12 April 2007

Lyrics From Spelling Bee

In the musical "Spelling Bee," each major character gets one big character-establishing song. For Olive Ostrowsky, that song is "The 'I Love You' Song". This title is a neat little irony in itself, because Broadway's audiences know that the legends, Rodgers and Hammerstein, made a point of never writing a song for any show that contained the phrase "I love you." They obsessed over how to avoid it.

The title is ironic in another sense, internal to this show, because Olive has just been asked to spell the word "chimerical," a word meaning fastastic or unrealistic. At this point in the play, it's becoming clear to the audience that Olive has in effect been deserted by both her parents -- geographically by Mom, and psychologically by Dad. But she longs to hear "I love you" from them, and so she does. In the course of preparing to spell the word "chimerical."

Olive's Mom is living in India now. In her fantasy, Mom appears, and sings, "We always knew you were a winner/ we saw it when you smiled."

Later, Olive expresses her own frustrations about her mother to the fantasy stand-in.

"When are you returning?
I know we agreed
Tell me what you’re learning
Ma, I had forgot, this neeeed."

To what did Olive and her Mom 'agree'? That Olive wouldn't ask when she was returning? Or that Mom would explain what she has learned, when she did? Does the line "I know we agreed" look forward or backward within that stanza?

We can, of course, hear it either way or both ways. It's a wonderful song.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.