Visualizing the Musical Numbers: Act II
Song 9: Act II Prelude / Marriage Is Work—II
The orchestral prelude opens by reprising a motif, already used twice, that will figure once more, in Act II’s climax. Having paid that promise, David proceeds to make the prelude (or Entre Act) an original composition. Whether we had always meant for the prelude to segue into the opening song, I can no longer recall. The segue—a harp arpeggio followed by piano “footsteps”—works seamlessly. But in the recording studio, “Marriage At Work,” joined at the staff to the prelude’s high key, proved out of range for our Rachel, a mezzo soprano. David had to lower the key of the prelude and song by 2 or 3 notes. Your theater can use the original key to preserve the instruments’ timbre or use this version, whose lower pitch makes Rachel’s lament more plaintive.
In “Marriage Is Work—II,” Rachel concedes that Brauer was right: Marriage is no picnic. The “honeymoon” over, Rachel vents at Hubbie’s abundant bad habits, questioning whether to even stay in the game. By no coincidence, this was the first lyric I wrote after remarrying in 1995.
At the end of a traditional Jewish wedding, the groom steps on a wine glass cup, shattering it. As you listen to this song’s final two notes, visualize our bride as she places a disposable cup on the floor and stomps it.
A similar sorrow (minus the anger) was voiced by Barbra Streisand as Daisy Gamble in “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” from the 1970 film version of Lerner and Lane’s On a Clear Day You Can See Forever:
Rachel’s ambivalence was poignantly echoed by actress Alexandra Silber as Julie Johnson in this 2010 performance of Carousel (“What’s the Use of Wonderin’”):
Song 10: When I Was One
“When I Was One” was one of my earliest-conceived songs. It also is my most personal song, written a few weeks into my second marriage. Each verse is spoke-sung before breaking into song. Indeed, the template for its structure and delivery was “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” in which Henry Higgins alternately fulminates and balladizes about his work wife, Liza, in Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady. Of the play’s 15 tunes, this tune may well be the least melodic. Listening to my a capella recording, David was unsure he could make it work. But like Loewe’s orchestrator, Burton Lane, David delivered, using orchestral contrast, timing, and selective dissonance to great effect.
Song 11: Going Through the Motions
The character Burt is a sleazebag. In this, Burt’s tango-for-one, singer Chris Dilley delivers a pitch-perfect performance that will resonate with fans of over-the-top comic villains, such as Rooster in Annie. I’d selected Chris some three years earlier, after catching him at a local children’s theater, where he stole the show as the titular character in The Frog Prince. By the time I sought him out, he had moved to San Francisco. There, he agreed to record the song at a local recording studio. Each time I listen to his virtuoso vocal recording, I can’t stop grinning.
Suave ladies’ man Steven Kodaly strikes a similar note in “Grand Knowing You” from Harnick and Bock’s She Loves Me:
Song 12: The Ways I Would Tell You
Rachel may feel conflicted, but in “The Ways I Would Tell You,” Reuven’s love becomes painfully, poignantly clear, both to him and to us. Originally, I had composed both chorus, verse, and bridge. But to David’s musically educated ear, my verse and bridge didn’t do justice the dramatic moment. With my permission—or did he surprise me?—David composed a new verse and bridge, usid a different meter. I had to rework my lyrics, but the result was worth it. In fact, penning lyrics to someone else’s tune was a refreshing change of pace that I could gladly repeat (and would again, in my second musical, Tracks).
One decision I hope to not repeat is my decision to use my “train the singer” vocal track, which I recorded while suffering from a cold. Though my singer fund had run dry, I ought to have borrowed more and hired a professional tenor to record this ballad and all of Reuven’s vocals.
