Look Me Over!”
Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, Wildcat,
Lucille Ball, Valerie Harper, and Dinah Shore
my readers might hold up their hands if they had ever heard of the Broadway
musical Wildcat, by N. Richard Nash
(book) and the then debuting team of composer Cy Coleman and lyricist Carolyn
Leigh, I suspect that I might look out into a theater of no response. The entire production was centered around then 48-year old comedian
Lucille Ball, making her Broadway debut, a production in which her production
company, Desilu invested a substantial sum.
The musical was quite interesting, with a
theme not so very different from Meredith Willson’s The Unsinkable Molly Brown of the very same (1960) year. Willson’s
musical went on to become a hit, while Ball’s Wildcat Jackson character,
although wonderfully feisty in the original performances, became ill with a
virus and chronic fatigue (going on every night is a big difference from
performing in a weekly comedy series), which destined her work to the very
short run of 171 performances at Broadway’s Alvin Theatre.
Coleman’s music, however, included several
wonderful numbers, including the incredibly comical piece, “What Takes My
Fancy,” and the lovely ballad by co-star, Keith Andes, “Tall Hope.” Sven
Svenson (who later appeared in the composer’s Little Me) appeared in a minor role and later television star,
Valerie Harper appeared in the chorus.
But the great number from this work, much
like that of Willson’s Unsinkable Molly,
spoke of the grit and survival of its major character, the “Wildcat” of the
title, devoted now to finding a new oil well to make her fortune. That musical
number, “Hey, Look Me Over,” was a kind complex paean to both “looking at her”
and “over her,” allowing her to enter a world that was simply intolerant to
such a strong feminine force, out of money and deep in debt.
look me over
me an ear
out of clover
up to here
don't pass the plate, folks
pass the cup
figure whenever you're down and out
only way is up.
That song was not only attuned to Ball’s
continually rocky career—she was soon to divorce then husband Desi Arnaz—but to
a life that might have almost been brilliantly expressed in Stephen Sondheim’s Follies’ figure who sings “I’m Still Here.”
The fact is that Ball was not “all here,”
and her illness and even collapse on stage during one of her performances,
suggested she was not the same Lucy who we had all loved on television for so
long. But dozens of singers, young and old, later took up her banner song, and
helped to make it a big hit, among them, the consummate singers Rosemary
Clooney and Judy Garland, and, later, Bea Arthur.
On a day where I have been listening to
the remarkable stories of Houston people who, despite incredible odds, have
still come through to survive the terrible floods that have engulphed their
community, I might almost nominate this song as a marvelous expression of their
conditions and fortitude.
August 28, 2017
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