Down And Dirty On Broadway

by Dish Staff

Laurence Maslon looks back to musical theater’s lurid past:

Coded references to risqué and sexual matters were catnip to the lyricists Lorenz Hart and Cole Porter. In the case of Pal Joey, Hart found a soulmate (and drinking buddy) in the book’s writer, the equally louche John O’Hara. Within the first 15 lines of the show, during which an aspiring nightclub singer is quizzed by a prospective manager, there are references to cocaine, alcohol, pederasty, and one-night stands. In this show, which Richard Rodgers wrote was the first musical “to deal with the facts of life,” the eponymous nightclub singer becomes the kept man of a wealthy socialite, while cheating on his more innocent girlfriend. The singer and the socialite rhapsodize about their affair in a song called “Den of Iniquity,” where they brag about the power of a radio broadcast of Tschaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” to heighten their sexual activity.

When Porter came to Kiss Me, Kate in 1948, the newer brand of musical, with its stricter narrative form, gave fewer opportunities for the naughty one-off numbers that made his reputation in the late 1920s, but with songs such as “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” he gets away with murder (or “murther,” if you are Shakespearean purist): “When your baby is pleading for pleasure/Let her sample your Measure for Measure” and “If she says your behavior is heinous/Kick her right in theCoriolanus. (Shockingly, this last couplet made it into the 1953 film version; someone was napping over at MGM.)