An evening pause: From the 1936 movie adaptation of the Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein Broadway musical Showboat. While some of the visuals are a bit overstated and feel a bit preachy, this is still the best movie version of this song I have seen. Rather than strut about with big visuals, the film focuses on Robeson, who sings the song introspectively, as if it is something he is thinking.
A bit of trivia: The film’s director was James Whale, the man who made the 1935 classic The Bride of Frankenstein.
An evening pause: From the 1958 movie of the great Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, South Pacific.
I first saw this movie as a child when I was around five years old. I didn’t understand the story really, and was especially puzzled by some lyrics, especially because my young mind took them very literally. (Just consider “I’m going wash that man right out of my hair!”)
What I do remember was that this song became one of my favorites throughout my early childhood. In hearing it recently again, I was struck by something I clearly remember, from that childhood. The song is about the draw of love and desire, which is what Bali Ha’i partly represents. However, Hammerstein’s lyrics refer to more, to the greater magic hidden in life everywhere, the mystery that lies behind the black, you might say. It is a theme he repeated in many of the songs he wrote for Richard Rodgers..
What struck me now was how I clearly remember, as a child of five, being very aware of this second somewhat sophisticated meaning. At first I was a little surprised that a child of five could comprehend such concepts, but then as Wordsworth wrote,
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
and not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
As a child I knew nothing of the sexual draw of Bali Ha’i, but I understood its mystical nature quite naturally. I have since spent my life trying to hold onto those “clouds of glory,” because they help connect us better to the enigma that is existence.
This version uses Juanita Hall’s own voice, from an earlier recording. For the movie they dubbed her singing because Rodgers no longer thought her aging voice sounded right.
An evening pause: From the live television premiere of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella in 1957, their only musical written for television. Edith Adams plays the fairy godmother.
For the world is full of zanies and fools
Who don’t believe in sensible rules
And won’t believe what sensible people say
And because these daft and dewey-eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes
Impossible things are happening every day!
I first posted this in 2011. Time to see it again.
An evening pause: This clip includes the scene that leads up to the song, and helps explain its dramatic context.
To be honest, this has never been one of my favorite Rodgers & Hammerstein songs. The musical, South Pacific, is magnificent, and has been featured before as an evening pause, but this song to me always seemed a bit preachy. It was written in the 1950s, however, and thus for its time was, as was the musical, important components of the civil rights movement that ended the bigoted discrimination against blacks in the United States.
I should add that as a child who loved this musical when I first heard and saw it in the early 1960s, I never understood what Nellie’s problem was. Why did it matter that the kids’ mother had been Polynesian?
An evening pause: From the 1955 movie, Oklahoma. This Broadway musical is one of the best examples of the fundamental differences between American culture and what preceded it. In the past, all music, drama, fiction, etc, revolved around telling the stories of the powerful, the nobility, the rulers, and the great. In the United States, “of the people, for the people, by the people,” literature, art, drama, and music has focused instead mostly on the lives and concerns of ordinary people. In this musical, for example, the story is about how two ordinary cowpokes decide to give up their roaming ways to settle down and become farmers, all for love. And in doing so, Rogers and Hammerstein end up also telling the story of the American west as it transitioned from the wild west of gold rush boom towns and cattle drive cowboys into a settled society of cities and families.
An evening pause: From The Sound of Music (1965). The context: The Nazis have taken over Austria, and plan to arrest Captain Georg Ludwig von Trapp and his family at the end of this concert. This lovely song, Edelweiss, is initially sung by von Trapp as a farewell to his nation. As the song unfolds, however, it becomes instead a song of defiance against the Nazis, by the von Trapps and the audience.