By Melvin Tunstall III
One of the first pieces of advice aspiring writers will get from their mentors is to “learn to love killing your darlings” because inevitably there will come a day when you will have to say goodbye to that song, scene, lyric- you name it- in service of the show.
In many ways, it is a rite of passage for the theatermaker.
There can be any number of reasons for making that dreaded cut. Perhaps the show is running too long, the audience is getting restless during a scene, that new song is too similar to another musical moment, or it becomes a casualty of that age-old fight between the producer and the writing team.
There are legendary stories of producer David Merrick’s attempts to get Patti LuPone’s signature song ‘Meadowlark’ cut from The Baker’s Wife during out-of-town tryouts in Washington, DC. According to one account, Merrick had the song removed in a performance at Washington DC’s Kennedy Center, but the cast, conductor, and orchestra only found out all the orchestral parts were missing DURING the performance. Though he never admitted to stealing the music, LuPone maintains Merrick was overheard saying at the local bar during the show’s Boston run that he’d get rid of the song even “if I have to poison the birdseed.” Legend has it Merrick visited the orchestra pit before the show, helped himself to the music, locked it in a briefcase, and returned to New York. Stephen Schwartz even had to seek legal action to get the song reinstated!
So what happens to these darlings that famously get “lost” on the way to Broadway?
They end up on the perfect playlist to get you through Hump Day, of course!
Here are 10 of my favorite songs CUT like a throat on Fleet Street in no particular order:
1. Door Number Three from Waitress
I was lucky enough to see Jessie Mueller sing this song live during the A.R.T. run of Waitress and must admit I am partial to this number over its replacement ‘What Baking Can Do,’ though some of my favorite moments in the song made it into the rewrite. Here, future Broadway replacement Shoshana Bean lends her distinctive vocals to the Sara Bareilles tune.
2. The Children We Didn’t Have from Beetlejuice
This song made it all the way through out-of-town tryouts but didn’t quite make the cut for Broadway. Though leading lady Kerry Butler was disappointed, composer Eddie Perfect explained (among other reasons) “a ballad wasn’t right for the top of Act Two,” replacing the song with the more upbeat ‘Barbara 2.0.’
3. Can That Boy Foxtrot? From Follies
One of Sondheim’s most famous killed darlings, ‘Can That Boy Foxtrot’ has garnered enough fans over the years that it has become its own standalone hit, shaking off the stigma of only being known as the song that was replaced by the showstopper ‘I’m Still Here.’
4. Lovely Love from Something Rotten
“Everybody loved it,” says Composer Karey Kirkpatrick. “It’s a really pretty song that made it all the way to the third week of previews. But it was in Act 2, and it wasn’t moving the story forward. It wasn’t telling us anything new about the characters, and the show kind of stopped.” Been there, friend.
5. Costco from Next to Normal
As if Alice Ripley didn’t already deserve a Tony for her portrayal of Diana Goodman in Next to Normal, mastering this frenzied number about the wholesale giant warrants a retroactive award in my opinion. The song made it all the way to the Broadway checkout counter but was sadly left on top of the impulse buys with this next hit.
6. There Won’t Be Trumpets from Anyone Can Whistle
I first heard this song on Bernadette Peters’ acclaimed ‘Sondheim, Inc.” recording, and was ready to sing endless praises about her rendition. Then THIS happened. Audra McDonald. Ravinia Festival. Full song AND scene. Watching this it is easy to understand why Sondheim cut the number because he felt the speech made the song “anticlimactic” but if anyone can make it work, it’s Audra Ann McDonald.
7. Momma’s Talkin’ Soft from Gypsy
Meant to be sung as a counter-melody on top of “Small World,” we can thank a frightened child actor for this cut gem. When original Baby Louise Karen Moore was too terrified of heights to handle singing this tune on top of a platform while Ethel Merman and Jack Klugman danced below, “Mama’s Talkin’ Soft” was removed and “Small World” remained by itself.
8. Come Down From the Tree from Once On This Island
So I’m dating myself, but did anyone else have those ‘Lost in Boston’ collections in college back in the ’90s? That was where I encountered this glorious rendition of this killed darling by the incomparable Lillias White. Like many, I wondered for years how this song didn’t make it to Broadway. Composer Stephen Flaherty explains “The song was placed after ‘Mama Will Provide’ and before ‘Some Say.’ Ti Moune finds an orphaned girl in a tree and sends the girl back to her village to take her place. Though lovely, the song delayed Ti Moune’s journey and arrival on the other side of the island.” And the theatrical court finds Flaherty “Not Guilty.”
9. I Don’t Remember Anything At All from 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
William Finn and Lisa Howard. It really doesn’t get much better than that. Long before Broadway, Ms. Rona Lisa Peretti had a ballad smack dab in the middle of the show, belting out her glory days at the bee. But like me trying to spell necessary in my middle school Spelling Bee, the song was cut before opening night.
10. Congratulations from Hamilton
Angelica fans truly will never be “Satisfied” until this song gets reinstated into the show! A small piece of this tune still remains in “The Reynolds Pamphlet” but seeing Renee Elise Goldsberry’s Angelica fully unleash on Hamilton in context would have been a wonder to behold.
Okay TheaterMakers, you’re up! Share your favorite “killings” with us below and how you finally came to the decision to cut one of your favorites. I’ll go first…
11. BONUS DARLING: Taught from Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical
Okay, so this isn’t a Broadway show yet, but I simply must mention the song Taught from my TYA musical Polkadots: the Cool Kids Musical! Written by Douglas Lyons and Greg Borowsky and sung by the amazing Katie Thompson, I will never forget the day we realized placing a ballad in the middle of a kids’ show was a risky move- no matter how much the adults loved it. Though the song’s message and melody are both timeless and absolutely gorgeous, it was obvious by the 2nd preview that the song wasn’t working with the kids, so we decided to replace it with the always inspiring and UPBEAT ‘The First’. Over the years, theaters have requested to reinstate the song, to which we always say “yes!” with a sweet warning to be ready to chase a toddler who isn’t quite moved to tears as their parents!
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