Saturday, April 26, 2008

The overture is about to start

One of the reasons I loved the revival of South Pacific was its fearless use of the entire original overture. The overture, designed originally to play before a show to allow late-comers to be seated before the start of the show, has diminished in use these days, with many shows either opening cold or offering a very brief musical prelude before the start.

I love the overtures. They set a tone for the evening; they allow you to be introduced to musical themes and phrases from within the show and to get a feel for the size and scope of the orchestra and orchestrations. It's the foreplay. What follows is the sex. It can be long, short, pleasant, exuberant, boring or just downright awful. It's a part of the experience and I wish that more shows would continue to use them.

My first day of American Musical Theatre class in college, my professor, Stephen Kitsakos, played three as an example to give us a feel for the unending horizons of the musical landscape, as well as use it for a successful introduction to the class. The three he played were The Who's Tommy, A Little Night Music and Guys and Dolls, (though he actually didn't use the original overture for the latter, but "Runyonland" from the revival cast recording). When I became his TA I always wanted to toss in some of the ones listed below, but then again I'm always biased towards the greats. But I knew then that I was going to enjoy his class immensely, which I did.

Many of the great overtures are present on their cast albums. Some are truncated due to due the time contraints of the LP but odds are you can find a complete recording out there somewhere. Other recordings, such as Darling of the Day and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, combined the overture and entr'acte for the cast recording (mostly an RCA practice). The original Mack and Mabel, a Gower Champion-directed production (who rarely used a traditional overture in his musicals) opened with a brief fanfare of "I Won't Send Roses." When they recorded the cast album, the entr'acte was recorded for the overture. The piece became overwhelmingly popular when Torvill and Dean used it for the 1982 World Championships, where they won the gold medal and ever since, the entr'acte is now officially the show's overture.

Some of my favorites (alphabetically):

Candide
Funny Girl
Gypsy
High Spirits
Irma La Douce
Kismet
The Light in the Piazza
A Little Night Music
Mame
My Fair Lady
On the Twentieth Century
110 in the Shade
Pipe Dream
The Rothschilds
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
South Pacific

Yours?

3 comments:

SarahB said...

Oh the overture! There's nothing like it - it's such a promise of what's to come. My list of favorite overtures is basically the same as yours, but I add: Merrily We Roll Along (OCR), Annie, The King & I (film), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (OCR), Mary Poppins (film), Camelot (OCR), Flora the Red Menace (OCR), 42nd Street (2001 revival) and Bernadette's Overture (from The Rest of It arrangement by Marvin Laird).

Roxie said...

Bedknobs and Broomsticks!

1776!

I can't think of anymore at the moment...

Theatre Aficionado at Large said...

I didn't consider film overtures, or various "Preludes/Prologues" (et al) in my original post, but what the hell...

I love the "King & I" overture (not the opening credits, but the actual overture played for the roadshow engagement), "Poppins" main titles and also for that matter, I love the main titles for "1776," "Singin' in the Rain," "Gigi," "Good News," "Oklahoma!" "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, "Sleeping Beauty," and "A Star is Born" (1954), "State Fair" (1945), "West Side Story," and most recently, "Sweeney Todd."

I guess honorable mentions should go out to "The Carousel Waltz", the "Carnival" prologue, "The Eden Prelude" from "The Apple Tree," and the Prologue/Overture of "Follies."

Oh, so many good ones...