Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books on Fridays is digressing into music today, and this gives me the chance to mention a song I really love which I’m sure few if any readers of this blog will ever have heard. And it has an indirect connection to one of my Harry Devlin novels. It’s a forgotten song because it was written for a musical, and then cut out of it. It’s common for such changes to be made to a musical, but a real shame that such a haunting ballad should be consigned to the vaults
My choice is ‘What Am I Doing Here?’ and I came across it thanks to a series of CDs called ‘Lost in Boston’ which collect songs that were cut from musicals. Liz Callaway’s version appears on ‘Lost in Boston 2’, and is quite marvellous – she is a very good singer.
The song was written for the musical Promises, Promises, which debuted on Broadway in 1968, but it was cut out at the last minute. The book of the show was written by Neil Simon, the music by Burt Bacharach, and the lyrics by Hal David. The show was based on that splendid Billy Wilder film The Apartment. If you don’t know the story, it’s about a keen young American who lends his apartment to his bosses so they can conduct their affairs. Our hero falls for Fran, who has been seduced by a senior executive, J.B.Sheldrake. In this particular song, Fran wonders why she keeps on with the affair, which she realises is hopeless.
Promises, Promises was enormously successful in its day. It won awards and yielded the famous song 'I'll Never Fall in Love Again'. However, the book is very much of its time, and the show hasn’t been seen much since (though I gather a revival on Broadway is forthcoming.) In about 1996 it was performed at the Bridewell Theatre in London, and I went to see it. I enjoyed it so much that I introduced a performance of the show in Liverpool, as a backdrop to one of the scenes in The Devil in Disguise. But although the Bridewell version did include one of the many songs dropped from the Broadway original, they didn’t find room for ‘What Am I Doing Here?’ Burt Bacharach continues to write great songs to this day, but he's never written another stage musical, and I suspect I remain destined to be one of the few people who think 'What Am I Doing Here?' is a masterpiece. A shame.