Though this isn't at all an exact connection to the news today, there's a close enough overlap that made me think of it and decide to repost it. And besides, any opportunity to post something from Fiorello! is one that I'll take. (I originally posted this when I had my Second "Elisberg Industries International Film Festival" on the musical.
This is the classic "Little Tin Box" number which concerns an investigation into political corruption -- hence why I thought of it. And the best thing of all is that the video is a re-creation of the Broadway number with the show's original star, Howard DaSilva.
DaSilva is admired but little-known because he had been blacklisted during the McCarthy Years and therefore was in few films and TV broadcasts. He did have an acclaimed theatrical career, though, notably starring in the original Broadway production of Oklahoma! as Jud Fry, and also years later in the original Broadway production of 1776 (whimsically for a man who had been blacklisted) as Ben Franklin -- a role he did get to re-create in the film version, though he's not on the Broadway cast album, having suffered a heart attack before the recording was made. He did open the show and later returned to it. (Not a bad achievement, by the way -- starring in two Broadway musicals that each won both the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize, 1776 and Fiorello!)
All of which is why it was such a treat to find footage completely unexpectedly of Howard DaSilva recreating his "Little Tin Box" number in full costume, set and cast!!! It came in 1980, 20 years after Fiorello! opened, as part of an HBO special, Standing Room Only: Showstoppers.
(For those who want a little background into how the song fits into the show, here's a brief explanation. Though Fiorello LaGuardia lost in his race for mayor against the crooked Tammany Hall Machine, it turns out that a crack in the organization was in the near horizon. And a court case brought many of their illegal dealings, graft and payoffs to light. The newspapers reported all the strained explanations from the Tammany officials and regulars, down to some trying to insist that they had simply save their money and kept it safe in a "little tin box." That brought about one of the showstopping numbers in the musical, "Little Tin Box," performed by Howard DaSilva, as Ben Marino, the head of the local Republican Party who'd been pummeled for years by his rivals of Tammany Hall.)
I've seen a lot of performances of "Little Tin Box" over the years -- as I said, it's a showstopping number for it's wit, charm, cleverness and pointed theme. And most of them are generally very good and done very similar. This is an uncommon interpretation among them all, unique. In most versions, the character of Ben and his cronies are all being deeply sarcastic, and ridiculing the deep trouble that Tammany Hall is in. It's done as a big, broad piece of derision. Howard DaSilva takes another tack completely -- rather than looking at the troubles of Tammany Hall from the perspective of the plot, making fun of those in troubles, he takes it on from opposite end, from the personal point-of-view. He sings it as a man simply filled with utter joy that his whole life has just changed, and the criminals and thugs who have been blocking him and his party for years are at last going to jail. And he's just as pleased and quietly-giddy about it as a man can be.
Here then is that performance, the original Ben Marino -- Howard DaSilva -- singing, "Little Tin Box."
(You can ignore the introduction written for host Tony Randall, since it has the story completely wrong, described in a way that would instead be less convoluted for the audience and therefore seem to make sense, even if backwards. The real story, as noted, is that DaSilva and his pals are the good guys, ridiculing the criminals in court.)
Which is another thing that brought today's House hearing to mind...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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