One of the weirder covers in my sheet music collection. The song was sweet, but forgettable. Wikipedia has, “A canonical example of sunshine pop, themed around images of hot air ballooning…” nicely done, particularly that “canonical.” And that explains what those massive black circles are on the cover. I thought the graphic designer really didn’t like the song, or the 5th Dimension, or balloons.
Today (really yesterday, sorry I’m a day off, busy delivering a web site and on holiday), a turn to turn the greatest American piece of musical theater, ‘Porgy and Bess,’ by my lights an opera, but pretty contested ground. I grew up listening to and playing songs from it, and had a life-changing experience in my teens listening to the Houston Grand Opera present it on tour at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.
Clamma Dale as Bess led a superb cast, and a fine recording was made, something that might have put to rest the Broadway musical vs. opera controversy, and also addressed the concerns that the score had various problems in the music, resulting from Gershwin’s inexperience in the form, that had to be solved. Simon Rattle also did a performance that was recorded for video and CD in the 1990s. It has also been in the Met repertoire for 30 years.
Most recently that Sol Hurok of Brattle Square, Diane Paulus, director of American Repertoire Theater at Harvard, has taken it on and with “The Gershwins'” consent, have redone it to address not only the alleged musical deficiencies, but also dramatic and cultural/racial issues. These are legitimate concerns–you see them for yourself in this cover–and there were some good things about what the managed to do. But on the whole, at least in its Cambridge incarnation, before Broadway, fixes, and a mess of Tonys, it was a theatrical mess, despite a lot of glorious singing and two particularly memorable performances from Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis.
Nice thing though: lots of new audiences got a taste of it, and like my battered sheet music and well-thumbed full score, it will survive.
For today: one of the great classics of American popular song, written by the German exile Kurt Weill (who bridged the concert hall and Broadway), reportedly in a couple of hours for Walter Huston. (Like “Send in the Clowns,” it was adapted to the original singer’s limitations.)
A great song is more than a tune, of course, it’s also lyrics, and playwright Maxwell Anderson (one of Weill’s many brilliant lyricists) catches that bittersweet, backward looking feel of time passing by.
Here’s Sarah Vaughan’s rendition.
For the most part, today’s choice evokes high school chorus and a god-awful TV movie with William Katt and Ben Vereen.
More recently, it was a big Tony winner in a revival from American Repertory Theater, which brought us “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” of which more anon.
In fairness to ART, they probably did better than this:
Stephen Sondheim’s 1973 take on Ingmar Bergman’s “Smiles of a Summer Night” was unconventional, bittersweet and grown up. And also boasted perhaps his only breakout song, “Send in the Clowns.” The sheet music, like the poster one-sheet, was a little risqué for the times. At some point I saw sheet music versions where the “tree of love” background was removed.
Babs doing it, with a text adjustment sanctioned by Sondheim.
Another somewhat improbable hit:
Possibly not a part of 1969 that anybody was feeling all that nostalgic for, I realize. But part of the story. Details, as usual, at Wikipedia.