Top 10 songs from shows within shows

Saturday 19 May 2007

The pastiche of 1920s musical theatre featured in The Drowsy Chaperone reminded us that there’s a terrific revue waiting to be commissioned (Hey, Mr Producer. We’re talking to you, sir.) based around songs from shows within shows or shows within films. Or films within shows. Or films within films. Or just musical performances portrayed in a naturalistic context.

Anyway, anyway. Here are the Whingers’ Top Ten parodies and pastiches.

1. “Pretty Face”, Songbook

Music by Monty Norman; lyrics by Julian More.

This forgotten show – a tribute to fictional songwriter Moony Shapiro – opened July 25, 1979 at the (old) Globe Theatre, (London) and starred Anton Rodgers, Gemma Craven, Diane Langton, Andrew C Wadsworth and David Healy.

“Pretty Face” features squeaky American chorines in Paris boasting about their intellectual and artistic prowess. It is ostensibly from Pretty Faces of 1934.

And Shostakovitch
Knows I know vich
Tunes are his tunes
Not showbiz tunes

If you can get your hands on the CD, “Nazi Party Pooper” – lampooning Hitler’s rage at the success of black athlete Jessie Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is excellent too.

2. “Hive Full of Honey”, Calamity Jane

Music by Sammy Fain; lyrics by Paul Francis Webster.

Sung by Francis Fryer (Dick Wesson, below) in the film version. Fryer has been hired to play at the Golden Garter under the misapprehension that he is a she. Faced with the alternative of a violent retaliation by the occupants of the saloon if there is no show, Fryer is persuaded to impersonate a woman.

I’ve got two wonderful arms, I’ve got two wonderful lips,
I’m over twenty one, and I’m free!
Oh, I’ve got a hive full of honey
For the right kind of honey bee.

Wild Bill Hickok: She ain’t very good lookin’
Calamity Jane: That ain’t all she ain’t!

3. “A Bushel and A Peck”, Guys And Dolls

Music & lyrics by Frank Loesser.

A Bushel and a Peck” was so popular before the Broadway musical even opened that it was moved from its original spot opening the second act into the first act. Strangely and criminally though, it didn’t make it to the movie version. Performed by Adelaide (Vivian Blaine, right with Frank Sinatra) at the Hot Box.

Doodle, oodle, oodle.
Doodle, oodle, oodle.
Doodle oodle oodle oo.

4. “Chicago Illinois”, Victor/Victoria

Music by Henry Mancini; lyrics by Leslie Bricusse.

The inestimable Lesley Ann Warren plays Norma Cassady in the film version and performs this classic in a Chicago nightclub.

Smack on the lake,
This is a rare port (actually, the words are “This is the re-port:” but I think you’ll find ours are funner),
Some day they say
We’ll have an airport

5 “Keep It Under Your Hat”, Calamity Jane

Music by Sammy Fain; lyrics by Paul Francis Webster.

No apologies for including two from Calamity Jane. In the movie version this is sung in the Golden Garter by Allyn McLerie as Katie Brown.

Well, now, if you’ve got a cutie who’s a real sweet patootie,
Better keep it under your hat.
Just remember curiosity in fables of old
Killed the curious cat.

6. “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”, Kiss Me Kate

Music & lyrics by Cole Porter.

Well, OK, so this isn’t actually from a show within a show and it’s one of the few from Kiss Me Kate that isn’t, but it’s still a very knowing Vaudeville parody and a wonderful song by a songwriter at the top of his game (but then again, when was he not?).

7. “Wunderbar”, Kiss Me Kate

Music & lyrics by Cole Porter.

Operetta duet parody sung by separating husband and wife Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi (Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson in the movie) as they reminisce about a dreadful production in which they appeared together in happier days.

Gazing down on the Jungfrau
From our secret chalet for two,
Let us drink, Liebchen mein,
In the moonlight benign,
To the joy of our dream come true.

