“A Real Nice Clambake” from Carousel

This is the only one of the major numbers in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s masterpiece Carousel that has a large number of detractors even among the show’s fans. And while I can understand that the intensely old-fashioned, folky vibe of the song and the heavy Folk dialect the lyrics are written in (‘the vittles we et were good, you bet’) might be a bit too hokey for some people’s tolerance levels, you have to consider the song’s context in the show. The eye for detail in the description of this simple get-together does a lot to establish the cultural color that was a key component of all of R&H’s shows. And if you think about it, once you get past the comically old-fashioned idioms the characters express themselves in and listen to what they’re actually saying, there’s really something kind of beautiful about the folklike warmth and sense of community this song conveys. It’s also extremely telling and even quietly heartbreaking, when you think about it, that hero Billy Bigelow is not a part of this community celebration…note that virtually every other character, even his introverted and semi-ostracized wife Julie, joins in this number. Capturing the feel of a tight-knit community is key to the show’s main theme…after all, you can’t have outcasts without something they feel they’re outcast from. So if you look at this song as part of the show rather than a standalone hit tune, it actually has a great deal of merit…and let’s remember that Rodgers and Hammerstein, for all the hits they created, were always much more focused on the show as a whole than the prospect of individual hit songs, so that seems to be the correct way to look at nearly all of their work.

Verdict: Good.

“Mr. Goldstone, I Love You” from Gypsy

This is the one song from Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy score that anyone who likes musicals to begin with ever complains about. The problem with the song is that while having Rose burst into song on that first line always gets a big laugh in context, there’s really nowhere for the song to go after that in terms of actual story or character content. For this reason, the entire rest of the lyric is just Rose’s nervous dithering and a lot of random wordplay for its own sake. The final section, with the catalogue of ‘stones’ (“There are good stones, and bad stones, and curbstones and gladstones”) is actually fairly clever, especially in the Angela Lanbury version (where Lansbury recites them as if the character was making them up on the spot), but the first half of the song, which is basically just Rose being a nervous wreck, really is pretty irritating. This song doesn’t compare to the gratuitous wordplay passages in later Sondheim shows, but its real failing is that it’s the only song in Gypsy that doesn’t serve any real purpose and could be cut without anybody noticing, which is a severe let-down in a score that is otherwise so flawlessly integrated and economical. The sometimes annoying lyrics are actually much less of a mark against this song than its status as the only real flaw in one of the most perfect musicals of all time.

Verdict: Bad, essentially, though more for its context in the musical than the song itself.