As I mentioned, the British musical The Four Musketeers had two very nice ballads in the show. And that there is a story behind them. We've made it to the final posting about the show (well, for the time being), so now is the best time to tell it.
The night I saw the musical, a representative walked out on stage before the curtain went up. This is rarely good news. He began by saying that Harry Secombe was recovering from a very bad cold -- and you could hear the moan throughout the theater. "However," the man added, "Mr. Secombe will be appearing." (The exhale of relief was palpable.) But because of the strain on his voice, the fellow continued, "Mr. Secombe will not be singing two of the big ballads in the show live. Instead, a recording will play for them, and he will lip-synch to the songs."
And so he did. Except the story doesn't end there.
The Four Musketeers, as I've noted, was done as a farce. And Harry Secombe, at heart, was a clown. He got his start in the vaudeville/burlesque tradition, and came to stardom as part of the wildly outlandish radio comedy. The Goon Show. Indeed, one of his old acts (which he recreated in 1965 when he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show during the Broadway run of the musical Pickwick) was what would happen if a singer had to lip-synch to a record that had gotten warped, and the turntable was all screwed up.
So, when given the opportunity to lip-synch moving ballads in what was otherwise a farcical comedy, he took full advantage of it and returning to his roots. He had some fun with "There Comes a Time," which was posted here yesterday -- though, as a dramatic point in the story near the end, he kept it largely under control. But with this particular tender ballad, "Masquerade," all bets were off.
The song comes in the middle of the show at a ball, when all manner of court intrigues were swirling around, and d'Artagnan sings about it all. But the moment the recording started up, Secombe the clown took over. With as much as a wink to the audience that, "Okay, you know I'm not singing," he did everything he could to make the scene as funny as possible, down to at one point stuffing a handkerchief in his mouth and throwing out his arms as if belting the number out. When the musical break in the song came, and all the ballroom dancers began waltzing around the stage, Secombe impishly leaped into the crowd and began twirling with them, snaking his way through in every graceful and clumsy comic way he could.
In most other shows, it would have been far out of place. But in this farce -- and given that it had one of England's great clowns starring -- it all fit wonderfully. And hilariously.
I've always wondered, in fact, whether he was well-enough to sing the songs without lip-synching, but that his comic efforts had gotten such a great reaction from the audience that they kept the clowning in the show. I do know that he was under the weather (as I wrote here, I was invited backstage to meet him, but it got delayed a day because of his health). But even if it was all valid at this point in the run, I wouldn't be surprised if they kept it in for the rest of the performances, regardless. Or not.
But whatever the full story of that is, here is the lovely song -- as written.
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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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