8. “Oom Pah Pah”, Oliver!

Music and lyrics by Lionel Bart.

Nancy(Shani Wallis) provides a distraction to faciliate the escape of Oliver from the clutches of Bill Sykes with an irresistible sing-a-long number that gets the whole inn going.

Pretty little Sally goes walking down the alley
Displays her pretty ankles to all of the men
They could see her garters, but not for free and gratis
An inch or two and then she knows when to say when

9. “Springtime for Hitler”, The Producers

Music and lyrics by Mel Brookes.

A veritable masterpiece.

I was just a paper-hanger
No-one more obscurer.
Got a phone call from the Reichstag
Told me I was Fuhrer

10 “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy”, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Music by Frank De Vol Lyrics by Bob Merrill.

Bette Davis as a mad old biddy reprising the song she sang as a child star.

Bubbling under:

  • Follies, of course. Loads of pastiche. “You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow” shines. “Broadway Baby” and “I’m Still Here” probably transcend the genre.
  • Gypsy has a good few. “Let Me Entertain You” deserves special recognition because of the way it is transformed from children’s song to bump-and-grind number.
  • “All I Do Is Dream of You The Whole Day Through” from Singin’ in the Rain is a bit of a cheat as it wasn’t written for the film, but it’s so expertly arranged and presented as pastiche that it gets our vote.
  • Cabaret is stuffed full of them too – “Two Ladies”, for instance
  • Chicago is a bit of a borderline case. Good pastiches (“Me and My Baby”) but are they from shows within shows or not?
  • Mame features “The Man in the Moon is a Lady”
  • Jazz Baby was written in 1919 but because of Carol Channing’s performance in Thoroughly Modern Millie we’d have to include it in the revue.
  • Annie “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile” is a great parody of a radio advert.
  • Then there’s A Chorus Line, La Cage Aux Folles etc etc etc

Got any better ideas? Leave us a comment below. Producers should – in the interests of their reputations – contact us here.

21 Responses to “Top 10 songs from shows within shows”

  1. J.A. Says:

    Bette Midler, I put a spell on you, Hocus Pocus:


  2. Oooh! Yes, keep the suggestions coming. Meanwhile we’re already casting the revue in our heads.
    So far we’ve got Clive Rowe and Imelda Staunton lined up (although they don’t know about it obviously) plus Josie Walker (Side by Side by Sondheim) and obviously there will be parts for Smith and Kerr (Little Shop…). Oh, and Adèle Anderson, of course.
    Phil will do a stunning impression of Bette Davis singing I’ve Written Letter to Daddy without the aid of make up or any special costumes. You will think you were in the film.
    Now we just have to work on the wigs.

  3. Andrew Field Says:

    I don’t know if anything from Hedwig and the Angry Inch would count… but it should.

    “Whiskey and French cigarettes,
    A motorbike with high- speed jets,
    A Waterpik, a Cuisinart,
    And a hypo-allergenic dog.
    Oh, I want all the luxuries of the modern age,
    And every item on every page
    In the Lillian Vernon catalogue.”

    Or the episode of Friends in which Joey is in Freud! the musical.

    “All u want is a dingle
    What u envy’s a schwang
    A thing through which u can tinkle
    or play with or simply let hang.”


  4. Some nice left field ideas there, thanks Andrew.

    I haven’t seen that episode of Friends but that’s a wonderful song and I definitely want to seeFreud! The Musical.

  5. M/N Says:

    Bugsy Malone:

    “My Name Is Tallulah” Jodi Foster – perfect!


  6. Excellent M/N. Like your thinking.

  7. MICHAEL Says:

    Well, we should at least mention “Honey Bun” from “South Pacific” which is written as a parody of corny vaudeville, and (“clunk, clunk, pshhhhh”…) “Steam Heat” from “The Pajama Game” and “Let Me Entertain You” from Gypsy”.