Of course, the Broadway songbook has produced a handful of songs similar to “The Ways I Would Tell You.” But most are ironic: The singer doesn’t know, or won’t acknowledge, he’s in love. Could any established song suggest Reuven’s earnest tone? Certainly not “Almost Like Being in Love,” the light-hearted dance from Brigadoon. Ultimately, only one song would do: “If I Loved You” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. But not the 1956 film performance by Gordon MacRae. Rather, this haunting 2004 concert performance by Mandy Patinkin:
Song 13: Pass It On
I had written “Pass It On” in 1992 for the wedding of a dear friend, the late Wendy Koplow, on the occasion of her marriage to Rabbi Kenneth A. Kanter. I found it a fitting song for Marriage At Work, though trained ears may correctly guess its different pedigree. I was content to use my original orchestration, which had moved many listeners to tears. But David composed a piano-driven orchestration that he deemed “a hundred times better.” By better, I think he meant less gimmicky, more inventive, and more like a classical composition, with a structural beginning, middle, and end.
To illustrate the song’s role in the narrative, here is “Learn to Do It,” by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, from the 1997 Don Bluth animated film, Anastasia:
Song 14: The Sin’s On Me
An audience favorite, “The Sin’s On Me” is the musical’s sexiest song. It is led by Rachel’s classmate Wendy, a character named for my late friend and voiced here by the gifted singer Wendy Weidemann. Rachel serves as Wendy’s pupil, Reuven as her hapless puppet.
A tango like this can serve up endless physical humor in the hands of a Peter Howard, who choreographed Karen Ziemba and Bill Irwin in “Sooner or Later” for Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall (1992):
Song 15: Something Strange
Take a Danny Elfman song written for a Tim Burton film, cross it with a dream ballet, and you get “Something Strange.” It is the first of three musical climaxes. I wanted the song’s ending to be drawn out, with fanfare and ornamental notes. David preferred a musical “sudden death”. Since this decision was musical, not dramatic, David prevailed.
As I wrote the lyrics, there were moments when I nearly felt defeated. The rhymes are so tightly coupled that altering one rhyme would unravel an entire stanza. Ultimately I prevailed, through perseverance, time, and luck.
At the choreographer’s discretion, the dream ballet can feature only Rachel and Reuven, only their dance doubles, or the couple plus an ensemble of their classmates. The ballet was composed by David, but its use here was inspired by the dream sequence choreographed by Agnes de Mille for “Out of My Dreams” in Oklahoma:
Song 16: Forty Days, Forty Years
Sung by Rabbi Brauer’s 16 students, this chorale marks the second of the play’s three musical climaxes. Its concept and bridge came to me in a dream. The next year, while honeymooning in New York, I discovered that the bridge bore an uncomfortable likeness to the bridge from “One Day More” in Les Misérables. David assures me that my bridge is sufficiently original; time will tell.
I not-so-humbly submit that “Forty Days, Forty Years,” when sung on stage by a sizable cast, will draw favorable comparisons to “Sunday” from Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park With George:
Song 17: Eight Weeks / A World of Many Colors
As its title suggests, this song takes two earlier songs and melds them. But that doesn’t mean that David reused his earlier orchestrations. Ever the composer, he made this orchestration unique.
At the start of the audio sample, Joel Spiro, the synagogue’s astrophysicist, holds a prism toward the ceiling light to cast a rainbow. As the song ends (“Eight weeks, eight weeks…”), Reuven is slowly hoisted by his friends, echoing Rachel’s bridal lift at the close of Act I.
I know of no song whose message is, “You’ve always had the power you seek.” Perhaps the nearest example is found in Defying Gravity from Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked. Here’s the key passage (starting at 0:46), sung by Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth from the original Broadway cast:
Song 18: Future Imperfect
When I recorded my vocal, David knew at once how he would orchestrate it. That was a good thing, for I had no similar musical number to share. My chorus, I would later learn, had been used for generations in a Russian folk waltz. (I heard it playing on the satellite TV of my Russian-born mother-in-law.) But so far, no one has lodged a complaint.
I wanted the song to end like a symphony’s final movement: drawn-out, perhaps with a false cadence or two. But David would have none of that, so the music ends with a rather sudden up beat:
It would be a mistake to compare “Future Imperfect” with “Being Alive,” Company’s closing song. True, Reuven and Rachel, life Sondheim’s Bobby, now feel that a life unshared is a life unlived. But where Bobby tiptoes toward marriage’s dubious rewards, my characters are ready to embrace them. Where “Being Alive” is ironic, “Future Imperfect” is exuberant. That’s why I’m illustrating its ending with “Oom-Pah-Pah” from Lionel Bart’s Oliver!