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BWW Blog: Ranking Lerner and Loewe Collaborations

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Having their work revived every decade on Broadway/West End stages, Lerner and Loewe created a myriad of timeless classics. 

BWW Blog: Ranking Lerner and Loewe Collaborations

If you ask any theatre kid about the Golden Age of Musical Theatre, the first two people who come to mind are none other than Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. They are the founding fathers of musical theatre, having created the first "integrated" musical with their hit, Oklahoma!, in 1943. They're my favorite composers, of course. But I can't help but appreciate two men of whom they often overshadowed: Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. Having their work revived every decade on Broadway/West End stages, Lerner and Loewe created a myriad of timeless classics.

#5: Paint Your Wagon (1951)

Having only 289 original Broadway performances, Lerner and Loewe's Paint Your Wagon is not considered a hit. The story centers around a miner and his daughter in a mining camp in Gold Rush-era California, but it's been revised for many subsequent productions. Although the plot lags, the music captures the Western aura of the California Gold Rush to a tee. It's Paint Your Wagon that brought us the hit song "They Call the Wind Maria". I recommend listening to the cast recording of the Encores! staged concert in 2015.

#4: Gigi (1958 Film/1973)

Originally made for the screen, Gigi is about a free-spirited teenaged girl living in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. Her family grooms her to become a courtesan, and the audience watches her attend a ball while transforming into a charming young lady. Gigi ranks so low on this list because its plot is remarkably similar to another Lerner and Loewe musical (can you guess what it is?), only in a different European city. The 2015 Broadway Revival starring Vanessa Hudgens, Corey Cott, Victoria Clark, and Dee Hoty has a magnificent cast album.

#3: Camelot (1960)

The last musical that Lerner and Loewe collaborated on was Camelot. It's no wonder the piece quickly became associated with the Kennedy Era, considering its score exceeds the idea of "captivation." It wasn't their most successful collaboration, though. Jack Viertel, in his book The Secret Life of the American Musical, explains that Camelot's "I Want" songs are what prevented it from becoming their best work. But if you ask me, I think that Lerner's lyrics and Loewe's music, especially in their "I Want" songs, flawlessly encapsulates the regality of King Arthur's reign. Take, for instance, the song "What Do the Simple Folk Do?", where Queen Guenevere asks King Arthur about their subjects' abilities to cope with stress. Lerner proves himself as the Shakespeare of Musical Theatre in lyrics like "The wee folk and the grown folk / Who wander to and fro / Have ways known to their own folk / We throne folk don't know." This song was originally performed by Richard Burton as King Arthur and Julie Andrew as Queen Guenevere. And when paired with Robert Goulet as Sir Lancelot, Camelot became a star-studded cast. The only thing I dislike about the show is that I haven't been able to see a Broadway revival of it.

#2: Brigadoon (1947)

Before Brigadoon, Lerner and Loewe collaborated on Life of the Party (1942), which never found its way to a Broadway stage and What's Up? (1943), which ran for a mere 63 performances. Running for 581 Broadway performances, Brigadoon was Lerner and Loewe's first real hit and it can be described in one word: enchanting. It's my favorite L&L collaboration, and it follows the story of two American tourists who stumble upon Bridgadoon, a village in the Scottish Highlands that appears once every 100 years. Tommy, one of the tourists, falls in love with Fiona, a young woman living in the village. Bagpipes galore, the score, dance, and plot of this show summons a spiritual transcendence, especially during songs like "Come to Me, Bend to Me" and "Waitin' For My Dearie". The 2017 Encores! Cast Recording, featuring Kelli O'Hara as Fiona, never ceases to make me cry.

#1: My Fair Lady (1956)

You all knew this was coming. Regarded by many as the "perfect musical," My Fair Lady made Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe, and Julie Andrews into household names. Everyone knows the story of Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from professor Henry Higgins, a phonetician, so that she may pass as a lady. What makes it "perfect" is its construction. Perfect "I Want" songs: "Why Can't the English & "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?". Perfect mid-Act 1 solos: "I'm An Ordinary Man" & "Just You Wait". A perfect shift in the plot after Higgins and Eliza succeed in her mastering of the English tongue, when she asks him: "Where am I to go? What's to become of me?" Perfect songs that can be performed out of context: "I Could Have Danced All Night" & "On the Street Where You Live". Perfect integrations of dance: "The Rain in Spain" & "The Embassy Waltz". Perfect comedic ensemble numbers: "With a Little Bit of Luck" & "Get Me to the Church on Time". And a perfect ending that can be interpreted in different ways. Does Eliza stay? Or does she leave? It's up to the director! Whether I'm listening to the Original Broadway Cast Recording, the 2001 London Revival Cast Recording, the 2018 Broadway Revival Cast Recording, or Laura Benanti's EP, I'm always enjoying this perfect Lerner and Loewe masterpiece.

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From This Author Student Blogger: Joey Tabasco