Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday Dance Party: Say A Little Prayer For Him

"A chair is still a chair, even when there's no one sitting there," is one of Hal David's lyrics which had significance this week.
It may seem odd that this week's Dance Party is paying a return visit to what I consider to be a fairly minor musical from the 1960s.  Promises, Promises had a substantial run in its first incarnation, winning a Tony for Broadway Boy Jerry Orbach, and providing a few firsts along the way, including the first pop score and the first time backup singers were concealed in the pit. 
Jerry Orbach's varied stage career
included The Fantasticks, 42nd Street,
and the original Chicago.
But I am still not enamored of the musical, which seems a bit workmanlike to me, despite its success.  And the gent who supplied the lyrics to the show has some explaining to do regarding the song which was featured in this Dance Party clip from a while ago, one of the most ridiculously nonsensical songs to ever appear on Broadway. 
Nobody can explain the attraction (or even the meaning) of the Turkey Lurkey, but Michael Bennett's original choreography brought down the house.  That's Donna McKecknie at the far right, in the first of several star dance turns which led to A Chorus Line.
But the show, on the plus side, provided two more in a string of smash hits for Dionne Warwick, so attention must be paid to this death this week.

Hal David
David's drek was not limited to the Broadway
stage. This dreadful duet went to #1 on the
country chart and #5 on the Top 100.

His career dates back to when he was writing material for Guy Lombardo, and he cannot be forgiven for providing Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias the horrendous hit "To All The Girls I've Loved Before," but he is of course best known for his partnership with Burt Bacharach.  Together they furnished a pop soundtrack to a generation of soft-rock lovers;  their tunes topped the charts in recordings by The Carpenters, Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield, and so many more, and their work is inexorably linked to Dionne Warwick, who is now in the record books as the vocalist who has placed more singles (56) on Billboard's Top 100 than any other female, save Aretha Franklin. 
It was Warwick's lucky day when Burt Bacharach plucked her from the background singers for The Drifters.  She delivered a string of hits for several decades, most by Bacharach & David.
Warwick's international stardom is owed in large part to the Bacharach/David team, who wrote hit after hit for their favorite singer. 
Bacharach and David must be considered
one of the most successful of all song-
writing teams. They broke up when their
film musical Lost Horizon flopped. "I
never miss a Liv Ullman musical,"
Bette Midler quipped.

Our Hal won the Oscar for "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head," (though I still remain confused about what that perky song was doing, planted in the middle of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid); he was also nominated for "Alfie," "What's New, Pussycat?", and "The Look of Love," from Casino Royale.  David's lyrics would never be considered particularly deep or meaningful, but they had a quality which attracted the ear. Who else would rhyme "catch pneumonia" with "never phone ya'"?
This montage in Butch Cassidy... yielded a smash and an Oscar.

Promises, Promises was Hal David's only Broadway book musical (he provided lyrics to two revues as well).  He and Burt were included in the Best Musical Tony nomination in 1969, but lost the award (deservedly) to the gang at 1776
This revival ran almost a year at
full capacity.

The show's only Broadway revival, in 2010, recouped its investment and closed when its bankable stars, Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth, completed their contracts.  That revival received lukewarm reviews but played to capacity crowds due to the starpower involved;  the production is now remembered because of an offstage controversy.

I wrote about this here, but in a nutshell, a writer for Newsweek presented an article which claimed that, when a viewer knows that an actor is gay, it is impossible to accept that actor's performance in a heterosexual role.  This writer, who himself is gay, ignited a firestorm of criticism resulting from his outrageous claim, culminating in an hysterical moment on the Tony Awards, when Chenoweth and Hayes indulged in a deep, lingering kiss. Afterwhich, Kristin fainted.  (Three years ago, Chenoweth starred in one of the most admired Friday Dance Parties in the history of the sequence; go here to enjoy that showstopper.)
Kristin's support of the gay community is well known, and she quickly leaped to the defense of her costar when Newsweek complained he was flaming too much.
It will probably be a while before there is another revival of Promises, Promises, but no one will miss it.  This week's clip comes from a promotional appearance the revival's stars made on The View, and it's actually a charming little presentation. 
Hayes as Chuck Baxter.

Hayes is not a singer on the scale of his costar, or of his predecessor in the role Jerry Orbach, but he acquits himself well.  As a matter of fact, Sean received a Tony nomination for his performance;  he was a gay actor playing straight, and he lost the award to a straight actor playing gay: Douglas Hodge in La Cage Aux Folles (and THAT  performance is remembered on this Dance Party). As for Hal David, his catalogue of hits will remain robust for a long time to come.