Yesterday’s “Tomorrow”

Charles Strouse’s autobiography Put on a Happy Face is unexpectedly revealing. An autobiography by the composer of the scores for Bye Bye Birdie, All American, Golden Boy, Annie, Rags, and many other shows would be worth reading in any case, but the book is better than it has to be; it contains surprisingly frank perceptions of his various collaborators, and also an unexpectedly frank examination of himself, his neuroses, and his self-loathing.

From that description, you might think the book is case of too-much-information, or “oversharing,” but that’s not how it comes off. It comes off as honest. Strouse may not always be a reliable narrator (after all, his collaborators would probably tell different stories of the shows they worked on with Strouse, if they wrote about them), but you always get the sense that Strouse is doing the best job he can to tell the story as he knows it. The book is artlessly written, but this too comes to seem a virtue. There is a transparency here that is valuable.

One thing Strouse doesn’t write about is that his famous composition from Annie, “Tomorrow,” had an earlier life before the show. Replay, a short documentary film from 1970 (seven years before Annie’s opening night), depicted the hippie love generation and the reactions to this generation (positive and negative) from their elders. Strouse wrote the musical score for the film, as he did for several others, including Bonnie and Clyde. At around 2:20 into the film (which you can view below), the song comes in. The “B” section of the song is different from “Tomorrow,” but the “A” section is musically identical. While the lyrics for “Tomorrow” are by Martin Charnin, those for this song (which might be titled “The Way It Is Now Is Different”) are by Strouse himself. (Strouse usually worked with lyricist collaborators, but not always.)

I actually prefer the song in Replay to “Tomorrow.” Strouse’s lyrics are fresher than Charnin’s for the latter song. And the musical treatment, in a gentle, very 1970 light rock mode, is charming, not like the overbearing, almost militant feeling we’re used to associating with the song “Tomorrow.” Watch, listen, and see if you agree.

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