Pitching the Play
On February 17, 2007, at Grace Episcopal Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, I delivered this presentation to the Action Committee for Transit (ACT), in the hope of securing a grant to develop the orchestrations.
Then, with arranger and co-composer Marshall J. White at the keyboard, three Tracks songs were brought to life by four students from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School and Poolesville High School’s star singer/actress, Gracie Jones (as Melanie). We had rehearsed together only once, so the performances were a bit rough. But what we lacked in polish, the kids provided with their enthusiasm.
With Friends Like These
Third Car, Seventh Row
Rather Like You
Showtunes Set on a Train or a Train Platform
A key aim of the slideshow was to reassure ACT that it would be feasible to stage ensemble dance numbers on a train platform and more modest dances aboard a train. I also wanted to underscore that trains and train stations were well-established venues for musical theater. So during my presentation, I played videos of songs and dances from several musicals. I can’t recall why I omitted “Kansas City” from Oklahoma!
Chattanooga Choo-Choo (Sun Valley Serenade, 1941)
Accompanied by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the Nicholas Brothers showed why Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire had nothing on them…at least, not when they were trying to impress the lovely Dorothy Dandridge.
On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe (The Harvey Girls, 1946)
The most ambitious train song from any musical may also be the greatest. With lyrics by Johnny Mercer (lyrics) and music by Harry Warren, the song grabbed the Oscar for Best Original Song. Watch closely: Judie Garland’s performance was shot in a single, continuous take.
The Trolley Song (Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944)
Music by Hugh Martin, lyrics by Ralph Blane. Though this clip was taken from the film, a moving trolley could be simulated on stage by moving a backdrop mural.
Rock Island (The Music Man)
I showed my audience the version from the 1956 film. But this video, from the 2009 production at Summit High School in Union City, NJ, illustrates that movement is an essential part of a showtune.
Hello, Hello There (Bells Are Ringing, 1960)
Judy Holliday and Dean Martin discovers that a little friendliness can make a big difference—“on a plane, in a park, on a train, on a lark,” as the women of Tracks sing in “Ordinary Day.”
Santa Fe (Rent, the 2005 film version)
Iin the film version of Jonathan Larson’s smash hit, Tom Collins sings Sante Fe as he meanders through a New York subway car:
Here’s the same number performed on stage in 2010 by Glenbrook North High School in Glenview IL. Unlike most schools and, for that matter, the Broadway show, Glenbrook North followed the film, setting the song in a subway car:
Hot Chocolate (Polar Express, 2004)
It’s amazing how a train aisle “opens up” when the dancing is performed by motion-capture animation.