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By Trolley, Train, Show Boat Or Surrey, These Musicals Will Move You

Barbra Streisand does a lot of singing on transit — over the course of Funny Girl, Funny Lady, Yentl and Hello Dolly (above) she sings aboard a train, a plane, a taxi a tugboat, and an ocean liner. (20th Century Fox/Chenault/The Kobal Collection)

When most people hear about NPR's Book Your Trip series (about transit-themed summer reading) they suggest book titles. But when movie critic Bob Mondello heard about it, he started humming show tunes. And that's what you'll be doing too, after you listen to this story about "trip" musicals — shows that transport you by car, boat, train, plane or surrey with a fringe on top. Click the listen link at the top of this page, and then watch the musical numbers below. Enjoy the journey!

We couldn't possibly fit all the travel-themed show tunes into six minutes. We hope you'll leave your favorites in the comment section below.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

In Funny Girl, Barbra Streisand sings "Don't Rain on My Parade" on a train, in a taxi, and on a tugboat. She's taking off in a plane in "Let's Hear it For Me" from Funny Lady. And in "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" from Hello, Dolly!, she's on a train calling "All aboard! All aboard!"
Streisand sings "A Piece of Sky" from the deck of an oceanliner at the end of Yentl.
Clang, clang, clang went the trolley as Judy Garland sings to fellow passengers in Meet Me in St. Louis.
Garland takes a ride "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" in The Harvey Girls.
Garland and Fred Astaire tap out a train-themed "When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabama" in Easter Parade.
In the opening number of The Music Man propulsion is built into the lyrics; a train full of salesmen talk business and their words mimic the rattle and clatter of the tracks.
"Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry" when Gordon MacRae sings "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" with Shirley Jones in Oklahoma!
"Greased Lightning" burns up the quarter mile in this four-wheel homage in Grease.
Most of the musical Show Boat takes place on a Mississippi paddle-wheeler.
W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore takes place aboard a British ship.
On the Twentieth Century is set on a 1930s train that raced between Chicago and Manhattan. This number is perhaps the ultimate traveling song: It doesn't change tempo, it doesn't have a chorus, it propels you forward, and it (seemingly) never ever, ever ends.
Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

When most people hear about NPR's Book Your Trip series, they suggest book titles. The series is about summer reading involving modes of transportation. But when our movie critic Bob Mondello heard about it, he started humming show tunes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHY DO THE WRONG PEOPLE TRAVEL?")

ELAINE STRITCH: (Singing) Travel, they say, improves the mind - an irritating platitude which frankly, entre nous, is very far from true.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: If musicals are a trip, trip musicals are a trip and a half. By trip musicals, I mean shows that take you somewhere rather than just arriving somewhere by boat or plane or car or whatever. Quite a few years ago, when I saw the Barbra Streisand musical "Yentl," I called a friend who was Streisand nut to tell him about it. He only had one question - does she sing on public transportation? Because she always did. Remember "Funny Girl?" She sang "Don't Rain On My Parade" on a train, in a taxi and on a tugboat.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T RAIN ON MY PARADE")

BARBRA STREISAND: (Singing) I'll march my band out. I'll beat my...

MONDELLO: In "Funny Lady" it was an airplane she sang on.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S HEAR IT FOR ME")

STREISAND: (Singing) Standing in the wings all prepared to start.

MONDELLO: In "Hello Dolly," she was belting on a train.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PUT ON YOUR SUNDAY CLOTHES")

STREISAND: (Singing) All aboard. All aboard. All aboard.

MONDELLO: And my buddy had guessed right. In "Yentl," at the very end, there Babs was on an ocean liner with the wake washing over the vocals as she sang about heading for parts unknown.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A PIECE OF SKY")

STREISAND: (Singing) Why settle for just a piece of sky?

MONDELLO: Streisand was - let's note - in good company in this singing on transportation thing. Judy Garland not only did all the time, she tended to sing about transportation. In "Meet Me In St. Louis..."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE TROLLEY SONG")

JUDY GARLAND: (Singing) Clang, clang, clang went the trolley.

MONDELLO: In "Easter Parade..."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN THAT MIDNIGHT CHOO-CHOO LEAVES FOR ALABAMA")

GARLAND: (Singing) When the midnight choo-choo leaves for Alabama.

