As I mentioned the other day, last year on the occasion of his 90th birthday, there was a wonderful double-CD released to honor lyricist Sheldon Harnick. It was titled Sheldon Harnick: Hidden Treasures, 1949-2013. (You can find it on Amazon. If you do decide to check it out, don't forget to get to the Amazon site by clicking on the banner link you can see just to the right...)
The albums include a range of songs of his that are little known for a wide variety of reasons. Some were written when he was at college at Northwestern. Others were from revues he wrote for early in his career. There's a novelty song he wrote for the birthday of George Abbott. There are a lot of songs that were cut from his many musicals, like Fiddler on the Roof, Fiorello!, She Loves Me and more. A few are songs from some of his recent shows that haven't been produced yet. And some are from shows he wrote that simply aren't well-known.
Most are written in collaboration with his long-time writing partner Jerry Bock, though there are other collaborators here, including Richard Rodgers, film legend Michel Legrand and Joe Raposo, who wrote many of the classics from Sesame Street. There even are songs that have music by Harnick himself.
The most fun are those performed with Jerry Bock. Harnick himself is a pretty good singer, and Bock holds his own quite well, not just for his lively piano playing, but also when he joins in singing, and together their performances are often exuberant.
The range of the quality of the songs vary. When songs get cut from Broadway shows, it's usually for a good reason. And often such numbers aren't very interesting, except on a scholarly level. But most of the cuts songs here are very respectable -- some very good even, cut for reasons of the structure of the show's book, and so they no longer fit. And if a little-known musical didn't do well, that doesn't mean there weren't some gems in them. So, overall, the songs are very entertaining.
Making it particularly entertaining are the liner notes that Harnick wrote, explaining his recollections on all the songs and putting them into perspective.
I thought it would be nice to post a few of my favorites here. I could actually post a whole lot, but I'll do my best to limit things.
The first one is from a TV musical that he and Jerry Bock wrote based on the Oscar Wilde story, and subsequent film, The Canterville Ghost. This was done in 1966, after the team had written Fiddler on the Roof, and while they were preparing The Apple Tree. There are two songs here, done in tandem, and while I like them both, it's the first, "I Worry," that's the one I dearly love. An American family has moved to England and taken residence in a castle where there's a ghost. The teenage girl meets a young British noblemen who's attracted to her, but she gets too worried about almost everything to take any risks, and explains this to him in song. Harnick writes in his liner notes that it was an easy song for him to write because he tends to be a huge worrier himself. The second song is the young man's reply. (Side note: in the TV production, the young British fellow was played by Peter Noone, who you might known better as Herman of the rock group Herman's Hermits.)
But it's "I Worry" that to me is the gem.
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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