The Case of the Missing Tuba

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Hearing that Angela Lansbury will receive a (well deserved!) Lifetime Achievement Tony Award on the June 12 ceremony got me to thinking about the times I’ve seen her on Broadway.

The first time was in 1967 when three of us kids trekked up to NYC to camp out in the living room of the family of a classmate who had moved to the Big Apple the previous year. That was about a year into the run of the musical Mame, for which Lansbury won her first Tony for creating the title role. That trip probably deserves a blog post of its own sometime.

Next was her Tony winning performance as Momma Rose in a revival of Gypsy, a production imported from London, and that probably deserves a post of its own as well. That was in 1974, I think. (I missed her Tony winning performance in Dear World).

In 1979 she won her third Tony for creating the role of Nellie Lovett in Sweeney Todd, a performance I saw a total of three times; twice in NYC and once more when she headlined the touring company which came to Philadelphia the following year. Yes, I really love Sweeney Todd. Well, it is one of Sondheim’s greatest.

She won another Tony in a revival of Noël Coward’s Blythe Spirit, but I didn’t get to see that.

Then in 2012 she had a brief but memorable role in the revival of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man; I had a front row center seat for that.

Here are some highlights from that production:

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So that’s a total of six times that I’ve seen her on the stage.

But, of course, she appeared on television for years (well over a decade) as Jessica Fletcher in the whodunit series Murder, She Wrote.

That was a somewhat uneven show, but it was usually fun to watch, not only for Lansbury’s performance, but to see the guest stars—very often well known actors who hadn’t been seen much in recent years.

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And I’ve been re-watching that series, although I haven’t been bingeing it. A few episodes here, a few there. I’m up to season eight.

One of the things I enjoy about it is the opening title credits because I like the theme music. It’s a pleasant bouncy little tune, but I especially love the arrangement which features two of my favorite instruments: a piano and a tuba.

So rather than skip over the opening, I always watch it just to hear the music.

When I got to the sixth season, I noticed that the piano and tuba were even more prominent than previously; that’s because that was the year that broadcast television began broadcasting in stereo. I’m not sure whether the theme received a new arrangement or if they re-recorded the existing one in stereo. I was just happy to hear my favorite instruments.

Until, that is, season eight came along. The show’s longtime show runner, Peter S. Fischer, had left the show at the end of the previous season, and an entirely new production team had taken over.

They tried to freshen the show by giving Jessica some new environments (she moved to NYC for part of the season), and that was all well and good. Some of the scripts were better than those of the previous season.

But they also tinkered with the theme music—for no good reason that I can tell. Most tellingly, they removed the tuba! Don’t ask me why.

So I no longer listen to the opening music, I just skip right by.

Oh, well, at least Lansbury never stopped portraying a woman that most of us would like to have for a neighbor—apparently not too far from her real life persona.

Unlike that misbegotten movie where she was woefully miscast. But I see I’m out of time. Be sure to read the next post!

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