MONDELLO: And in "The Harvey Girls."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON THE ATCHISON, TOPEKA AND THE SANTA FE")

GARLAND: (Singing) I can't believe that anything could go so fast.

MONDELLO: May I just digress here for a moment? There is a reason movie directors like to put musical numbers on trains. Trains are propulsive - gushing steam as they pull out of the station, pushing the music forward. You can hear how it gives Garland a boost.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON THE ATCHISON, TOPEKA AND THE SANTA FE")

GARLAND: (Singing) On the Atchison. On the Atchison, Topeka...

MONDELLO: In "The Music Man" a few years later on Broadway, composer Meredith Willson took a train full of salesmen and did something very clever in his opening number.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, THE MUSIC MAN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As conductor) River city, next station.

MONDELLO: He put propulsion in the sound of the lyrics.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCK ISLAND")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As salesman) Cash for the merchandise. Cash for the button hooks.

MONDELLO: The salesmen are talking business, and all on one note. But in the sibilance of their first few words...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCK ISLAND")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As salesman) Cash for the fancy goods. Cash for the soft goods.

MONDELLO: ...You can hear the steam engine starting up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCK ISLAND")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As salesman) Cash for the hogshead cask and demijohn. Cash for the crackers, and the pickles, and the flypaper.

MONDELLO: As the train accelerates, Willson changed from words with S's and Sh sounds to harder consonants to mimic the rattle and clatter of a train clicking down the tracks. And when they made the movie, they just added those sounds.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCK ISLAND")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As salesman) You can talk. You can talk. You can talk, talk, talk, talk, bicker, bicker, bicker. You can talk all you wanna but it's different than it was.

HARRY HICKOX: (As Charlie Cowell) No it ain't. No it ain't.

MONDELLO: I don't mean to suggest that trains are the only vehicles that show up in musicals. There's that surrey with the fringe on top in "Oklahoma!," the hot rod in "Grease," the helicopter in "Miss Saigon." In "Ben Franklin In Paris," the title character was lifted by hot air to the proscenium arch.

MONDELLO: Another '60s musical plunged its whole cast underground.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUBWAYS ARE FOR SLEEPING")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Subways are for sleeping.

MONDELLO: And as Flo Ziegfeld realized way back in 1927, if you're going to sing about that ol' man river, you've got to have a boat.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, SHOW BOAT")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) See the show boat (unintelligible).

MONDELLO: "Show Boat," which takes place almost entirely on a Mississippi paddle wheeler, is that rare Broadway musical that's actually about a mode of transportation. But there are others - "Titanic," "H.M.S. Pinafore," "Starlight Express," and my personal fave - "On The Twentieth Century."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) We point with the deepest pride to the grandest ride on the New York Central Railroad.

MONDELLO: It's set entirely on a 1930s train that raced between Chicago and Manhattan in less time than it takes Amtrak to make that trip today.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) New York in 16 hours. anything can happen in those 16 hours on that mighty, ride-the-night-y miracle...

MONDELLO: Quick quiz - what's the best song in the world when you're a kid in the back seat on a trip? The one you drove your parents crazy with when you were 7 - 99 bottles of beer on the wall, right? Perfect traveling song for a reason. It circles back on itself, arriving at the beginning so that it can start over. Kind of like this one...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Our heart with emotion reels when the Prince of wheels...

MONDELLO: It doesn't change tempo. It doesn't have a chorus and it never ever ends. Well, that's what makes a good song for traveling - all about movement not destinations. And this song, like the one Streisand sang in "Dolly," "Put On Your Sunday Clothes," like "Atchison, Topeka," - like a lot of these transportation songs and musicals, really, acknowledges that. It's all transitions and circling back, which means it gets stuck in your head, makes you tap along on the steering wheel, it has an unyielding rhythm - the full throttle chorus over and over, propelling you as you watch the world pass by out the window.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Life and love and luck may be changed...

MONDELLO: Sounds like it's ending, right?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Hope renewed and fate rearranged...

MONDELLO: Yeah, not so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) On the Twentieth Century. On the Twentieth Century.

MONDELLO: In the musical, to make this song stop, the composer pretty much had to beat it to death. I'll play the ending out of kindness so that you can get it out of your head. But trust me, when it's stuck in your head, the ending won't be what you remember. OK, here it comes. Almost. And now he beats it to death.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) On the luxury liner between N.Y. and Chi.

MONDELLO: That is a traveling song. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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