07 January 2009

Prettybelle, Pretty...swell?

Prettybelle was to come into the Big Apple the same season as Follies. Sadly it never made it out of Boston. Why? As you will soon learn, the score by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill (both of whom had many successes--and flops--alone, but had Funny Girl together) is downright fantastic. And Angela Lansbury was in it, and I mean Angela Lansbury was in it. We ain't talkin' Deuce here. Oh, and Gower Champion--you know, the Bye Bye Birdie/Hello Dolly! guy--directed and choreographed. So what went wrong?

Well, to start off with, it is about a nymphomaniac, alcoholic schizophrenic who is raped by her racist, corrupt law officer husband and thus ultimately institutionalized. Now, I do not believe there are any inherently bad ideas for a musical, but this certainly seems like a tough sell. And if this subject matter were to be musicalized today, it would start someplace fringey, or have 37 staged readings, workshops, and regional productions before attempting the Great White Way, regardless of the writers reputations.

And Prettybelle wasn't created by those edge, innovative folks who would go on to write a musical about turning people into meat pies. This was by a couple of gents who would go on to do shows like 42nd Street and Bar Mitvah Boy (which is also obscure, but about as edgy as its title indicates). Not that Champion, Styne, or Merrill aren't necessarily capable of darker work--Styne had Gypsy, Merrill made a musical out of Anna Christie, and Champion killed off Bernadette Peters with a drug overdose. Yes, unlikely pairings of collaborators and collaborators to source material work all the time. But, as a general rule, musicals fail more often than they succeed, and those with a 2nd act number extolling the positive side effects of rape as per Reader's Digest--no matter how "ironically" it is intended to be performed--fail most often.

There are however, many wonderful songs, 3 of which I will post below. The rest of the score can be found, for the time being, here. This recording, by the way, was made 10 years after the fact with "members" (i.e. Angie and whoever had the afternoon free) of the Original Cast.

1. Manic Depressives--This is Angie's first number, and the first number of the show proper (after the title song, which seems to function as more of a prologue) wherein she sets up the show's framing device: She is in a mental institution and writing her memoirs. Probably mildly offensive to some, but I have a feeling you'll enjoy it.
Discover Simple, Private Sharing at Drop.io

2. Small Degree--A lovely, subtle, ballad in the midst of all the insanity wherein Prettybelle ruminates on the limitations of her marriage, and her grief and her husband's passing.
Discover Simple, Private Sharing at Drop.io

3. I Met A Man--This song is a bit of an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in bacon. Yes, it's that delicious. I no longer have the liner notes with me (I had burned this CD after borrowing it from the NYPL about 3 years ago), but I remember them being frustratingly vague as to the context of this song. Perhaps that writer was frustrated as well. Whatever, enjoy.
Discover Simple, Private Sharing at Drop.io

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