VJ: Fifty years ago, this coming December, December 30th (1948) to be exact, something happened on Broadway.
VJ: And you were there?
MC: And I was there and I'm proud to say I was because it was a very special event for me. I was a young man in my early twenties...I was a bassist, bass player, and of course the event you are referring to is Kiss Me Kate, Cole Porter's wonderful Broadway show.
VJ: At that time Brooks Atkinson was the reviewer for the New York Times and he said that it was a "baffling miracle", Ward Moorehouse, who was writing for the Sun in those days said "Kiss Me Kate struck gold last night." It's been said that the audience went crazy on opening night and you, being part of the orchestra in the pit, I don't know if you remember this, after the actors had done the songs "Why Can't You Behave" and "Always True To You in My Fashion", the audience demanded more with screams of "Encore!"
MC: Well there were many, many encores throughout the first few months. The high point of the show, for me, was seeing Cole Porter himself sitting in the tenth row. He was there almost every night for the first ten weeks.
VJ: It played for what? A little over two years?
MC: 1,077 performances...to be accurate. I stayed with the entire run. I remember it was a great experience for me because it was a large orchestra, comparatively large for theater. I think we had, somewhere about 21, or 22 musicians. What was unusual was that the shape of the pit, for some reason, didn't allow the bass and the drums to be together as they usually are. The drummer was on one end of the pit and I was about 30 yards away from him, but we did okay anyhow. The pianist was in the middle with all the strings and the horns...
VJ: Right, right.
MC: ...and I remember opening night. Cole Porter, of course. It was an atmosphere that. . .
VJ: Everybody in tuxedos and gowns. . .
MC: Oh yeah, it was Broadway at its peak. I didn't realize it at that time but Cole Porter and his songs had a great influence on me...as a creative person, in my becoming a songwriter.
VJ: When you were finished with Kiss Me Kate did you go into other musicals?
MC: No, Kiss Me Kate was the last musical I did. I did one prior to that with the same conductor...it was Nancy Walker's Look Ma, I'm Dancing. You heard of that?
VJ: Oh yeah...
MC: It was written by Hugh Martin. It was one of the few times he wrote both the music and lyrics.
(Note: Look Ma, I'm Dancing was directed by legendary George Abbot and Jerome Robbins, with Robbins doing the choreography as well.)
VJ: You know, there is talk of a revival on Broadway. It's amazing that all those wonderful musicals, like Oklahoma, Annie Get Your Gun and things from that period have been revived, but Kiss Me Kate hasn't in all these years. Do you think, like a lot of those musicals from that period are dated with the book and stuff. Do you think Kiss Me Kate is dated or has to be updated?
MC: No, I don't and I'll tell you why I don't think it's dated. The story is, everybody knows, is a story within a story. It was about Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew and from my standpoint, I don't see anything that could be passé.
VJ: It's interesting, just the other day we were talking about the cast and the next day in the Times was a story about Patricia Morison...
MC: There are very few of us left...Patricia, isn't that something else?
VJ: She sang "Wunderbar" and
MC: She sang "Wunderbar" and "So In Love"...that was a duet for them. Later on, as a reprise in the second act, Alfred Drake sang "So In Love". And we used that song for an exit march.
MC: When the audience at the end of the show is leaving, they refer to that as an exit march. It's not really a march, but you know what I mean.
VJ: And of course, in June, and I believe it was only the first or second year of the Tony Awards but anyhow, Kiss Me Kate won the Tony for Best Musical.
MC: I think it was the first.
(Note: 1949 was the first time a Best Musical Award was given. In the two prior years, Actors and plays were honored, so Kiss Me Kate was the very first musical to covet the Best Musical Tony.)
VJ: Although it won for Best Musical, it didn't pick up the Best Actor or Actress in a musical. Best Actor went to this little scrawny guy down the block in Where's Charlie, oh, what was his name? Oh, gosh...I forget... (singing: Once in Love with Amy) Help!
MC: Oh yeah. Ray Bolger.
VJ: Right, and Nanette Fabray won the Tony for Love Life.
MC: Oh yes, Alan Jay Lerner's...he wrote that with Kurt Weill. One of my favorite songs, I believe is from that show. It's called "Here, I'll Stay". I don't know if you've heard it...
VJ: Oh, I collect music and have a 78 R.P.M. collection that dates back to the 1920's. Incidentally, Kiss Me Kate was released on 78 R.P.M. and as an LP album in June of 1949. So buyers had their choice of format. However, historically, it was the first Broadway cast album released as an L.P.
MC: Is that right? I didn't know that.
VJ: And now, the original recording is being remastered with the original orchestra, meaning you, hahaha, I hope you're getting royalties.
MC: No, musicians never get royalties. You get paid for your work and that's the end of it. The performers I don't think participate in that.
VJ: In any event, Sony is doing the remastering in digital sound and instead of opening with the entr'acte that was used on the original LP, it will now feature the full overture.
MC: That's great. I'll have to get a copy. Just the other morning the local radio station played "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" which I hadn't heard in years on radio, so obviously the kids are becoming aware of the anniversary. And that was a kick for me.
VJ: After you left Kate, then you just began your songwriting career?
MC: I decided at that time to take a shot at the song world. I'm still trying to find my way.
VJ: Well, you've written songs throughout the years for people like Robert Goulet, Lou Rawls, Mickey Rooney...wait, did you write for Mickey Rooney?
