September 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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How Now, Dow Jones  
  original Broadway cast recording
  BMG 09026-63581-2   [36:34]

Remastered in 1999
  Amazon UK  Amazon USA Mid-price

How Now, Dow Jones was a modest Broadway musical failure back in the late 1960s with little to recommend it today except, perhaps, for film music fans who might find it a curiosity for one reason: It is the only such effort by film music icon Elmer Bernstein. And, when you think of it, isn't it odd that there is so little crossover between the two musical worlds of Broadway and Hollywood? Leonard Bernstein's score to

On the Waterfront is justifiably famous -- but that was his sole film work. Richard Rodgers' name occasionally surfaced in connection with films (including, believe it or not, Lawrence of Arabia) -- but he never, to my knowledge, composed for the big screen. How would aBroadway stage effort by, say, Dimitri Tiomkin or Alfred Newman have compared with such stalwarts of the Great White Way as Lerner and Lowe? Could Jerry Goldsmith translate his screen success to the stage? (To be sure, Alex North started on Broadway, but his efforts there were more incidental music, and once he reached Hollywood he never looked back.) All the more reason, then, to be curious about How Now, Dow Jones, which was produced in 1967 by David Merrick, whose other Broadway successes included mega hit Hello Dolly. The book was by noted comedy writer Max Shulman, and lyrics were by Carolyn Leigh, who previously had notched Wildcat and Little Me on her resume. Director George Abbott was a longtime stage veteran. Bernstein, although he'd scored more than 70 films by this time -- including his Oscar-winning background score to the film musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie -- clearly was the rookie ("neophyte" is how Peter Marks puts it in his liner notes) in the production group.

But if reviews at the time are any indication, the show's failure wasn't laid solely at the newcomers' door. How Now, Dow Jones , declared Walter Kerr, was "shy a few things, such as an amusing book, melodic songs, lyrics with life to them, and dancing." Ouch. So what we have in this remastering by BMG late last year of the original RCA Victor LP is, essentially, an artifact of a great film composer's foray into another medium. Unfortunately, there is little here of what Bernstein's fans might expect: surging melodies, lush love songs or show-stopping orchestral fireworks. Not even an overture, for Pete's sake! Most of the songs, appropriately enough, are plot-driven, which puts the focus on Leigh's often-witty lyrics. Example -- a song describing stock traders' lack of amorous inclinations contains this passage:

"Sophia Loren /
and Lollobrigida /
Could walk through the door /
And they'd only get frigider."

It's also fun to catch the topical references in the musical --which include references to LSD, Kennedy - and one broker's fanciful hope of seeing the stock market hit 1,000! Then there is the song 'A Little Investigation,' in which Wall Street moguls pressure a politician to drop his plan of investigating them by suggesting other issues to probe:

"Go after unmarried mommies /
Go after commies ... /
Go and attack air pollution /
Or prostitution."

Some issues, I guess, are timeless. Bernstein's music is always serviceable to this task, but hardly memorable. Where, I was left wondering, is the Bernstein who wrote Hallelujah Trail with its jaunty score and lively songs? Perhaps the issue here is that stage and film are two very different musical media -- and what works in one may not always work in the other.

One song, 'Step to the Rear,' offers the glimmerings of what may have been a show-stopper, and I found myself humming it after several listenings of this recording which, at well under 40 minutes isn't long enough to overstay its welcome. Nor, sadly, is it good enough to leave you wanting more.

John Huether



John Huether


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