Lerner with and without Loewe


Congrats to all the Tony-winners! And now that the season is over and we have no more shows to see, let me make a maverick suggestion for your beach reading this summer.

The Complete Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner, edited with annotations by Dominic McHugh and Amy Asch.

True, lugging around a 607-page book may seem onerous, but if you’re going to some nice resort for a week, you won’t have to bring any other reading material, will you?

Even if you finish in a few days – and you might, because the book is so rewarding – you just might want to start again.

For here is every lyric of Lerner’s that wound up on stage – and didn’t. McHugh and Asch let us see those first drafts.

Before Lerner ultimately decided on “This is what the British population calls an elementary education” in My Fair Lady’s “Why Can’t the English?” he’d written to the same melody “Daily her barbaric tribe increases, grinding out our language into pieces.”

Perhaps we’re just used to the former rather than the latter, but don’t you think that the later lyric is superior to the earlier one?

And when the show was called My Lady Liza, Lerner wrote a lyric that is a puzzlement: “Lady Liza, Lady Liza, like a boy once again.” Huh?

We see songs dropped during tryouts, such as “Mom” from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. How well I remember the first week in Boston when an uneasy Louis Jourdan, then playing the part that John Cullum would assume, sang about the average mother: “At times she was sermonly; at times, Nazi Germanly.”

The less sung, the better.

McHugh and Asch include information on Lerner’s might-have-been musicals. He and Lerner and Loewe were considering Casablanca, but, as time went by, they decided against it – as they did for Life with Father and Father of the Bride.

Another discard became a musical film and then a stage show — Dr. Dolittle – but I’m sure Lerner and Loewe were glad that they concentrated instead on Eliza and Alfred P. Doolittle.

And with Burton (Finian’s Rainbow) Lane, Lerner started musicalizing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Had they finished it, Lerner wouldn’t have been able to recycle one lyric into Camelot’s “The Lusty Month of May.” (See which one.) Strangely enough, we learn that smidgens of four songs did wind up in the 1960 feature film The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

“Come to Me, Bend to Me” was dropped from the Brigadoon film, which must please Andrew Lloyd Webber; this way, fewer movie-viewers have been able to notice that the melody bears a startling resemblance to “The Music of the Night.”

Because there are so many arcane notations, you may find yourself getting arcane, too. For example, when I was reading the lyrics to Brigadoon’s “Down at MacConnachy Square,” I noticed that the words “square” and “laddie” appeared next to each other. That brought to mind My Square Laddie, a musical that was produced only on records. Max Showalter (best known to us as Dr. Ritz in The Grass Harp) wrote the music for this parody of the nation’s biggest musical hit – Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady. Everything comes full circle!

Paint Your Wagon took quite a bit of time to reach the screen – more than eighteen years after it had opened on Broadway in 1951 – but McHugh and Asch inform us that plans had been afoot in the early ‘50s to have it filmed as the first move in Cinerama – a super-widescreen process that used three projectors. Sight unseen, that Paint Your Wagon would have been a better film than the one that debuted in 1969. Five new songs would have had Arthur Schwartz’s melodies to Lerner’s lyrics, too.

Lest the book be dry, the editors included Groucho Marx’s letter to My Fair Lady producer Herman Levin, saying that the smash hit musical “has become one of the chief topics of conversation; in some homes, it has even replaced sex. Mine happens to be one of them.”

Anyone familiar with Camelot will find eyebrows raising when coming across a dropped Paint Your Wagon song called “What Do the Other Folks Do?” As it turned out, Loewe took it easy on this one, too; some of the melody was originally part of “Please Don’t Marry Me,” a My Fair Lady cut-out.

But the editors come to his defense: “The reuse of idioms and material is a common practice in the working lives of many artists from Jane Austen to Verdi.”

Reading My Fair Lady’s “I’m an Ordinary Man” reiterates an impressive Lerner accomplishment. The logical title of the song seems to be “Let a Woman in Your Life” for the phrase is repeated eight times. Lerner uses “strife” and “knife” to rhyme with “life,” but never uses the most obvious rhyme-word of all: “wife,” which would have most logically fit the theme of the song. Lerner’s not using it is all the more remarkable considering that (and, yes, I’ve done a study on this) there has never been a week of the year since Oklahoma! opened when there hasn’t been at least one “wife-life” rhyme in a Broadway musical. Lerner may well have thought it too trite.

Most valuable are the sections on Love Life and Lolita, My Love for both went unrecorded, so here we get at least the lyrics if not the music. As for the former show, Lerner and Loewe’s 1948 musical, the lyricist gave a great example of how much he loved wordplay by creating the portmanteau “Alcoholiday.” The show, often said to be the father of the concept musical, was “a bitter story about the stress of maintaining a long-term relationship.”

Lerner was one to know. At this point in time, he’d been a divorced man before he was 30 and already in the second of his – gulp! — eight marriages. Ironic, isn’t it, that the man who wrote so eloquently in Camelot’s “How to Handle a Woman” apparently didn’t know how.