MC: I wrote five out of the ten songs and actually I produced the album for him, and he wanted to do five of my songs. Songs like "Why Can't She Lower the Alimony?"
MC: That was his title. He said, "Write me a song called "Why Can't She Lower the Alimony?" so we did and a couple of comedy songs. His wife is a singer too and he had me produce a couple of albums with her.
VJ: Have you been in Las Vegas long?
MC: We've been here since 63.
VJ: So it was during the 60's that you met up with some of the great performers.
MC: With the exception of one or two, I met them here. I met Robert Goulet here...Nancy Wilson...
VJ: And the great Sammy Davis Jr.?
MC: Sammy Davis recorded one of the songs from my current show by the way. The love ballad in Vegas On The Rocks is called "Let's Make the Most of a Beautiful Thing."
VJ: And Sammy recorded that?
MC: Sammy recorded it but it was never released. I have a tape copy, probably the only one in existence. I don't even think Reprise records can even locate the master. (chuckling)
VJ: Speaking of your show, what is Vegas On The Rocks?
MC: Well, Vegas On The Rocks is going to be an important theatrical musical, hopefully. I'm pleased to say that I wrote all the music and the lyrics were written by a wonderful talent, my buddy, Jacques Wilson...great lyric writer.
VJ: Is there anything happening with it?
MC: Well, I met with the President of Capitol Records, Gary Gershe, you might of heard of him of and his reaction to the music and songs was just more than I, uh,...
VJ: And this show was already performed in a theater here?
MC: It was a one night invited guests only, that type of thing. And we had that performance in Merv Griffin's old hotel in Mesquite. The hotel is now called Casablanca. The producer, Grant Griffin, arranged for us to do that and I was amazed at the turnout. We had invited many Las Vegas people and over 400 drove 80 miles to see our show.
VJ: How would you describe the show?
MC: It's about the boys who ran Vegas in the early years. And it has this feeling for nostalgia for the good old days in Vegas when it was a small town.
VJ: This is like when Bugsy built the Flamingo, that era? The beginning of the strip?
MC: The whole atmosphere of those days seems to be closer to my heart because good music was more prevalent. The boys, as tough as they were and perhaps as illiterate as some of them were, they all enjoyed the Sinatra style of songs and the big band days and that sort of thing.
VJ: And there are characters that audiences would recognize?
MC: Oh yes. We have Jimmy Caesar playing the Jimmy Durante role and Jeanine Marie is playing the Sophie Tucker role and they are both outstanding.
VJ: She has some voice...what a range!
MC: Bring back the boys isn't necessarily a desire to bring the boys back but we'd like to bring those wonderful days back. The way music was. We have some major producers, shall we say, the big money smiling in our direction.
VJ: Will we get to see it soon? Is it a book musical?
MC: I think it's very possible. It's a musical revue with a light story line. It holds your interest and I'm very proud of the songs. Wilson (lyricist) did an outstanding job.
VJ: How many songs have you written in your entire life?
MC: I couldn't even guess.
VJ: But there is one, though, that actually made it into the Congressional Record in Washington, D.C. Can you tell me about that?
MC: Well, I'm very proud of that one. It's one of the rare times that I wrote words to the music. I guess being a former Marine...you can't say Ex-Marine... ya gotta say former Marine. And being part of the military experience, I do have a great love of our country, let's put it that way. And though I'm not a flag-waver or anything like that, the song is a sincere statement.
VJ: This came as a result of an incident that happened a couple of years ago, a tragedy actually.
MC: Well, the thing in Oklahoma was a shocker...couldn't believe what was going on in our wonderful country. The song is simply called "America, I Love You So". It's a simple little statement, but it's been received well.
VJ: How did it get into the Congressional Record?
MC: Nevada Senator Harry Reid was informed about the song and he was very impressed with the lyrics and the music and felt that it should be placed in the Record.
VJ: You must be very proud of that.
MC: Oh yeah.
VJ: On top of all of this with Vegas On The Rocks, tell me about "We Are The Dreamers". Now, this is a song you played for me on this wonderful CD and there are three different versions. It's a very special song. Where did it come from?
MC: I like to think of it as something more than a song, it's a work because it doesn't have the structure of a short average song. It's more of a serious work...I kind of like to think of it as kind of an anthem. An anthem for the world...
VJ: But it's not like "We Are The World" or "We Are the Children" whatever it was called. It's nothing like that. I mean, those types of songs you can listen to once and never want to listen to again.
MC: (laughing) Exactly. "We Are The Dreamers" will stay with you emotionally. I'm very proud of it. Paul Francis Webster wrote the lyrics. He had written "The Shadow of Your Smile", "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing" and he also wrote the lyrics to Lara's theme from Dr. Zhivago, "Somewhere My Love". He also did Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad"...that's all Paul.
VJ: That's great.
MC: Paul is gone now, of course. We wrote it a number of years ago and it has evolved and we changed a few lyrics, but "We Are The Dreamers" is yet to be heard and I'd love to get a movie producer for a taste with the right project.
VJ: The message of the song is...if you had to describe it...
MC: I like to call it a tribute to creative people...
VJ: That are gone?
MC: That are gone. It does refer to the fact that they are gone. Paul wrote it when he was in his mid-sixties, I guess.
Mike sat at on the sofa and recited the lyrics as if he were reading a poem. My eyes misted when he read the final two lines.
The makers of rhyme.
It's a monumental song by a great songwriter and composer. Someday the world may hear it as Mike Corda, the dreamer, makes his dreams a reality.
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