"Happy New Year, Emperor!"
Here comes a New Year's song you probably have never heard.
Our good friend Dave Schweisguth made the wonderful discovery of the source of the song, and recently — because there's an Emperor Norton connection — let us in on his find. We've been saving it until today.
A little background...
The songwriting team of John Kander (b.1927) and Fred Ebb (1928-2004) is best-known for the scores to the musicals Cabaret (original Broadway production, 1966; film version, 1972) and Chicago (original Broadway production, 1975; film version, 2002); for "New York, New York," the theme song (made famous by Frank Sinatra) from Martin Scorcese's 1977 film of the same name; and for their long association with Liza Minnelli.
But Kander & Ebb's first musical theater collaboration was on the 1962 score for a musical that was never produced. Although the musical most commonly is called Golden Gate, it also is known by another title: The Emperor of San Francisco.
In a very small nutshell, the premise of the story and original script by Richard Morris — the author of the book for the musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1960) and the screenplay for the film Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) — is as follows:
A former fighter, named Murphy, has reinvented himself as Emperor. In the aftermath of the Earthquake and Fires of 1906, he has set himself the duty of overseeing the welfare of San Francisco and its unclaimed children during the city's reconstruction.
Emperor Murphy is opposed in this by Auntie, a politically corrupt madam who is pushing to leave San Francisco behind and take the whole shebang across the bay to Oakland.
The battle between Emperor Murphy and Auntie plays itself out as a struggle for the soul of San Francisco.
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Since Golden Gate was never produced, there is not, alas, an original cast recording.
We do, however, have the next best thing: a 1962 demo recording sung by John Kander & Fred Ebb themselves.
One of the treats from the recording is the song, "Happy New Year."
The second verse seems particularly apt:
If the past year wasn't good
That was last year, knock on wood
All your care may disappear
In a Happy New Year
Have a listen! And don't miss the moment, at 2:59, when Emperor Murphy gets his due.
A few of the songs originally written for Golden Gate found their way into later Kander & Ebb musicals. Here's a young Liza Minnelli's live 1967 performance of one of these. She made studio recordings of the song in 1964 and 1970 — but it became especially well-known after she sang it in the 1972 film version of Cabaret.
Happy New Year, everybody — maybe this time we'll win!
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