141 FRIDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2014
The Lady Is A Tramp – Frank Sinatra
Women are better than men at many things, that became clear to me early on in my life.
My mother was much better at managing our household than my father ever was. My elementary school teachers were all women, and they were great; a young man taught me in the 5th grade, and he was very *meh*. Women’s dominance became more evident when I started university. You see I had chosen a field of studies that had traditionally been dominated by women. At the time, Psychology was a career choice mostly for girls, that may still be the case. Right from the start, I knew that most of those young women were going to be much better in the field than I would ever be. It wasn’t a threat, it was a fact and I was okay with it.
Soon enough, I gravitated towards a group of the coolest young ladies you imagined ever hanging with, among them: Marisela, Eneida, Luz, Sorely, Luxelia, Yelitza, Marilu, Patricia and Marinés, among many others. These women were smart, independent, hard-workers, resourceful, and were never afraid to speak up their mind. They simply ruled. Better yet, they did it without making a big deal out of it.
In July 1985, a large group of students travelled to Caracas for a week. The XX Inter-American Congress of Psychology was being held in the Venezuela’s capital city and it was an event we couldn’t miss. Naturally, I was the first nugget in the frying pan. I could not miss it. I had so much fun during that week, and I have very fond memories of our time in Caracas.
A small group of students, mostly from the same year, stayed at a small hotel not far from the venue. We were probably 40-45 people. Arturo and I were the only two men in the group. By that time, we were used to be in the minority. Mornings and afternoons were dedicated to lectures, workshops and keynotes presentations. However, evenings were party-time, there was a lot of smoking, drinking and dancing. I truly had a blast.
One afternoon, we ventured onto ‘Sabana Grande’, a pedestrian boulevard in Caracas full of sidewalk cafes and restaurants. There used to be a large record store, ‘Don Disco’, where they sold many import records. That day I visited the store, I found Frank Sinatra’s “The Main Event” record, which included this live version of The Lady Is A Tramp taped at The Madison Square Garden in 1974. It was the first time I heard the song and liked it right away. Since then, it has become a favourite of mine, and I have various versions by different singers. I’ve always associated this song with that week in Caracas in 1985.
No. I don’t think the girls who went to university with me were tramps. However, 30 years ago, in a society where women were still expected to behave a certain way; many would have considered these self-determined, talented and independent women to be ‘tramps’. I don’t think they were trying to prove a point, that’s just who they were. And the few male students in the programme reinforced their attitude. In a way, I believe that to be the result of the mentoring we received from our professors. They were not only preparing professionals in the field of Psychology, but they were making wholesome human beings out of all of us, and I believe they did a stellar job.
Song Title: The Lady Is A Tramp – 1937 Artist: Frank Sinatra Genre: Musical Composer: Richard Rodgers Lyricist: Lorenz Hart Album: The Reprise Collection
Favourite Lyrics: She like the free fresh wind in her hair, life without care / She’s broke and it’s oak / Hates California, it’s cold and it’s damp / That’s why the lady is a tramp
Runners Up: Me And My Shadow • I Have Dreamed • Luck Be A Lady • Here’s To The LosersThe Way You Look Tonight • My Kind Of TownThe Best Is Yet To Come • Fly Me To The Moon • Love And Marriage • Moonlight Serenade • I’ve Got You Under My Skin • You Make Me Feel So Young • That’s Life • Somethin’ Stupid • Indian Summer • My Way • More Than You Know • It’s Sunday
142 SATURDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2014
I Want To Be Happy – Ella Fitzgerald
Okay, choosing this ode to co-dependency after talking about my independent female classmates in the 1980s may seem a tad contradictory. However, this is such a classic that I find it hard to ignore, in particular, this Ella Fitzgerald’s jazzy rendition, which is the cat’s meow.
Although in most versions it is presented as a love song, I Want To Be Happy, which comes from the 1925 musical “No, No, Nanette”, was originally sung by a parental figure. Jimmy, Nanette’s legal guardian sings it to her as a proof of his commitment to looking after her.
I’ll elaborate more on this song on a later entry when the cut from the musical makes it to the list.
