Monday, September 18, 2017

Frank Loesser | "I Believe in You" (from How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying) My Favorite Musical Theater Songs

“I Believe in You”

Composer: Frank Loesser
Performer: Michele Lee, 1967 (film version)
Composer: Frank Loesser
Performer: Robert Morse, 1961 (original Broadway recording)
Composer: Frank Loesser
Performer: Robert Morse, 1967 (film version)
Composer: Frank Loesser
Performer: Robert Morse (Tony Awards program)
Composer: Frank Loesser
Performer: Matthew Broderick, 1995 (revival)
Composer: Frank Loesser
Performer: Daniel Radcliffe, 2011

Frank Loesser’s beautiful song from his How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying is sung twice in the 1961 Broadway production, once as a kind of love paean to the young would-be executive, former window-washer, J. Pierrepont Finch. The second time it’s sung by the now on-the-rise businessman Ponty as a love song to himself, while all around him other young executives plot his downfall with a sub-song “Gotta Get that Man,” wherein the other employees even beg the audience “Don’t let him be such a hero!” In some senses, this song parallels Sid Sorokin's mockery of a love song, "Hey There," in The Pajama Game. But Morse's character really does love the subject of his song, himself. No self-mockery here. 

      Only Robert Morse perfectly captured the totally self-captivated, yet utterly charming character he represented, although later Matthew Broderick and the elfin Daniel Radcliffe bravely tackled the dichotomy of a man so enchanted with himself that he is simply beautiful to watch as he stands at a sink before the mirror that reflects his charming smile—to both himself and to us. Like the secretary Rosemary Pilkington (in the original stage musical Bonnie Scot and in the movie version the glorious singer Michele Lee), we love Morse despite his obvious inability, until late in the show, to share love with anyone else. When he finally does, in the beautiful crescendo of “Rosemary” and the later all-team love-a-thon “Brotherhood of Man,” he moves on to become the Chairman of the Board of the mysterious World Wide Wicket Company.

The young Morse—long before his drag queen days of Sugar and his one-man impersonation of Truman Capote in Tru, was as cute, as my older aunts might have expressed it, as a button, with even the great gay-oriented Carl Van Vechten putting him before the camera—in real life, Morse was married, and had five children. But you wouldn’t know it, even as early as his heterosexual Finch in How to Succeed, given his satirical gay-winking delight with his audiences. As a character, he’s utterly terrified of women, including the well-endowed Hedy LaRue. And when he finally does fall for Rosemary, it is only after she has done nearly everything in the secret book of “How to Catch a Husband” to lasso him in, at the very moment she is not so sure that she wants her trophy. Still, she’s “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm,” and is absolutely ready to retire to New Rochelle, even though, ultimately the couple move into the World Wide Wicket Suite for the Chairman of the Board.

      The great composer Loesser’s songs include some very engaging pieces, including “The Company Way,” “A Secretary Is Not a Toy,” and the nearly impossible to dance, Bob Fosse’s “Coffee Break” (we’re told they simply could not recreate it for the movie). But there’s only one song you might go home humming, the smug commitment to the self so beautifully expressed in “I Believe in You.”

Gotta stop that man,
I gotta stop that man cold . . .
Or he'll stop me.
Big deal, big rocket,
Thinks he has the world
In his pocket.

Gotta stop, gotta stop,
Gotta stop that man.

Now there you are;
Yes, there's that face,
That face that somehow I trust.
It may embarrass you to hear me say it,
But say it I must, say it I must:

You have the cool, clear
Eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth;
Yet there's that upturned chin
And that grin of impetuous youth.
Oh, I believe in you.
I believe in you.

     Morse might well have "believed" in his character. The musical, which opened at Broadway's 46th Street Theatre in October of 1961 ran for 1,417 performances. The 1995 revival at the Richard Rodgers Theatre again broke into long-running status at 548 performances. Even the 2011 production, which I saw at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre lasted 473 performances. 

Los Angeles, September 18, 2017

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