Filichia Features: Lots of Lerner!

Filichia Features: Lots of Lerner!

By Peter Filichia on April 12, 2018

The Complete Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner is like a crash course on some fascinating Broadway musicals.

The book is an astonishing achievement by Dominic McHugh and Amy Asch. The pair didn't merely collect the hundreds of songs to which Lerner had written lyrics. Indeed, that would be a triumph in itself, but as the cover proudly proclaims, the 607-page tome was "edited with annotations by" the two.

Interspersed between lyrics that Lerner ultimately used or discarded, McHugh and Asch give us plenty of delicious, informative nuggets. Case in point: Billy Rose, whom you might know from Funny Lady, wanted to be the first to produce Brigadoon. However, according to Lerner, his contractual demands "negated Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves."

Moral of the story? Be too greedy, and you might miss out on a good thing. Brigadoon, Lerner's first hit with composer Frederick Loewe, actually received unanimous raves from the nine major New York theater critics and made handsome profits for all. In fact, the book tells us that Brigadoon is one of the comparatively few American musicals to run longer in London than on Broadway: 685 performances in the West End to the 581 at the now-long-razed Ziegfeld Theatre. Take note, English producers and directors. Do the show and your customers might make history repeat itself.

We also learn that a mere month after Brigadoon had opened, Lerner split with Loewe. Now even if during the writing or the tryouts they'd fought like John Adams and John Dickinson, you'd think that after reading unanimous raves from the nine major New York critics that they'd immediately bury the many hatchets they'd swung while collaborating.

As we know, they did get back together to write what was often called "the musical of the century" (My Fair Lady, of course). But even after that they broke up more times than Elyot and Amanda in Private Lives.

Moral of this story? Don't assume that that person with whom you fought during casting, rehearsals, and the entire run of the show is someone you'll never work with again. All too true is that famous expression that's been attributed to both George M. Cohan and Samuel Goldwyn: "We'll never use that guy again unless we need him." Lerner without Loewe - and vice versa - didn't have nearly as much success.

For all those who still haven't decided what they'll be mounting next season, a look through Lerner's lyrics will prove less time-consuming than reading an entire script. If enough of them for a certain show tickle your fancy, then take the next step and read the entire libretto.

If you know Brigadoon, My Fair Lady and Camelot inside out, look at the other stageworthy ones. At Encores! in 2015, the reception afforded Paint Your Wagon proved that the musical had rich and varied characters and a superb score -- including "They Call the Wind Maria" and "I Talk to the Trees," which have been recorded repeatedly.

Most of all, there's The Day Before Spring. The 1945 musical didn't get an original cast album so here's a chance to investigate at least the lyrics. The theme of the musical hasn't aged in more than seven decades. A tenth-year class reunion offers some graduates the chance to reconnect with the people they were dating back then but didn't marry. Now they can assess whether they'd made the right decisions in breaking up with the first lovers and marrying the second. Ten years of day-to-day living with a spouse can make the discarded person look very good. Was the angel you knew better than the devil you didn't?

Katherine catches up with Alex, to whom she was engaged when Peter came along. Each tells the other in the lovely ballad "You Haven't Changed at All." Will they now want to make a change?

Because we're back in a university setting, Katherine imagines that some of the Great Minds she'd studied there are now giving her advice. No less than Plato suggests "The other man of whom you speak appeals to you with his physique. And that's not pure; it's immature. It's not celestial; it's much too bestial."

Peter's going to have his chance, too, for a young woman named Christopher flirts with him. "I'd like a nest in some clandestine hideaway on a hill." (Catch the nifty internal rhyme?)

Does he succumb? As the lady eventually mourns, "Who could ever foresee that such a thing there could be as a husband who's satisfied?"

McHugh and Asch's book is rather like reading CliffsNotes of The Day Before Spring and Lerner's other musicals. (Although for Camelot -- which deals with one of England's legendary monarchs - we should say "like reading Monarch Notes.")

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You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at . His book, The Great Parade: Broadway's Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at