Song Title: I Want To Be Happy – 1925 Artist: Ella Fitzgerald Genre: Musical Composer: Vincent Youmans Lyricist: Irving Caesar, Otto Harbach Album: Rhythm Crazy
Favourite Lyric: When skies are gray / And you say you are blue / I’ll send the sun smiling through.
Runners Up: Who • Limehouse Blues • The Song is ended • If you knew Susie • Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue • Crazy Rhythm • Rhapsody Blue
143 SUNDAY 16 NOVEMBER 2014
I Will Never Leave You – Emily Skinner, Alice Ripley
How many of you are familiar with the 1997 Broadway musical Side Show? It tells the fictionalised story of Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton who started their careers in sideshow tents but went on to become big stars on the vaudeville circuit.
I saw the show during its previews in 1997, and I wasn’t very impressed by it. Although its stars, Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley were close to perfection as the twins, and a few songs were quite memorable, the entire concept stroke me as odd. I found the staging too big for its own good; it felt as if the characters didn’t belong in the setting the creators had placed them in. Something was definitely not clicking. The show promptly closed in January 1998, after only 91 performances. However, the show generated a cult following that has kept it alive for almost twenty years. Within a few years, the show had found a new venue in a regional theatre where I guess directors, liberated it from the creative constraints that a large Broadway venue had put on it, were able to experiment with the concept.
One of those regional versions was staged at Signature Theatre in Northern Virginia. This time, the show took place inside a tent, literally inside a sideshow, the characters never left the tent. They were just victims of the 1930s depression, they were only dreaming of a better life for Daisy and Violet and the rest of the freaks outside the “Side Show”. This time around I liked it better; actually, a lot better.
More recently, a revised version opened on Broadway but failed to bring audiences in despite the good reviews; perhaps proving my point that this show is a better suit for small intimate environments.
Although the original staging may have flopped, it certainly made stars out of Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley, who both received a shared Tony nomination for their role in the show. They went on to record three albums, including the one where this version of I Will Never Leave You comes from. At the end of the show, Daisy and Violet promise each other unconditional love and companionship; not because they’re stuck with each other, but because they wouldn’t choose anybody else to share their life with.
I chose this version because of its simplicity, just a piano and the gorgeous voices of Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley. If this is the first time you’ve heard about “Side Show”, I’m positive you will want to know more about it after you listen to I Will Never Leave You.
Song Title: I Will Never Leave You – 1997 Artist: Emily Skinner, Alice Ripley Genre: Musical Composer: Henry Krieger Lyricist: Bill Russell Album: Ripley/Skinner: Raw At Town Hall
Favourite Lyrics: I will never leave you / I will never go away / We were meant to share each moment / Beside you is where I will stay / Evermore and always / We’ll be one though we’re two / For I will never leave you
Runners Up: Past My Prime • Who Will Love Me As I Am • WasteThe Game • Addison’s Trip • That Was a Year
144 MONDAY 17 NOVEMBER 2014
A Wonderful Day Like Today – Cyril Richard, Anthony Newley
You may find this hard to believe, but A Wonderful Day Like Today is one of the better-known melodies in Venezuela. You would only need to play the first notes for people to recognise it and join in, we all know the lyrics. At one point or another, we have all hummed it, whistled it or sung it just for fun.
So, how could a song from a 1964 British musical become a Venezuelan cultural icon? Seven words, ‘En Una Noche Tan Linda Como Esta’ (In An Evening So Pretty Like This (One)). Venezuelans following this blog will know what I’m talking about.
For 40 years, this song was used as the official anthem of the ‘Miss Venezuela Pageant’, its happy melody and catchy Spanish lyrics became ingrained in the minds of all Venezuelans. I can’t remember when this song wasn’t part of the telecast to choose the girl who will go on to participate in Miss Universe and other international pageants. “In an evening so pretty like this one, I say hello on behalf of my birthplace, I’m in heaven and I feel so fine, in an evening so pretty like this one.” The contestants would sing during the opening number. “Any of us could win and be crowned as Miss Venezuela, in an evening so pretty like this one.” They would keep singing while prancing around the stage.
