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Monday, 2 July 2012


When I type 'overture' into my iTunes search box it comes up with 44 songs. There are a mix of stage productions and film productions, with a couple of concerts thrown in there for good measure (Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, John Wilson). Now, I have to face it, some overtures are a lot better than others. Some seem to give a perfunctory nod to the best songs of the piece ahead and finish quickly. However, some composers utilise the form properly, conveying the essence of the show in one simple orchestral piece. The best overtures are works of art in their own right, giving potential enjoyment to people who don't give a damn about the musical whilst pleasing fans immensely. Or is that just me? Am I the only one who gets overexcited at the three overtures I've picked as my favourites?

Mack and Mabel was a commercial flop for Jerry Herman but still contains some of the best songs he's ever written. Both 'I Won't Send Roses' and 'Time Heals Everything' come from this musical and the original cast of Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters conveyed them beautifully. However, I love the overture to bits. From the first bars of 'Movies Were Movies' the energy smashes into you then it trips into the delightful 'Look What Happened to Mabel' which fades into 'I Won't Send Roses'. I always get to that part and wonder how Herman can drag the listener out of the sudden doldrums but 'Wherever He Ain't' offers a wonderful brief contrast before the jazzier 'Big Time' enters the fray. 'When Mabel Comes in the Room' has always been one of my favourites from this musical and the overture makes good use of it. It ends with a brief reprise of 'I Won't Send Roses' but it's always interesting to note which songs weren't used in an overture. 'Time Heals Everything' was perhaps too much like another dip in the high energy but what's the reasoning behind leaving 'Tap Your Troubles Away Out'? Seems bizarre but I don't love the overture any less for that oversight.

My second favourite is another Jerry Herman, though this one was a phenomenal success. Mame starred Angela Lansbury and, again, is full of great individual songs. The overture ties them all together with a similar energy to that managed by Herman in Mack and Mabel. It starts off with a teaser of the title track before going into a light energetic version of 'Open a New Window' which then blends very briefly into 'My Best Girl', perhaps one of the lesser-know tracks from the show, then straight into 'If He Walked Into My Life'. Then we get the jazzy 'That's How Young I Feel', which invariably has me dancing, followed by the title track which takes us right to the end in classic Herman style.

Perhaps my all-time favourite overture is this last one. Jule Styne wrote the music for Gypsy and what a job he did. This overture has everything and, for whatever bizarre reason, I normally end up laughing halfway through at the sheer brilliance of it. It begins with the famous 'dream' bars then pushes on into 'Everything's Coming Up Roses'. Next up is the lighter 'You'll Never Get Away From Me' then we get a short tease of 'Small World' followed by a longer spell. Then all hell breaks loose as the tempo builds to the 'Gypsy Strip' number which blends into the equally energetic 'Mr Goldstone'. The final notes are a reprise of the beginning with a tremendous finish. If I heard this in a theatre I'd be tempted to go home from exhaustion before the curtain even rose.

Am I alone in my love for these overtures? And have I missed any classics? Slap me with a fish if I have.

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