Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Jule Styne and Bob Merrill | "People" (from Funny Girl) My Favorite Musical Theater Songs


“People”

Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, Funny Girl, 1964
Performer: Barbara Streisand, original Broadway recording
Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, Funny Girl, 1964
Performer: Barbara Streisand, reportedly her last performance in the musical
Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, Funny Girl, 1964
Performer: Sammy Davis, Jr., 1965
Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, Funny Girl, 1964
Performer: Dionne Warwick, 1965
Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, Funny Girl, 1964
Performer: Tony Bennett, 1969
Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, Funny Girl, 1964
Performer: Shirley Bassey, 1979

I have always wondered why one of the most innovative musical theater composers of all time, Stephen Sondheim, insists upon real end rhymes for his lyrics, while the more “old-school” composer and lyricist, Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, explored some new territory in the shimmering ballad, “People,” which depends far more on the repetition of words—“people,” “children,” “lovers,” etc—to convey its message, relying on only on occasional end rhyme and even then employing mostly internal rhyme: “pride”/”hide”/”inside” and “thirst/first.”   

 People
 People who need people
 Are the luckiest people in the world
 We're children, needing other children
 And yet letting a grown-up pride
 Hide all the need inside
 Acting more like children than children

 Lovers, very special people
 They're the luckiest people in the world
 With one person
 One very special person

 A feeling deep in your soul
 Says you were half now you're whole
 No more hunger and thirst
 But first be a person who needs people
 People who need people
 Are the luckiest people in the world 

    




























This song, rather than pushing its themes to the center of its lines, surrounded by end rhymes, boldly makes its statements about people, love, and the world, straight out, lingering upon the repetitions a bit like Wagner might have, instead of speeding ahead with an incredible locomotive of impossible rhymes and word choices the way Frank Loesser and Sondheim might.
      It is almost unthinkable that director Garson Kanin wanted to cut the piece; although I do agree with him that it's probably not the kind of song Fanny Brice might ever have sung.

     The music here and lyrics here become so pliable that one can interpret the song through numerous musical genres—love ballad, jazz riff, big band belter—and it encourages the singer to improvise: Streisand herself has interpreted it in various ways throughout the years. I prefer her original Broadway stage version, but I must admit as she aged, the song became even more velvety and dusky. It was, after all, a kind of seduction number even in the original, where she tests out her feelings for Nicky Arnstein, and seduces him into considering a love affair.

      I’ve included four other interpretations of the song, by Sammy Davis, Jr., Dionne Warwick, Tony Bennett, and Shirley Bassey, to show the song’s range. But Streisand’s slow-version ballad about what she wants out of life is by far the best.

Los Angeles, August 29, 2017

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