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The evolution of a musical's title

Rick Rogers Published: May 8, 2013

A rose by any other name might smell just as sweet, but a musical burdened with an obscure title may never achieve the distinction it deserves. Consider “Away We Go,” “Welcome to Berlin,” “My Best Girl” and “The Silver Triangle.” People with a penchant for theatrical trivia will recognize “Away We Go” as the working title of the musical “Oklahoma!” But it wasn’t until the song “Oklahoma” repeatedly stopped the show that the authors changed the title to the more familiar “Oklahoma!” Residents of the Sooner State have been grateful ever since.

“Welcome to Berlin” was Kander and Ebb’s first big hit, renamed “Cabaret.” “My Best Girl” was eventually dropped as the title of Jerry Herman’s musical “Mame,” although it still exists as a song title in the same show. And “The Silver Triangle” would become Meredith Willson’s runaway hit, but not until its title was changed to “The Music Man.”

Other musical titles sound more like misnomers than actual show titles. The innocuous “Hard to Get” was changed to “Bon Voyage” before it became Cole Porter’s delightful “Anything Goes.” And while “I Picked a Daisy” and “The Roman Comedy” would have taken up considerably less room on theater marquees, these shows eventually became known as “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

Shows whose titles were modified before opening on Broadway include “East Side Story” and “Dolly: A Damned Exasperating Woman.” They’re better known, of course, as “West Side Story” and “Hello, Dolly!” You’re a true theater fan if you can decipher “I Am Listening,” “Rainbow” and “Little Paris.” These titles eventually became “Lady in the Dark,” “110 in the Shade” and “Naughty Marietta,” respectively.

And had Stephen Sondheim stuck with his original title for “Anyone Can Whistle,” Henry Krieger would have been forced to choose a different title for “Side Show,” his 1999 musical about conjoined circus performers. One of the most humorous examples came from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, who allegedly thought about calling “Jesus Christ Superstar” simply “Christ!” Fearful that religious groups might take exception, they also decided to pass on “How to Succeed in Egypt Without Really Trying” in favor of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

It makes you wonder why “Onward Victoria,” “Dance a Little Closer” and “The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall” never had their titles changed. Their cumulative runs might have totaled more than just three performances.


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