Sometime in the 1970s, I heard a version of the song in English, and the first thing that came to mind was that someone had stolen the “Miss Venezuela Song” and translated it into English. I believe it was my brother who told me that most likely it was the other way around. The pageant producers were using a song originally written in English. For years, I didn’t know the name of the song, I always assumed it was an American song, but couldn’t find it in the body of work of the usual suspects, you know the Cole Porters, Jerome Kerns, Richard Hammersteins, etc.
Six years ago, I came across a news item about a new Miss Venezuela song being written. As it turned out the creators of the song (probably only Bricusse, Newly died in 1999) were asking for more money for the use of the song. It was never clear, however, if the pageant producers ever paid any royalties. I’m sure they did, I don’t think they could have gotten away with it for 40 years. It was then that I found out the name of the song. I went to iTunes right away and bought a few versions. However, I decided to include the cut from the original show, as it was originally intended to be interpreted.
For over 40 years, the Miss Venezuela telecast has been the most watched show of the year in the country – imagine the Oscars, and the Super Bowl rolled into one. The pageant is perhaps the only remains of a bygone era in Venezuela where everything was possible, not just for a girl wanting to be crowned as Miss Venezuela, but also for anyone who had a dream and saw the country as the place to make it a reality. This is a musical theme that belongs to all Venezuelans.
Song Title: A Wonderful Day Like Today – 1964 Artist: Cyril Richard, Anthony Newley Composers: Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley Lyricists: Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley Album: The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Favourite Lyrics: May I take this occasion to say / That the whole human race should go down on its knees / Show that we’re grateful for mornings like these
Runners Up: The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened • Boca Raton • Finale • The Beautiful Land • This Dream • The Joker
144 TUESDAY 18 NOVEMBER 2014
Shall We Dance? – Ben Kingsley, Julie Andrews – Top 10 Contender – 1st Place Finish
Am I the only one who thinks Shall We Dance? is a love-letter to one-night stands? Pay attention to the lyrics for a moment.
“We’ve just been introduced, I do not know you well.” She is a friend of a friend who you’ve just met in a bar or a random guy who’s cruised you at a bar.
“But when the music started, something drew me to your side.” After a few drinks, she’s starting to look fine, or you’ve been exchanging glances with a guy for a while.
“So many men and girls are in each other’s arms.” It’s now past midnight; everybody is hooking up except you.
“It made me think we might be similarly occupied.” You survey the room, assess the situation, pick your target, and start the approach.
“Shall we dance? Shall we then say “Goodnight and mean “Goodbye”?” You use your regular pick up line. There are no expectations, just a hookup, and you both know that. After a quickie, you may not see each other again, and that is okay, you kind of prefer it like that.
“Or perchance, when the last little star has left the sky, shall we still be together, with our arms around each other and shall you be my new romance?” Then again, you’re both aware there’s a possibility you’ll spend the night together, and wake up next to each other. You may still say ‘good morning’ and still mean ‘goodbye’.
“On the clear understanding that this kind of thing can happen, shall we dance?” At a level, you both agree that hooking up can lead to other possibilities. You seal the deal and go back to your place with a clear understanding that many things can happen.
I always thought Shall We Dance? was a love song until I saw it being performed within “The King & I” context. It is a song about possibilities. It is a moment where the relationship between The King and Anna may have become a romantic one, but it didn’t, they remained friends.
Let’s not forget who penned the song, Oscar Hammerstein, in his musicals, there’s always a song that talks about ‘things that aren’t but could be’. Take for instance “Make Believe” in “Showboat” and “If I Loved You” from “Carousel”. Both songs present us with worlds that don’t exist yet, worlds that are just waiting to be created. Shall We Dance? also adheres to the same formula. It works as a footnote, a sort of disclaimer that human contact, be it dancing, (or sexual encounters if you’re buying into my observations) can lead to many things, even romance and love, although it is not a guarantee.
