It was a show about kids who had no more burning desire than to put on a show in a barn, and it stocked its cast with some splendid young comers: Alfred Drake, Dan Dailey and the Nicholas Brothers. Yet Babes in Arms, the 1937 Broadway hit with book and songs by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, boasted some of the team’s most mature musical settings: the brassy “The Lady Is a Tramp,” the poignant “My Funny Valentine” and this ballad, the all-time déjà vu song. Originally performed by Mitzi Green and Ray Heatherton, it became a No. 1 song for the Hal Kemp Orchestra in 1937 and was covered by everyone from Duke Ellington to Dave Brubeck, from Dion and the Belmonts (No. 3 on the Billboard chart in 1960) to Rod Stewart. At the 1999 Encores! revival of Babes in Arms, when the orchestra struck up the tune before the second act, the audience of 2,500 instantly started humming along.
Of all the sublime Rodgers and Hart songs, why does this one lodge so deeply in the popular soul? Because it conjures a state of wistful ecstasy that merges past and present, the dreamer and the dream, the lover and all his real or imagined loves. “Some things that happen for the first time/ Seem to be happening again.” The somnambulistic sweetness of Rodgers’ melody spurred Hart into almost sci-fi speculation. “And so it seems that we have met before/ And laughed before/ And loved before”: the notes ascend toward an Everest of fulfillment, only to tumble into the question, “But who knows where or when?” The dreamer has awoken, with only the residue of rapture.
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