Perry Como never appeared in a musical stage play, but he deserves a special mention in the history of Broadway musicals.

For two decades he was the voice most closely associated with the hit songs from almost all the long-running musicals. His versions of "If I Loved You," "Some Enchanted Evening," "Hello, Young Lovers" and "No Other Love," among many others, were played on all the disc-jockey programs and were the best-selling recordings.

You will note that those four examples are from Rodgers & Hammerstein shows. They, of course, dominated the Broadway scene in the 1940s and 1950s, just as Como dominated the record-sales charts in those decades. R&H and their rivals made a point of going to Como and giving him advance copies of sheet music before each of their shows opened, hoping that Como would record the big ballads and thus promote ticket sales for the shows.

Como recorded at least two songs from most shows, and RCA Victor released them on both sides of a 78 r.p.m. record. "Bali Ha'i," for example, was on the flip side of "Some Enchanted Evening," "We Kiss in a Shadow" was the flip of "Hello Young Lovers," and two ballads from Allegro were put on one disc -- "A Fellow Needs a Girl" and "So Far." Even though "Bali Ha'i" was written as a woman's song, Como's rendition of it became the most-played version on the air and the best-selling version in record stores.

When R&H did not have a big success, as with Allegro in 1947 and Pipe Dream in 1955, at least the public got to hear Como singing the best songs so those scores were not forgotten.

Como also recorded the top versions of "They Say It's Wonderful" from Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun in 1946, "Haunted Heart" from Arthur Schwartz's Inside USA in 1947, "Just One Way to Say I Love You" and "Let's Take An Old-Fashioned Walk" from Berlin's />Miss Liberty/> in 1949 and "A Bushel and a Peck" from Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls in 1950.

Frank Sinatra appreciated show music, and Columbia got him to record some of the same ballads that Como recorded for RCA Victor. But in every case, Como's discs had more airplay and bigger sales. Partly that's because Perry had the ability to belt big eleven-o'clock numbers whereas Frank's style was more intimate.

When he began to host a weekly variety TV show in 1955, critics made fun of Como's casual style. Comedians joked that he was so relaxed he almost fell asleep while he was singing, and some wag called his delivery Como-tose. I have to set the record straight. During the 40s and early 50s Como used a big, bravura style, and he reveled in loud high notes as in "never, never to know" and "once you have found her, never let her go." At the same time, he sang parts of those songs softly and caressingly.

When I talked with Como in the 1980s I asked him why he changed his style to be almost-always soft. He said that he learned to sing big in nightclubs, dance halls and for records, but when he went on TV he realized that he was performing for just two or three viewers at a time. Therefore he tailored his delivery for them. He told me he sang to the camera lens and imagined the people sitting in their homes and "I would have felt foolish if I shouted at them."

His clout was greater than just record sales. Starting in 1945, when he became a teen idol, Como was host of a three-times-a-week radio show called "The Chesterfield Supper Club." Each 15-minute program had four songs. He'd perform an up-tempo opening number, then something sentimental, then introduce a guest artist. Every show would end with a big number by Perry, and often it was a show tune. While a musical was new on Broadway, Como would perform its songs several times over the course of a month or two, which was helpful for ticket sales.

Como has one other connection with the music of Broadway. He appeared in a featured role in the biographical film about Rodgers & Hart, Words and Music, singing "Blue Room" and "Mountain Greenery" as if he were the artist who did those songs in their show settings. Then, in the finale of the movie, he sang a memorial tribute to Larry Hart in front of a big orchestra, flinging out his arms and belting "With a Song in My Heart."

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Key Subjects: 
Perry Como, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Irving Berlin, David Sarnoff, RCA, Allegro, Pipe Dream
Writer: 
Steve Cohen
Writer Bio: 
Steve Cohen has written numerous pieces for This Month ON STAGE magazine and Totaltheater.com.
Date: 
May 2006
Subtitle: 
Perry Como and the Broadway Musical