I grew up listening to Broadway show tunes on my father’s stereo system. Actually, not to all Broadway show tunes, but only to those for which my parents had record albums—My Fair Lady, Camelot, South Pacific, and The Sound of Music.
I think it was an easy way for my mother to keep the children quiet on a winter weekend afternoon. Dad would be off somewhere—probably working—and my mother would get out these records and put them on the stereo. My brother and I lolled on the living room floor and listened while we played cards or board games.
We played The Game of Life, which taught us the importance of staying in school and getting a good-paying job in order to stay out of the poor house. (I’m told a newer version rewards players for recycling and helping the homeless, but in the version we played, the point was to avoid homelessness one’s self.)
“All I want is a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air . . .”
We played chess: “Checkmate.”
“So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye . . .”
We played Clue: “Miss Scarlett in the hall with the knife.”
“Early dawn was the time, she would pay for her crime . . .”
For every game, it seemed, there was a song in the background. And a lesson to be learned.
As a result of these lazy afternoons, by the end of my grade school years, I could recite all the lyrics to all the songs from these shows. I probably got a few of the lyrics wrong, because I didn’t quite understand the words, but I was close enough.
But my parents’ records were not without flaws. On the Camelot recording, when we got to Side B’s “I Loved You Once in Silence,” the record skipped. We’d get to “twice the despair” and if someone wasn’t right there to lift the needle and move it on, we heard “twice the despair . . . twice the despair . . . twice the despair.” Endlessly.
Not exactly what a couple of pre-teen kids wanted to hear on a Saturday afternoon. And there was no way to stop it, at least not until I was deemed old enough to touch the needle myself. As a result, I hated that song.
Speaking of “No Way To Stop It,” that was one of my favorite songs in The Sound of Music. As a future writer, I loved the alliteration in the first line, “You dear attractive dewy-eyed idealist.” In fact, I loved every line in that song, all the way until the final, “Nothing else as wonderful as I”—another sentiment bound to appeal to a kid.
The movie, The Sound of Music, came to my hometown when I was in the fifth or sixth grade. My birthday party that year was to take a group of friends see the movie, then return to our house for cake and ice cream. I was so surprised to discover that the movie didn’t include the song “No Way To Stop It.” The movie also left out “How Can Love Survive,” another song from the record that I loved. Despite my disappointment, I did like the movie.
When The Sound of Music movie came out, I’d been taking piano lessons for about three years and I was given a book of the sheet music. I learned to play most of the songs. (I still have the sheet music, though I rarely play the piano any more, and when I do, I play badly.) But I still miss the songs from the Broadway show that were left out.
I later saw the movie version of My Fair Lady when I was in college. It was loverly, but by that stage in my life I recognized how unrealistic it was. I went to the library and checked out George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. I decided his ending—though decidedly less romantic—was much more likely, given the characters he depicted.
South Pacific, on the other hand, was a wonderful movie, though so sad. When I read James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, I realized what a great job the authors and songwriters of the musical did in converting his short stories into an epic story about the Pacific theater in World War II.
I haven’t followed Broadway musicals much since my childhood. There have been some remarkable ones in the last several decades, but nostalgia keeps these old Rodgers & Hammerstein and Lerner & Loewe musicals my favorites. They taught me many lessons, as did The Game of Life.
What songs do you remember from childhood?