Song Title: Shall We Dance? – 1951 Artist: Ben Kingsley, Julie Andrews Genre: Musical Composer: Richard Rodgers Lyricist: Oscar Hammerstein Album: Rodgers & Hammerstein: The King And I
Favourite Lyrics: When the last little star has left the sky, / Shall we still be together / With are arms around each other / And shall you be my new romance? / On the clear understanding / That this kind of thing can happen, / Shall we dance?
Runners Up: What a Man! • Feeling Good • The Beautiful Land (Reprise) / Sweet Beginning • Shall We Dance? • Getting to Know You • Finale Ultimo • No Se Tú • The Way You Look Tonight • Long Ago and Far Away • If This Isn’t Love • I’ve Never Been In Love Before • The Song Is You
146 WEDNESDAY 19 NOVEMBER 2014
Go Back Home – Brandon Victor Dixon, Cody Ryan Wise
I believe we haven’t had a Kander & Ebb in a few weeks. It’s strange; when I first started this project, I thought I’d be including a Kander & Ebb song every week.
Go Back Home comes from “The Scottsboro Boys”, the last show entirely composed and penned by Kander & Ebb. After Fred Ebb died in 2004, the show was shelved but a few years later, Kander himself finished the lyrics, and under Susan Stroman’s direction, the musical was staged in 2010. Presented under a “Minstrel Show” banner, the show tells the real story of the Scottsboro Boys, a group of African-American teenagers who were unjustly accused of raping two white women in Alabama in 1931.
In the song, after being sentenced to death, the young men sit in their jail cells dreaming of the day they’ll get go back home.
The song is pure Kander & Ebb. As I’ve said before, these guys are masterful at taking disenfranchised characters and give them a moment in the spotlight. The Scottsboro Boys first verdict was overturned, sparing them from the death penalty. However, they were found guilty on retrial and sentenced to go back to prison.
This moving ballad floored me the first time I heard it. I was going through hard times, I felt lost and aimless, and for the first time, I imagined how it’d be to go back home to live in Venezuela again. Clearly, that wasn’t an option. At the time, the country had been a political, social and economic mess for years; I just couldn’t go back and try to have the same style I’d had abroad.
The situation in Venezuela hasn’t improved, and I doubt things will get any better in my lifetime. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to return home for good, and it hurts a bit. Although, I have spent almost half of my life away, the roots of those first 25 years of life go very deep, and I wish to return could be an option. Maybe things will change, I hope. Then, I might be able to pack my things and return home. However, in the meantime, I’ll keep dreaming of going back home.
Song Title: Go Back Home – 2010 Artist: Brandon Victor Dixon, Cody Ryan Wise Genre: Musical Composer: John Kander Lyricist: Fred Ebb Album: The Scottsboro Boys (Original Off Broadway Cast)
Favourite Lyrics: But maybe times’ll turn / I pray so / Maybe some day I’ll get lucky / Someone’s gonna say / Alright son / Take the train and go back home / Hop a freight and go back home
Runners Up: Taking a Chance On Love • Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye • El Reloj • Hooray for Hollywood • Love’s A Bond • A Moment With You • So Many People • One Wonderful Day • I Remember That • What More Do I Need? • Minstrel March / Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey!
147 THURSDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2014
It’s Not Where You Start – Tommy Tune
Just as I thought I was going to have more Kander & Ebb songs on this list, I never imagined Cy Coleman would feature so much on the list; and there’s more of his stuff coming on the list.
It’s Not Where You Start is an inspiring, cute song that I’ve known for years, but it wasn’t until recently that I bought it on iTunes. I was surprised to learn the song was introduced by Tommy Tune in 1973. I’ve come to love him in the last few years, there’s something so happy and effervescent about this guy’s songs that I always enjoy listening to him. There’s more of his work coming on the list at some point.
Song Title: It’s Not Where You Start – 1973 Artist: Tommy Tune Genre: Musical Composer: Cy Coleman Lyricist: Dorothy Fields Album: Seesaw (1973 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Favourite Lyrics: Your final return will not diminish / And you can be the cream of the crop; / It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish, / And you’re gonna finish on top.