Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Musical Theater Therapy: "The Sweetest Sounds"



Musical Theater Therapy got a little confused by today's song. We were looking for a video of "The Sweetest Sounds" from No Strings and saw a video of Brandy singing the song in the 1997 television movie version of (black) Cinderella. Confusing, right? Right.

The song's origin is No Strings. Why the producers of that production of Cinderella thought to add it to their movie is likely because it's from the same composer and because the singing couple are miscegenational. Not that you would expect that from the text of No Strings.

The show debuted on Broadway in 1962, as the civil rights movement was picking up momentum--it was the year the Supreme Court ordered the University of Mississippi to admit its first black student and John Kennedy sent US marshals to protect him; the year after the Freedom Riders and the Albany Movement, and a year before MLK's Letter From a Birmingham Jail. Amid that climate, Broadway saw the premiere of the first musical with music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers (no collaborator), featuring a love story between a model and a writer.

And oh yeah, the actress playing the model was black and the actor playing the writer was white, but that thing is never ever mentioned in the text or songs. The closest thing to noting the racial difference is when she mentions growing up "north of Central Park" which is code for being black (it actually means Harlem, and Harlem means being black, duh).

Rodgers felt that casting Diahann Carroll in the role spoke for itself. I'm not sure I agree, but who can say. Carroll was well received in the role, winning a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical (she tied with Anna Maria Alberghetti who won for Carnival). No Strings won 3 of its 9 Tony nominations in Total.

It also earned Richard Rodgers (the first EGOT winner) one of his 4 competitive Tony awards and is probably the least of his award-winning efforts... oh, the show also won him his second Grammy. See how easily it's done Liza!

Regardless, here's "The Sweetest Sounds" from the musical No Strings, the story of a model and a writer that couldn't make it work because, reasons. But not race-related reasons.

Today's lesson: north of Central Park is gang code for being black.

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