The Tinpantithesis

People like me -- let's be gentle and just call us "the purists" -- really like to have "definitive" texts for all the great musicals. Often that is represented by the first production, but not always. Shows like The Music Man, Gypsy, Oklahoma!, West Side Story, and Fiddler on the Roof pretty much have their scripts and scores etched in stone. You don't fiddle with them.

For other shows, like Show Boat, Cabaret, Hair, Pippin, and Anything Goes, there is no single definitive version. These shows have changed so much and so often, in foreign productions, tours, and revivals -- even during their original runs -- that you can't really point to one version of any of these shows as canonical. I would argue strenuously for the original Broadway productions of Cabaret, Grease, and Pippin, but the shows' authors would disagree with me. I would love to brand Ziegfeld's original 1927 production of Show Boat as definitive, but there are many changes I like in the revivals, especially Hal Prince's fairly radical 1994 revival.

It all reminds me of the game Exquisite Corpse (for which a song in Hedwig is named). According to Wikipedia:
also known as exquisite cadaver (from the original French term cadavre exquis), is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, either by following a rule (e.g. "The adjective noun adverb verb the adjective noun." as in "The green duck sweetly sang the dreadful dirge.") or by being allowed to see only the end of what the previous person contributed.

The historian-analysis-geek in me would love to call the 1934 Anything Goes the "real" version, but I've read that script... it's seriously flawed. From 1900 to about 1940, many Broadway musicals had much stronger scores than scripts, which is why so many of those shows are unrevivable.

The substantially rewritten 1962 off Broadway revival is much better theatre. The 1987 revival is a bit closer to the original, but still heavily revised, including several of the changes from 1962. In 2011, the latest revival was pretty close to the '87 version.

And don't even get me started on the TV and movie versions.

We're doing the 1962 version, which I've found most theatre people think is the best of the of Anything Goes's. Because of all the versions, it's fun to look at this Frankenstein song list...

The first song in the '62 version, "You're the Top," is in the original 1934 Anything Goes score, and set up pretty much the same way, but it's late in Act I, right before the finale. And "Bon Voyage" is in pretty much the same spot in every production (although the '87 revival added its counterpoint song, "There's No Cure Like Travel," which had been cut in '34)

Our version quotes instrumentally the sailor's chantey, "There Will Always Be a Lady Fair," but does not include the vocals from 1934 (and '87). The '87 production also stuck in "I Like to Row on the Crew," one of Porter's college songs from Yale.

But where the '62 version has "It's De-Lovely," with Billy and Hope on deck, the original version has them singing "All Through the Night." Though the two songs sort of accomplish the same thing, the tone couldn't be more different. Replacing the serious, aching emotion of "All Through the Night" with the smartass playfulness of "De-Lovely" is an interesting move. "It's De-Lovely" is actually from Porter's 1936 show Red, Hot, and Blue, featuring Ethel Merman as a hard-boiled manicurist (not kidding) named "Nails" O'Reilly Duquesne, singing to her square lawyer boyfriend Bob, played by Bob Hope. It was first written but not used, for the 1936 film Born to Dance.

It's interesting in the transfer from one show to the other, how the smartass, streetwise woman becomes the smartass, streetwise guy (Billy); and the innocent, "square" guy becomes the innocent, "square" woman (Hope).

Where the '62 version has Bonnie and the angels singing, "Heaven Hop," in 1934 the song "Where are the Men?" was in that spot originally. "Heaven Hop" is actually from the 1928 Porter show Paris. It's a more interesting song here, if for no other reason, the crazy mashing up of religion and pop culture in the lyric, perfect for Reno's Angels. No other versions of the show used this song.

"Friendship" is originally from the 1939 musical DuBarry Was a Lady. The original Anything Goes script has "You're the Top" in this spot, with only Reno and Billy. In '62, Reno, Moonie, and Billy sing "Friendhip;" in the later revivals, only Reno and Moonie sing it.

The '62 version then moves "I Get a Kick Out of You," from the beginning of the show to late Act I, Originally, Reno was singing about being in love with Billy; but in the '62 version, she's singing about being in love with Sir Evelyn. That's much more interesting and much more plot-driven. Porter first wrote this song for the 1931 musical Star Dust, which never even went into rehearsal. Most of that score is lost, but this song made it into Anything Goes.

Every version ends the first act with "Anything Goes," but the original also added a short dialogue scene after the song in which Hope walks out on Billy (which happens before the song in our version), and a short reprise of "You're the Top."

Both the original and the '62 version start Act II with "Public Enemy Number One," although the original is much longer.

