December 1st, 2017

A little musical interlude

(But lest you think we’re getting away from the subject of workplace harassment—alas, we’re not. Not totally, anyway.)

I was raised on Broadway musicals and their recordings, the lyrics of which I committed to memory, including the introductory patter. And that’s not just the major hits, but many minor ones that most people have never even heard about. To this day, my brother and I still have a little jokey game we play, one that’s probably either obnoxious or obscure (or both) to onlookers, in which we say just a couple of words from the lyric and the other fills in the song.

When I was a child, my parents used to take me to Broadway musicals quite regularly (and one straight play, “The Miracle Worker, which I saw with the brilliant originals Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft), when a ticket cost had a range of something like $2.95 to $7.95. Adjusted for inflation (according to this site, anyway), in 2017 dollars that’s $25.41 to $67.76. Try getting a ticket to a first-run top Broadway show for that these days.

Back then Broadway shows were magical. Later on, they seemed less so to me, and I really don’t think it’s just because I got older and more jaded. I’ve never been keen on the movie versions, either. Though some are better than others, all of them seem inferior to their stage originals. The suspension of disbelief that is relatively easy in the theater is not so easy in a movie musical, which always seems to teeter on the brink of the ludicrous (at least, for me). I say that even for achievements such as “West Side Story,” one of the very best movie renditions of a stage musical.

There’s an energy on the stage, an immediacy that is unavoidably diluted in a filmed musical. I’m pretty sure a lot of people will disagree with me, but I don’t think they would say that if they’d seen the originals I was lucky enough to see.

But that’s all a prelude to a clip that came to mind earlier today. Commenter “Mr. Frank” had written:

What is driving much of this is a major shift in the workplace that society has not adjusted to. Until fairly recently the workplace was a male place. There were a few female fields like teaching, nursing, and phone operator. Those jobs were largely dead end and not careers. Men at work were surrounded by men so sex was largely a non issue. Now that women have careers to lose, they can be pressured.

My reply was this:

Women have long been in the workplace with men, just in subordinate roles. The men were the doctors, the women the nurses. Lots of hanky-panky there. The men were the executives, the women the secretaries. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how much sex there was.

I’m virtually certain that Mr. Frank is correct in saying that there are more women working alongside men today, and that in general their jobs now feature a higher percentage that are more career-like with higher relative pay than in the past. But those somewhat sex-segregated jobs he listed—or the ones I mentioned in which the interface with men in the workplace was constant—although not ordinarily a road to an executive position or a position of power and influence, were still jobs those women needed and were loathe to sacrifice. And there were still ways back then in which sex with a man in the workplace could earn advancement—either in the job, or the “advancement” of being promoted to the new position of “wife” (or “mistress,” depending on the level of aspiration).

But on reading Mr. Frank’s comment, what instantly sprung to my mind was this song from the Broadway musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” which opened on Broadway in 1961. It was telling that I wasn’t taken to see this particular show at the time, probably because it was considered too racy.

But we had the record, and so I learned the songs. That’s why this song (the clip is, alas, from the 1967 film version and not the stage production) came to mind so quickly. Does it make you cringe a bit now?:

By the way, Robert Morse was the star of that show, and he also starred in the film version. But I never saw him in either. However, I have very strong memories of seeing Morse on stage before that, in a musical practically no one knows called “Take Me Along.” It was a musical version of Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah Wilderness,” and I had to look it up to see the year: 1959. Wow. It starred Jackie Gleason, who had been a big TV personality as Ralph Kramden (a show I used to watch), as well as Walter Pidgeon. But to me (and to much of the audience) the real star of the musical was Morse, who lent it tremendous charm, energy, and comic ernestness as he stopped the show several times.

But you know what? The show isn’t even mentioned in Morse’s Wiki link. Go figure.

6 Responses to “A little musical interlude”

  1. arfldgrs Says:

    I was raised similarly, but because my family was arts and sciences, and Maurice Seymour the famous photog was close friend. Ben Vereen was a friend of dad, i performed in a few small nothings… Though i did perform at Avery Fischer Hall at Lincoln Center. My two cousins went to juliard, and one had his recital at Alice Tully Hall at lincoln center. My photography and arts has me meeting/working with people like Trump, Hiltons, Hearst family, Clinton Family…. i knew betty friedans husband… Patty hearsts daugthers.. Tommy Tune knows me, as does the fashion editor of the times… Pharrel. and many more.

    my whole live has orbited around.
    including doing some work with bill cosby, and sesame street..(That was the most fun, no credit voices… Bob used to call me up when Joan Rivers was doing home shopping network wanting to find things to sell. (really weird to grow up, and have your childhood friend call you asking how you doing and if you have anything for joan… twighlight zone))

    my favorite broadway stuff?
    Jesus Christ Superstar (album, play, movie)..
    [i performed in an off broadway version years after dad went to see with mom at ben vereens invite (he was judas on the broadway version)]

    in fact we also loved Pippin too…
    i like the original cast, not the greatest american hero version that is all thats left.

    bob fosse… (which is where ben vereen again)

    dad used to do photo touch up with brishes for top stars,so my childhood was filled with opera singers and so on.

    a friend is a power opera singer who performs the chorals at carnegie hall every year.

    weird world
    i also grew up in a slum
    poor.. not middle class suburbia like everyone thinks
    they think that cause they dont know you can succceed
    i dont tell them as they behavior is revealing in their common bigotry…

    given my bit of autism, i can remember whole scores and such for music easy. so i pretty much always had a walk man in my head… i can compose and i can make up on the fly (i was first string soloist clarinet.. and i am half deaf)

    this and a few coins will get me on the subway

  2. arfldgrs Says:

    Favorite lines from broadway plays

    “I wonder if all the fornicating i am getting is worth all the fornicating i am getting” Charlemaign in Pippen

  3. Lee Merrick Says:

    Neo, my parents saw “Take Me Along” on Broadway and brought the LP recording home for my 4 siblings and I. We loved the music and the words and played it a lot. “Staying Young” sung by Walter Pidgeon is sublime.

  4. AesopFan Says:

    I was kind of thinking “Well, here it is 5 pm….”

    The definition of racy is kind of flexible, because we did this show when I was in high school

    Although everyone who has been involved in theater knows that things don’t always go according to plan (to say the least), my favorite story is from “How to Succeed..”

    Our lead was a great guy (probably not in Morse’s league!) and sang with enthusiasm, but had a tendency to go flat.
    Our “orchestra” that year was a single pianist, a professor at a college in another state (although not too far away) and a buddy of our director. I was his page turner (I was on stage in later shows, but there’s gotta be somebody on the bottom of the credits).

    When our star started going flat in his biggest solo, I watched the pianist stop, listen carefully, shift his hands just above the ivories, and come in dead on pitch in the new key.

  5. AesopFan Says:

    There could be a nice little thread going on all the ways the stage heroines would be suing the heroes for harassment.

    We could start with Eliza Doolittle as the prototype feminist (GBS was a socialist, of course, but I don’t think Lerner & Loewe pushed much of an agenda, IIRC).

    Nothing can quite top “Just you wait” for verbal evisceration, and even Gloria Steinem would approve of “I can do without you.”

    However although she broke free of the oppression for awhile, she was clearly subjugated by Higgins in the end.

    And who knows what hanky-panky they were up to during those language lessons.

  6. SCOTTtheBADGER Says:

    Robert Morse is fantastic at playing affable weasels.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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