I got some nice comments about my piece with E.Y. (Yip) Harburg singing his own song, "Over the Rainbow," written with composer Harold Arlen. I thought therefore I'd post some more from Harburg, but something that's little known, from a flop musical he did with the great Jule Styne, Darling of the Day. I've chosen this for a few reasons -- it's a wonderful score that no one ever hears, the show even won a Tony Award for its female lead, Patricia Routledge (who folks might know from her BBC series on PBS, Keeping Up Appearances) -- but also because of who its star was. A man renowned far and wide musical comedy -- Vincent Price. Yes, Vincent Price.
Okay, okay, so Vincent Price isn't who leaps to mind when you think of musical comedy. Surprisingly, though not a singer, he does a very nice job on the album. It's sort of talk-singing, but really with more emphasis on the singing end. His voice is a rich baritone. Unfortunately, from what little I've read about the show, he wasn't totally comfortable on stage, so the performance from the album isn't indicative of the theatrical experience. What also hurt the show, which got reasonably respectable reviews, though not great, is that it opened during a newspaper strike, so the reviews didn't appear until much later. Also, there were problems with the book. (The great screenwriter Nunnally Johnson -- who wrote such films as The Grapes of Wrath, Three Faces of Eve, The Dirty Dozen and The World of Henry Orient -- took his name off, and there was no credited writer.) And finally, it's a charming, old-fashioned musical, which opened in 1968, a few months before Hair, and society and soon Broadway had begun shifting to rock music. Ultimately, it ran for 31 performances.
The story is sort of fun, and in large part a commentary on manners and class differences, a subject always dear to Harburg's heart, most notably in Finian's Rainbow . It's based on the play, Buried Alive (no, not a horror story, despite the title and Vincent Price's horror pedigree), which was made into the movie, Holy Matrimony. Set in 1905, it concerns a great artist, Priam Farll, who hates the pomposity of society and moves far from England to the South Seas. When he's knighted many years later, he has to come back, and on the way his butler dies. There's a mix-up, where it's thought that Farll died, and that he (Farll) is the butler. He decides to continue the rouse, which will allow him to live in England again, but unknown. He falls in love with a cockney barmaid and has a happy life, painting for fun. But when his wife decides to sell one of his little drawings, thinking maybe the nicknack painting will bring in a few shillings, the dealer ultimately realizes that Farll must be alive and complications ensue...
I actually got to see a production of Darling a Day a few years ago, when a small theater in the Chicago suburbs did it with a revised book and some song revisions that Harburg himself had done. It was great fun, though the book was still flawed, mostly in the third act, trying to properly work out the complications.
But the score is wonderful. Terrific music by Jule Styne, and really clever lyrics by the always-clever Yip Harburg. One of the wittiest is "Panache," in which the art dealer is trying to explain to a wealthy patron why paintings can become valuable, having nothing to do with quality, but how famous the artist is. He sings --
As for art,
Though the aim and the game of it
Is the fame of the name
On the frame of it,
But panache up the price
And acclaim of it.
Not the hoi polloi,
There are some great ballads, and a show-stopping production number, but I thought it would be particularly fun to hear Vincent Price sing. This then is his number early in the show when he is trying to decide whether to switch places with his butler, "To Get Out of This World Alive."
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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