"Let's Step Out" was added halfway through the original run of Porter's Fifty Million Frenchmen, under the title, "Stepping Out." I don't know if the title phrase was changed as well as the title... There's really no reason for this song here -- contrary to the common misconception of 30s musical theatre, the rest of the songs (including the interpolated ones) do connect to the plot and speak in the voices of these characters. But this one...

I'm guessing this was just an attempt to juice the energy early in the second act. In the original, the audience had to wait fourteen pages to get to the second song of Act II. In the '62 version, there are two songs in that gap. The other is "Let's Misbehave," one of Porter's real gems, which was also written for the 1928 musical Paris, but cut before opening. The song was sung by two characters who are actors, Vivienne Rolland and Guy Pennel, who've been working together but only now realize they are in love.

But then Porter wrote his huge hit, "Let's Do It," and that replaced "Let's Misbehave," which then sat in a trunk till it was rescued in 1962.

"All Through the Night" in the '62 version is essentially where a reprise of "All Through the Night" was in 1934. In '34, it was followed by "Be Like the Bluebird"; in '62 it was preceded by "Be Like the Bluebird."

Billy and Hope both sing “All Through the Night,” but almost entirely separate, not together; their union is not real yet, it’s in the future, so they can’t musically “couple” by harmonizing yet. Then again, they do sing the last two lines together (in octaves), so there’s still hope for them. In the original 1934 production, neither of them sang the last verse, which went to the men’s chorus. The song’s harmonic progression is fascinating, winding its way through various tonalities, until the home key is almost lost – like Billy and Hope’s love. And almost the entire melody is in half-steps, slowly descending chromatically, working against the /dreamy lyric, until the end of the main phrase suddenly leaps up with optimism. It’s a beautiful sound picture.

The '62 revival really did fix some problem with pacing and narrative structure. In the original, we then took a break for Reno to sing "Buddie Beware," and Hope to sing "The Gypsy in Me." But in the '87 revival, they gave "Buddie Beware" to Bonnie (renamed Erma), and gave "The Gypsy in Me" to Sir Evelyn.

In the '62 version, this spot goes to Reno and the Angels for "Take Me Back to Manhattan," which is really from The New Yorkers (1930), Porter's very adult musical satire about a rich woman who falls in love with a bootlegger. "Take Me Back to Manhattan" was that show's full company finale.

Most of the versions of Anything Goes end with a short medley of "You're the Top" and "Anything Goes," though the 1934 script just has a stage direction saying they reprise "Anything Goes."

As you can see from that tour through the score, the '62 revival version didn't just add a bunch of Porter songs, it also cut four songs from the original: "There Will Always Be a Lady Fair," "Where Are the Men?", "Buddie Beware," and "The Gypsy in Me." The 1987 revival put these last two back in, along with a song cut from the original, "Easy to Love," which was too rangy for the original Billy. The later revivals also added Porter's "Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye,"first written for the movie Born to Dance but cut, then added and cut again from Red, Hot, and Blue, finally landing as the only song in Terrence Rattigan's London play, O Mistress Mine.

Now... take a look back over this post and the many songs mentioned, all of them really great. That man could crank out amazing music and lyrics like nobody else I can think of. He would write dozens of songs for every show, knowing that two-thirds of them would be discarded.

I once had an exercise in a musical theatre class in college. The prof gave us a piece of sheet music with no lyrics. We had to write a new lyric to this existing music. Even for someone like me who writes musicals, this was a cool exercise, something I usually don't have to do. It turned out the music was some unknown "cut" Cole Porter song. (My lyric was called, "Ethel, Go Away.") Porter wrote so much. And so much of it is amazing.

He was as prolific as the Tin Pan Alley writers, but went beyond them in terms of originality and artistry -- and sexuality. None of them could have written the epic, sprawling "Begin the Beguine," or lyrics as culturally insightful and acrobatic as "You're the Top." Irving Berlin was a great songwriter, but he didn't write more than a small handful of great theatre songs. Porter wrote a shit-ton.

The purist in me fights with the fanboy over Anything Goes because I love this patched together score so deeply. Even the lighter weight songs are so clever, so ironic, so subversive.

We New Liners will return to the spirit of the original production, but not the original script and score, which honestly aren't as strong as what came after.

Maybe the reason Anything Goes has stayed so popular so long is the rehab done on it off Broadway in 1962, when they sort of made the perfect Cole Porter musical.

And who am I to argue with that?

Rehearsals start next week!

Long Live the Musical!
Scott

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