    If you’re looking for bizarre / obscure, a fave is “The Pussyfoot” from “Goldilocks” (Elaine Stritch vehicle, although she didn’t sing this). However, this could be used to start off another whole genre of pussy-songs-in-musicals. Included would have to be “Pet Me Poppa” (If you care to keep me home by the fire / specially when it’s time to retire / then pet me Poppa, poppa pet me good!”). This song replaced “Bushel And A Peck” in the movie of “Guys And Dolls” which was probably deemed too obscure a lyric for wider audiences.

    Then there’s the “Siamese Cat Song” from “Lady And The Tramp”, and I think there was one in that Andrew Lloyd-Webber thing …

  8. Neil Wallace Says:

    If memory serves The Opposite Sex (the musical version of The Women) only includes songs sung naturalistically. Not coming up with anything else that hasn’t been mentioned, but I’ll mull it over and see if anything else springs to mind.

  9. MICHAEL Says:

    Them Whingers will regret having started me off on this!

    Cole Porter’s title song from “Can-Can” is a rarely-heard-these-days classic Porter list-song, and deliciously non-PC :

    “If a Jap with a slap of her fan can – Baby, you can can-can too!”

    “If in Lesbos a pure lesbi-an can – Baby, you can can-can too!”

    Don’t go looking for it in the Shirley Maclaine film version as all lyrics to the song were dropped, As it was, the Russian premier (Kruschev) who was invited to the set (presumably to soften him up a bit) found the sequence disgusting and pornographic!.

  10. MICHAEL Says:

    “Salad Days” has two back-to-back numbers taking off pseudo-exotic cabaret / lounge performers of 1950s London, with “Cleopatra” and “Sand In My Eyes”. You really must check out the Fenella Fielding version of the latter, which was not even included on the abridged original cast recording :
    “Kiss me, kiss me, kiss, me, kiss me / Hold me close to you. / Shatter me, batter be, break my anatomy / Prove your love is true!”

    Roy Hudd does a good job with “Cleopatra” on the 50th anniversry BBC radio recording :
    “Now when this minx was up to her jinks / She recalled the words of that wise old Sphinx / ‘Never let men become too chummy / Or you’re sure to end up as an Egyptian Mummy!’ “.

    Yummy.

  11. MICHAEL Says:

    The film version of Sandy Wilson’s “The Boy Friend” has numerous show-within-a-show-within-a-show numbers. The shoddy stage performance we are watching being performed in the film is also being visualised in Busby Berkely musical style by a “film producer” watching from the back of the theatre. You either love or hate this flim. It wasn’t popular because in the early ’70s the genre wasn’t popular. Had it been made post-“That’s Entertainment” it may have fared better but it has a cult following now. Check it out – it has Barbara Windsor, Twiggy, Glenda Jackson, Georgina Hale, Tommy Tune, Christopher Gable, Max Adrian, Brian Murphy etc. etc. etc.

    Original stage version has “Poor Little Pierette” done (if I remember correctly) as a set piece at the costume ball – does that count I wonder?


  12. You’re beginning to scare me now, Michael.

  13. MICHAEL Says:

    Not being nominated for top slots, but worth mentioning are a few of Rogers & Hammerstein’s :

    “Small House of Uncle Thomas” is not a song but a narrated ballet in “The King And I”.

    Their unsuccesful “Me And Juliet ” is set in the theatre and has a show-within-a-show plot but no well-known songs. However, their (very dated) “Keep It Gay” provided one of the more subtle references in “The Producers” which adopted the title for one of its own.

    Their original film musical “State Fair” had a number in a fairground stage-show setting, “All I Owe Iowa” but not one of their well-known toons. I’m not familiar with the recent stage adaptation but I’m sure there must have been show-within-a-show scenes.

