Mary Martin

Lute Song

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Mary Martin's second starring vehicle on Broadway, Lute Song was billed as "A Love Story with Music," rather than a musical comedy, which signaled to audiences both that it wasn't intended to be funny and that the musical element was subservient to the story. It was based on a Chinese play, Pi-Pa-Ki, written in the 14th century, about a husband and wife who are separated when he is appointed to the imperial court and, his marital status notwithstanding, married off to a princess, while his first wife declines into poverty in his village. A happy ending eventually occurs, but not before some suffering by the first wife, played, of course, by Martin, who is, for example, forced to sell her hair to pay for the funeral of her in-laws after they die of starvation. There is even a song about this event, "Bitter Harvest." Raymond Scott's music has some Chinese accents, but remains distinctly Western. The show earned good notices for its sets and for Martin, but not for the evening as a whole, and it lasted a mere four months on Broadway. Decca Records helped promote it with this recording, originally issued as an album containing six tracks on three 78 rpm discs. Since Martin's co-star, Yul Brynner (making his Broadway debut), is missing from the recording, along with his only solo, "Willow Song," and Martin is the only vocalist, the album is usually treated as a solo recording by her even though it is technically a cast album, with two tracks given over to instrumentals. The stand-out song is "Mountain High, Valley Low," in which the wife solemnly proclaims her devotion to her husband despite his looming departure; "See the Monkey" is a playful novelty.