You can talk all you wanna

One of the things I've been listening to in the car the past few days is the Broadway cast recording of The Music Man. For the first half of the album, I kept being tickled, remembering just how sharp it is, and how funny. The second half of the show, alas, spends more time on slow romantic ballads; nothing wrong with those, just not as compelling for me. It's too bad that the high point of the show is the very first song, "Rock Island"—one of my favorite "musical" numbers from any show. (I say "too bad" not because it's a poor high point, but because a show that starts with something that good is doomed to go downhill from there.) "Cash for the merchandise. Cash for the buttonhooks. . . ." The use of words as music appeals to me a great deal; I discussed this in a column on intonation, but it didn't occur to me at the time to mention The Music Man. And "Rock Island" is a particularly good case study, 'cause it works not only with intonation but with the sounds that make up the words, and the speed, to do a remarkable imitation of a train.

(By the way, I'm surprised to see the Music Man Online site; it doesn't appear to have anyone's official permission (though it does have an autographed photo of Shirley Jones on which she praises the site), which makes it probably the most blatant copyright violation site I've seen (given that it incorporates the name of the work in the URL, and that it posts not only lyrics to the songs but recordings of the composer, Meredith Willson, performing the show). But perhaps they did get permissions and just didn't post them; if not, I'm surprised they haven't been shut down.)

I'd forgotten there's a Broadway revival of the show going on. That site has sound clips too, from the new cast album.

Anyway, one thing I noticed this time through the album was that the show employs Standard Plot #53B: Cynical Man's Heart Is Melted By Love. And it occurred to me that my idea of how to write a romantic comedy movie is all wrong: in my romantic-comedy plots, I've tried to find ways to keep two people who are clearly meant for each other apart for long enough to have an interesting movie, through various contrivances and plot devices and miscommunications, whereas really the tried-and-true formula is to start out with two people who can't stand each other, who really are opposites, and gradually have them fall for each other. Even though the audience knows from the start (as with a romance novel) that these two are destined for each other (often even before the start, since you go into the movie knowing who the male and female leads are, and you can guess they'll end up together, though there are a few romantic comedies that pull surprise twists and don't end that way), it still works.

Sparks. Sparks from friction turning into romantic sparks. Funny how deeply ingrained that idea seems to be in our society.

One other thing: I told Mary Anne (the Libraryanne) my comment above about the first half being really sharp and funny, and the second half losing that edge, and she pointed out that A Little Night Music is better because it's sharp and funny all the way through. Very true. Mmm, Sondheim. Makes me wanna go listen to the album of that again, though the recording doesn't come close to doing justice to the show as I saw it performed by a group of Stanford students, in a dorm lounge, some years back. One of the best theatrical productions I've ever seen anywhere, perhaps even coming close to the Swarthmore student production of Noises Off, and that's saying a lot. I oughtta get back in the habit of going to Stanford plays—they've done several of the best shows I've seen. Especially a group called Outside In Theatre that used to perform outdoors during the summer; their production of Equus was superb, their Shakespeare was good, and their version of Timberlake Wertenbaker's Our Country's Good was totally stunning.

But I digress. Me for sleep.

("But he doesn't know the territory!")

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