Friday, May 11, 2012

Smash, September Song, Singers

I am a fan of "Smash" on NBC.  An episodic "musical within a musical", it chronicles the hurdles of creating a musical show good enough to get to Broadway.  There is drama, great production numbers, surprisingly good music written exclusively for this tv series, and some very talented cast members, many of whom are Broadway vets.

This week's show included a quiet moment with Anjelica Huston, whose character is the producer of the infant show trying to get to the Great White Way.  She's in Boston, overseeing the first out-of-town tryouts.  She's in a hotel bar enjoying a drink with her new beau when the piano man who looks a great deal like Billy Joel, begins to play "September Song".  She walks over to the pianist and says the song is a favorite of hers, it has special meaning.  She proceeds to sit on a piano stool and sing it.

This song has been a favorite of mine since I can remember (read:  little girl).  In the show, the song's personal significance to her character is not explaiined but those (viewers) familiar with the provenance know it was introduced on Broadway by her grandfather, Walter Huston.  I was familiar to the extent he made it famous and I've heard his version many times.  I did not know it was written specifically for him.

The song originated from Walter Huston's request that he should have one solo song in Knickerbocker Holiday, if he was going to play the role of the aged dictator Peter Stuyvesant. Anderson and Weill wrote the song specifically for Huston's gruff voice and limited vocal range, in a couple of hours.[1] The musical enjoyed only moderate success and closed in April 1939 after six months, but the song quickly became established as a modern standard. Wikipedia
I was enchanted by the introduction of the song into the "Smash" script this week.  It fit the mood and was a lovely interlude.  The back story is meaningful to the actress playing the character.   I enjoyed the fact the writers respected the intelligence of the audience to either know it or find it.

In a 5/03/12 interview with the NY Times, Ms. Huston elaborates:
Q.  Is it safe to assume that “September Song” got more rotation in the Huston household than other music?
A. It was a sacred song. It’s what made my grandfather the most famous of all — more famous than his films. Not that long ago, I was at New York University giving a speech or a Q&A, and I noticed that there were very many ladies of a certain age in the audience. And then it came to the questions, and all those ladies were Walter Huston fans. All they wanted to know was about “September Song” and my grandfather. And of course I never knew my grandfather; he died before I was born. But it’s one of the ways in which I know my grandfather. And this song was very resonant with my father growing up. I could tell that my father was very moved when he heard “September Song.” It was always something sweet and sentimental and dear to us. And we played it at my father’s funeral. It was very meaningful to my family.

Walter Huston version    Walter Huston scored on Broadway and in Hollywood.  Two of his famous movies, "Rain" with Joan Crawford and "Treasure of Sierra Madre" with Bogart, directed by his son.

Lotte Lenya version      Lenya was a great star in pre-WWII Germany,  married to Kurt Weill, composer of this song as well as "Mack the Knife" which was written for her role in "Three Penny Opera".  FUN FACT:  She played the murderous Rosa Klebb in the 1963 James Bond movie, "From Russia With Love".  

My favorite version?



CaliforniaGirl500 said...

deedee- glad you like this.  I know what a nostalgia/film buff/movie historian you are.  The show "Smash" is uneven at times.  But the story is fun and the production values are wonderful.  The performers are super talented adn the music is remarkable considering they composed it for a tv show although my husband says there are at least 16 songs written, enough to make up the backbone of a Broadway musical.

CaliforniaGirl500 said...

Brian, read your lovely poem this morning.  So appropriate.  I bet you're planning a nice day for your boys to celebrate with their mamma.

CaliforniaGirl500 said...

Happy Mother's Day DJan!  

I'm on a musical roll these days.  Just posted renditions of "Stardust" for my mom.

FilmNoirLivesHere... said...

"Walter Huston version   Walter Huston scored on Broadway and in Hollywood.  Two of his famous
movies, "Rain" with Joan Crawford and "Treasure of Sierra Madre" with
Bogart, directed by his son.

Hi! C.G... What a very interesting post...filled with facts, links, and great information...too!
I have watch both films with Huston, with the latter film being my favorite...Unfortunately, I haven't watched the show "Smash," but will try to check-it out too!
deedee :-D

DJan Stewart said...

I haven't watched Smash, but this rendition and explanation by Angelica Huston makes me want to start. And you say it might not be renewed? I hope it is! Thank you for the lovely videos.

brian miller said...

very cool....we watch smash as is compelling and with my wifes background in dance and ballet some of the behind the scenes all too real you know....i hope that it gets renewed...i have heard it was on the fence...