Broadway’s lost chords and Hollywood’s cut tracks uncovered by University of Sheffield researchers
Researchers in the University's Department of Music will stage a concert of showtunes by some of Broadway and Hollywood’s most popular songwriters of the past, including Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin – but with a difference.
Instead of an evening of well known tunes, the programme will focus on songs that were written for favourite musicals such as Guys and Dolls and The King and I and then cut from the shows or films before they reached Broadway or were released on screen.
It’s incredibly exciting to be able to perform these little-known songs by Broadway’s best, in some cases for the very first time. We’ve been given special permission from the estates of Rodgers and Hammersein, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and others to bring these fascinating songs to Sheffield.
Dr Dominic McHugh
Reader in Musicology
Dr Dominic McHugh, Reader in Musicology, and his PhD student Joshua Goodman are leading the project, which also involves Head of Composition Professor George Nicholson, postdoctoral researcher Dr Hannah Robbins and another of Dr McHugh’s current PhD students Elsa Marshall.
Special orchestrations have been created by Goodman, Professor Nicholson and leading Broadway orchestrator Larry Blank, whose work has been heard in shows such as The Producers and the movie Chicago.
Drawn from the archives
Many of the songs from the concert are drawn from Dr McHugh’s archival research and that of his students. He said:
“Over many years of doing research in archives at the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library and elsewhere, I have come across many songs written by major writers for popular musicals that for one reason or another have been discarded before being heard by the general public.
“They’re often cut for reasons other than their quality. Sometimes, the original performer didn’t like the song or struggled to perform it for technical reasons. Perhaps they didn’t work for the character or the musical had to be shortened.”
He added: “It’s incredibly exciting to be able to perform these little-known songs by Broadway’s best, in some cases for the very first time. We’ve been given special permission from the estates of Rodgers and Hammersein, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and others to bring these fascinating songs to Sheffield.”
Twenty-three songs will be heard at the concert, including 'Now You Leave' from The King and I, 'Some Place of My Own' from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and 'Something Bad’s Gonna Happen' from Annie Get Your Gun, plus the rarely-heard overture from Cole Porter’s flop musical Seven Lively Arts.
Stories behind the music
The concert will feature a 30-piece orchestra drawn from students and staff at the University, conducted by Goodman. Dr McHugh will present the concert, telling stories and anecdotes about why the songs were written and why they might have been cut.
“In the case of 'Now You Leave' from The King and I, Lady Thiang is rebuking Anna Leonowens, played by Deborah Kerr in the film, for not facing the consequences of imposing Western values onto Siam,” said Dr McHugh. “She has been there for some months as a teacher of English but has also disrupted the ethical, cultural and moral norms of the Royal Court.
“After a row with the King about his treatment of women she plans to take off, but the King’s wife, Lady Thiang, tries to stop her by firmly pointing out that if she really wants to make a difference, she should stay behind and participate.
“Perhaps it was just too strong an anti-colonialist message for a commercial musical in 1951 and the song seems to have been replaced by the romantic ballad Something Wonderful in which Lady Thiang asks Anna to stay out of affection for the King. Yet it’s a beautiful song and Larry Blank’s remarkable orchestration will help Sheffield audiences to imagine how it might have sounded, had it been used in the original score.”
He added: “This and many of the other songs we’re bringing to light remind us that there are often serious and unsettling messages about society behind the glossy surface of the musical.”
Broadway’s Lost Chords and Hollywood’s Lost Tracks was performed on Sunday 24 February 2019 in Firth Hall at the University of Sheffield.