Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Scott Walker Sings A Show Tune

Scott Walker's parents divorced when he was quite young. His father worked in the oil industry as some sort of geological engineer which led to a vagabond youth. One of the stops was New York. Here Walker made his first foray into professional entertainment. Between the ages of 11 and 13, Walker (then named Noel Scott Engel) acted in two Broadway musicals, neither of which lasted very long or are remembered at all.

Pipe Dream ran from November 30, 1955 to June 30, 1956. Plain and Fancy ran from January 27, 1955 to March 3, 1956.

This is a footnote at best in his career, something that is barely remarked upon. But as a professional actor I know how hard it is to book even ONE part, let alone several in succession, especially in the almost hermetically sealed world of Broadway theater.

Within a year of these appearances, Walker had recorded almost an entire album worth of teeny-bopper rock and roll, clearly influenced by the swagger and croon of Elvis Presley.

But what was that year of professional acting like? A typical Broadway show rehearses for a couple of months, then goes through an out of town run to gauge audience reaction, followed by a short preview period and finally opening night. Then the play runs as long as it is financially viable.

Pipe Dream ran from November 30, 1955 to June 30, 1956. Plain and Fancy ran from January 27, 1955 to March 3, 1956.

Obviously Walker couldn't have originated whatever role he played in both shows as the runs parallel each other. But IBDB (the Broadway version of IMDB) lists him as acting in both.

To double back to my earlier point, the fact that Walker managed to audition for and execute actual performances of these plays is a testament to his musical gifts. This is no talent show where any sort of effort is rewarded. Marks must be hit, blocking executed, musical scores to fulfill and whatever story element he was involved in done properly. This was Broadway, after all, and you simply do not roll out of bed and wind up there. You pursue it wholeheartedly and once you get there you must deliver. The fact that Walker did that for two different productions within the same year is actually quite an accomplishment. I've been an Equity actor for almost twenty years now and it still hasn't happened for me!!!

I can't help wonder what that must have been like for a young boy on the verge of puberty. The backstage world, for the uninitiated, is unrelentingly ribald, filled with open emotional display and intensity. I recently did a play with a ten year old and no matter how hard the cast tried to censor themselves the boy was still witness to many adult interactions that he never would have been without being in a play.

The psychological effect notwithstanding, he certainly grew up to record many songs that could be considered "show tunes". Where most of his contemporary pop competitors were discovering scratchy old blues LP's, Scott Walker was going back to that other great American song book...the show tune.

Here are a few great examples from the album he released containing songs he'd sung on the BBC on his own show:

You're Gonna Hear From Me
The Impossible Dream
Lost In The Stars

In just a few numbers, he established himself as one of the finest interpreters of this sort of highbrow material. But rock and roll was storming the world, leaving all other forms in the dust. Thankfully Scott Walker left a few breadcrumbs on the trail back to Broadway.


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