As the plot heads to its conclusion, we're coming towards the end of this Second Elisberg Industries Film Festival presentation of the prize-winning musical, Fiorello! I'm guessing that the show itself will likely be 12 parts (barring any other last-minute discoveries -- there's been one remarkable new piece I just found the other day) with perhaps a few bonus finale postings to follow.
These next two parts will be quite special. (Actually, come to think of it, these final three all have something special about them.) Today's, in fact, will be new to even those who are huge admirers of the show. No matter how many times you've listened to the cast album, you haven't heard it. In fact, if you've even been one of the comparatively rare number of people (for a Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning show) who have seen Fiorello!, you likely haven't even heard it.
Despite the show's significant awards and acclaim, lyricist Sheldon Harnick always thought something was missing in the show. It centered on the fact that although the title character and star of the musical, the role of Fiorello LaGuardia has almost nothing to sing in the second act. (That was one thing that had made it difficult to attract a big name star to help mount a revival.) Additionally, there also was a very dramatic point in the second act that seemed to be crying out for a song, but one didn't exist. For years, Harnick thought that that might be the place to address both concerns. And so, 40 years after he and Jerry Bock had won the Tony Award as Best Musical and Pulitzer Prize, as a new concert version of the show was being readied for the Reprise series in Los Angeles...he had an idea how to fix things, and wrote the words to a new song. And then sent it to composer Jerry Bock to see if he thought it should be musicalized and if Bock would do it.
It's important to note that, despite their huge success as a team, Harnick and Bock had broken up their partnership around 1970, 30 years earlier. They hadn't written together since -- although (it's important to add) they'd remained good friends and in regular touch. And Jerry Bock liked the new addition to their show and agreed to write music for it. At its core, the new lyric was largely a reprise of the song, "The Name's LaGuardia," though it's more than that with significant alternations, and is not a strict reprise, but closer to a soliloquy.
(I believe there have been three different versions of it, as Harnick has worked it out, and oddly I've seen two of them. The first version was readied in time for the aforementioned 1999 Reprise concert version in Los Angeles that I attended, starring Tony Danza, of all people -- he was extremely good, but woefully miscast as the short, dumpy Fiorello. Then an unsatisfied Harnick edited the number some more, and it made it into a wonderful and ultimately long-running production done at the Timeline Theater in Chicago, which I went to with my dad. Still not completely content, Harnick finalized the piece on his own after Jerry Bock passed away in 2010, and it was used in the 2102 NYU production which we've been highlighting here. It's now the version in the official, authorized musical.)
And so, back to the show.
At this point in the story, LaGuardia's life is fraying. During his campaign for mayor, pressure from the dangerous Tammany Hall grows, and threats by their flunkies are made against his life which he barely escapes. Then, the voters rejects him in favor of Tammany's figurehead mayor, the corrupt playboy Jimmy Walker, and he loses the election. But worst of all, throughout all this, his wife's has found her energy low, making surreptitious trips to the doctor to resolve the problem with her health. But to the shock of all, most especially the unsuspected Fiorello, Thea suddenly dies.
Left alone, all his hopes and plans spun out of control, and the love of his life gone, Fiorello is left alone on stage. Which brings us to the new reprise of "The Name's LaGuardia." The song features Kenny Francouer as LaGuardia -- and is a moving number on its own but which surprisingly holds a prescient and eerie connection to the world of politics today.
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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