In the annals of writing Broadway shows and hit songs, Frank Loesser (1910-1969) became one of the giants. Loesser is more, sir, if you are measuring him against many others. He wrote both the music and the lyrics for key shows. All of this is apropos of a large, definitive new book, "The Complete Lyrics of Frank Loesser," edited by Robert Kimball and Steve Nelson and published by Alfred A. Knopf ($49.95 in the U.S., $75 in Canada). The book includes photos from some of Loesser's noted works of stage and screen.
You might think that reading lyrics without hearing the music could be dull, but consider "Guys and Dolls," for example, a show for which Loesser provided music and lyrics. You can read his brilliant words and the music is already there in your head. Consider "I've got the horse right here, the name is Paul Revere." Or take the brilliant "Adelaide's Lament," in which she sings about how insecurity brought on by a guy who won’t marry her can give a girl a cold:
"You can spray wherever you figure
The streptococci lurk
You can give her a shot
For whatever she's got,
But it just won't work.
If she's tired of getting the fish eye
From the hotel clerk,
A person can develop a cold."
Similarly, you can enjoy reading the lyrics for "Where's Charley?" "The Most Happy Fella" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," all of which also had music by Loesser as well.
His hit songs not associated with his shows are there too. Remember "Baby, It's Cold Outside," "A Slow Boat to China," "I Don't Want to Walk Without You" and "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition"?
The book has 352 pages and is chock full of work that spans Loesser's prolific output. There is lesser known Loesser, as well as a compendium of his most famous lyrics. Theater buffs will find the volume a treasure trove, and it is in tune with a new round of well-deserved attention to his career. One of his shows, "Señor Discretion Himself," has never had a full production, but that is being rectified April 9-May 23, 2004, at the Washington, D.C. Arena Stage.