    “Flower Drum Song” has some floor-show sequences, but this is complicated by differences in the film version, and a totally new stage version of 2002 changed the songs around and set them differently. Consequently “I Enjoy being A Girl” became a show-within-a-show number whereas it had not been in the original ‘book’ of the original production. I like “Fan Tan Fanny” (originally a rather second-rate whow-within-a-show number but sexed up with a dash of irony for the new version).

    And finally, what about “The Lonely Goatherd” sequence in “The Sound Of Music”?? A puppet-show-within-a-show if you please! Film version only of course. “What a duet for a girl and goatherd” !! Actually, this one CAN be in my top ten, and I make no apologies!


  14. Excellent. we DID think about Lonely Goatherd but as (a) it’s only a show-within-a-show in the film version and (b) it would be quite a lot of effort to reproduce the puppet show in a revue, that perhaps we should ignore it.
    However, here’s a great one: What’s the song from On The Town that a series of nightclub singers do in various styles? Something about being depressed? “I Wish I Was Dead” I think. Very funny.

  15. MICHAEL Says:

    Oh yeah. Rodgers & Hart. Luckily for the reader, i don’t know many of their shows (who does these days?) but shows-within-shows seemingly abound!

    “Pal Joey” is the obvious one with great floor-show numbers of the brash-broads-ironically-doing-pretty-lyrics type, such as “That Terrific Rainbow” and “Flower Garden Of My Heart”. Film version interpolates other R&H songs which Sinatra does, and nearly all are presented in film as s-w-a-s settings. A song from the original which is a s-w-a-s number in the film is the Gypsy Rose Lee take-off number, “Zip” but unfortunately it suffers from outdated topical references.

    “On Your Toes” has some show-within-a-show numbers, but best known is actually the jazz ballet “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue” and the show’s classics are not s-w-a-s numbers (“There’s A Small Hotel etc.).

    “Babes In Arms” probably has a few, but not being familiar with plot I couldn’t say which. However, since there are so many classic standards from this musical there are bound to be some surely?? Someone may like to check out Chichester Festival Theatre ‘s production this summer. Flim (Mickey & Judy vehicle) was all show-within-a-show-within-a-show-within-a-barn-within-the-back-yard, but jettisoned most of the R&H classics.


  16. OK, thanks Michael. I think we have enough to fill a show now although as a matter of principle I think we should eschew the jazz ballet genre such as “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue” on the grounds that it’s boring and no-one but no-one actually enjoys those.

    But I’m sure you’ll put me right if I’m wrong on this point.

  17. daveonthego Says:

    How about naughty baudy 42nd Street and there is always Lena’s song in singing in the rain, all I do is dream of you the whole day through. One of my favourites is “His love makes me beautiful” from Funny Girl. This is the Follies act where the punchline is a pregnancy.

  18. the merm Says:

    Humphhhh!!! Nothing from my ouvre???

  19. Rachel Lea Says:

    The song you’re thinking of from ‘On the Town’ is called ‘I’m Blue’-

    ‘I’m blue, my life is through
    I thought I had a date with you, I guess I just don’t rate with you
    I wish I was deeeeeeaaaaaddd….
    And buried!’

    There is also a song at the beginning of Act Two called ‘So Long Baby’-very in the vein of ‘All I Do’ from ‘Singing In the Rain’-tap dancing, squeaky American voices.


  20. I’ve only just discovered this post, so sorry for joining the party half a year too late…

    Not nominated for the top 10, but mentioned anyway are two numbers from Grease. The whole score (stage, anyway) is late 1950s pastiche, but some of the songs are specifically supposed to be ‘real’. ‘Born to Hand Jive’ from the dance competition within the show, and ‘Those Magic Changes’ are performed naturalistically, or as naturalistically as Grease allows.

    Michael mentioned Me and Juliet. I’d have to check the libretto again, but I’m fairly sure that the show’s only even vaguely well known number, ‘No Other Love’ is from the show-within-show.

    And then you have a whole bunch of numbers from shows like Funny Girl and 42nd Street…


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