Where does Alan Jay Lerner fit into the history of musicals? A prolific librettist and lyricist, Lerner had moments of genius (most of My Fair Lady and the film version of Gigi and parts of Camelot, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Paint Your Wagon and Brigadoon). However, I’d say that, as a whole, his body of work is flawed somewhat by:
- a tendency to show off at the expense of character and believability (e.g. “The Seven Deadly Virtues”, “The First Thing You Know”);
- a tendency to go for the broad strokes and not commit as much effort to the small details (e.g. the American bobolinks that are mentioned a couple of times in Camelot); and
- focusing more energy on the drama going on around the show than getting the drama of the show working in tandem with an underlying belief that his choices – and no one else’s – were completely infallible (evident especially in his writing about Camelot but in evidence generally throughout his writing in The Street Where I Live).
Consequently, I could quite easily suggest that (for slightly different reasons) Lerner is the Tim Rice to Oscar Hammerstein II’s Stephen Sondheim. In fact, I think that sums up his contribution to musical theatre, in particular, rather nicely.