Monte Carlo. Frustrated with men, Anabel sings this reflective number where she extols the virtues of man (and woman’s) best friend, finding them far more reliable than men.
“The Fox Hunt” – Mame
Though this song doesn’t exactly address the fox directly, “The Fox Hunt” from Mameis all about the age-old tradition of dressing up in riding gear and mercilessly chasing down a defenseless creature for sport. Thank goodness the compassionate Auntie Mame decides to capture him alive and saves him from his untimely doom. Jerry Herman’s complex mash-up of southern aristocrats narrating and commenting on the hunt is one of the many joys to behold in his score for Mame.
“A Sleepin’ Bee” – House of Flowers
Harold Arlen wrote the music and Truman Capote wrote the lyrics for the musical House of Flowers, set in a Haitian brothel. The song “A Sleepin’ Bee” comes about when a few of the prostitutes are talking about how you know when you are in love. What signs do you look for? One of the ladies shares that the Houngan (a Voudou practitioner) told her that you ask a bee. She says you catch the little creature, hold it in your hand and if it doesn’t sting you and it doesn’t fly away, then you know you have found love.
“The Elephant Song” –70, Girls, 70
John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote many scores in their long career. One that many are not aware of is 70, Girls, 70, written in 1971. The story follows a group of elderly folk living in a retirement hotel. One of the old ladies likes to visit the zoo, but she is heartbroken when, one day upon her visit, she finds out that her favorite elephant has died. “The Elephant Song” is her query as to what the zoo does with a dead pachyderm.
“Meadowlark” – The Baker’s Wife
Though The Baker’s Wife never did make it to Broadway, the Stephen Schwartz score continues to live on and delight. People always ask, “How was this show a flop?” because the score is so mesmerizing. Arguably, the best known song from The Baker’s Wife is “Meadowlark,” a narrative ballad about a blind bird with a beautiful voice who is beloved by an old king. When the God of the Sun comes and gives her sight, he asks the bird to join him on his adventures. The Meadowlark weighs the offer, unable to hurt the old king who has shown her great love. The song is a parallel to the story of The Baker’s Wife where a young woman must decide between her loving, older husband and running away with a handsome lothario.
“Under the Sea” – The Little Mermaid
I think we all know this Alan Menken and Howard Ashman ditty from The Little Mermaid, a show-stopping celebration of the sights and sounds to be found fathoms below the ocean. Sebastian the Crab, in attempt to keep Ariel (The Little Mermaid) from dreaming of walking on land, tries to sell her on the varieties of fish and the “hot crustacean band” to be found right there in the ocean floor. Ashman’s lyrics are particularly a standout, a clever tongue-twister list song of the types of fish and instruments they play.
“Two By Two” – Two By Two
No list of songs about showtunes representing animals would be complete without the title song from the musical Two By Two. “Why is that?” you might ask. Well, Two By Two is the Richard Rodgers, Martin Charnin and Peter Stone musical about the story of Noah’s Ark. The jaunty number is sung by Noah himself, and then joined by his family to sing about the pairs of animals that are arriving to board the vessel before the flood.