National Dog Day Song Analysis: “Times Like This” From LUCKY STIFF

by KatH on August 26, 2009

in Lucky Stiff,Show Spotlight

Sherpa

Sherpa

Exercise buddy, confidant, bodyguard, security blanket, foot-warmer, alarm clock-and best friend.  MTI recognizes those steadfast companions who fulfill all those roles and more: namely, canines. And like any proud pup parents, we’re sharing our MTI dog photos with you.

With National Dog Day on August 26, there’s no better time to put on the cast album of your favorite dog-related musical, be it ANNIE or 101 DALMATIANS.  As you enjoy these photos of our own furry companions, we here at MTI invite you to take a look at a song that perfectly captures the meaning a dog can have for a person: “Times Like This,” from the Lynne Ahrens/Stephen Flaherty musical farce, LUCKY STIFF.

“Fetch”

Molly

Molly

No-nonsense Annabel Glick is in Monte Carlo to track down Harry Witherspoon, whose millionaire uncle has left him six million dollars-money, Annabel feels, rightly belongs to the deceased’s favorite charity: her employer, the Universal Dog Home.  But as the uptight Harry learns to enjoy himself, reserved Annabel can’t let herself be anything but all business.  Her ballad, “Times Like This,” is as close as Annabel can get to exposing her true feelings-and she can only do that through her love of dogs.

Annabel begins the song with her typical determination:

“All I have to say is
I am happy to be sitting here
Doing what is meaningful to me
Working on behalf of the Universal Dog Home
Not barking up a stranger’s tree.
Now, my idea of company
Would be…”

Jack

Jack

Her voice here is very conversational, creating a brisk, unemotional feel that implies Annabel’s unspoken addition: “Unlike Harry.”  The accompaniment starts out in rigid, somewhat frantic-sounding notes, becoming slower and more relaxed by “Not barking up a stranger’s tree.”  Here, the accompaniment offers a glimpse of Annabel’s subtext: she tries so hard to convince herself that she’s happy with her work being her life, but her desire for something different creeps in.

“Heel”

Pearl

Pearl

That something different, Annabel continues, is:

“A friendly face.
The kind of face
That melts you with a grin.
The kind of eyes
That welcome you
The minute you walk in.
A tender glance
You simply can’t refuse.
At times like this
A girl could use…
A dog.”

Brix

Brix

While Annabel’s conclusion is somewhat of a surprise, it’s not entirely unexpected given the text.  She describes someone loving and supportive-someone whose very presence can cheer her up.  Who’s better at that than a dog?  The music, however, suggests she may actually desire a more romantic alternative.   Delicate and somewhat hesitant, the accompaniment is fairly spare in this section, mostly serving to accentuate the lyrics-and hinting that perhaps Annabel is holding something back.

“Sit.  Stay.”

Duda

Duda

Annabel relaxes into the song in the next section as the dog metaphor is simultaneously fleshed out and more transparent:

“He listens when
You tell him things.
There’s nothing you can’t say.
And unlike certain people
You can teach him how to stay.
And if the world is giving you the blues
He cheers you up by chewing up the news.
It’s things like that
That make you choose…
A dog.”

Riley

Riley

The most telling part of this lyric is “And unlike certain people/You can teach him how to stay.”  That’s where Annabel stops talking about a dog, and starts talking about a person.  The show reveals next to nothing about her past; this admission is as personal as Annabel gets.  Moreover, this first part of the song musically builds to those lines.  The accompaniment fills out as Annabel begins this section, giving her a momentum that peaks at this point in the song.  In the rest of the verse, the accompaniment pulls back slightly, and the song slows down a little-as though Annabel catches herself.  Her mention of a uniquely canine characteristic in the following lines-”chewing up the news”-is therefore an attempt to cover up her slip.  It’s no coincidence that the only unambiguous dog reference in the song comes immediately after the clear implication that Annabel is really singing about a person.

“Go Play.”

The song goes to a different musical and lyrical place next, as Annabel almost states directly what the previous section hinted at:

“Other people need romance!
Dancing!
Playing around!
Other people need constant fun.
Well, I’m not one.
I have my feet on the ground.”

Deena

Deena

This is what the song is really about: how Annabel considers herself different from everyone else.  Other people have romance; Annabel has her work, and it’d be impractical to try for anything different.  The music here is at its strongest, signifying Annabel’s strength of emotion, and her previous insistence that she’s happy with her lot in life is nowhere to be found.  The vocal power Annabel displays in this moment-she practically belts the last word-coupled with her declaration that she doesn’t need the “constant fun” that other people desire, completely undermines her claim of contentedness at the start of the song.

“That’ll Do

Annabel ends the song by imagining a perfect evening:

Eva

Ava

“A quiet night.
A stack of books.
A tuna melt on rye.
A simple walk together
Underneath a starry sky.
And suddenly the night is something rare
And all because there’s someone special there
Who’s gazing at the views
His head upon your shoes…
At times like this
I sure could use
A dog.”

Abigail

Abigail

Caught up in the life she wishes she had, Annabel’s inclusion of the dog is almost an afterthought.  After admitting to herself that she’s not as happy as she seems, Annabel recognizes that all she really wants is someone to share her life with.  But it’s her love of dogs-and their remarkable ability to connect with their owners on an emotional level-that eases Annabel into a level of honesty with herself, enabling her to end her loneliness over the course of LUCKY STIFF.

For more information or to license LUCKY STIFF, check out its MTI showpage. To discuss this article or share your thoughts on the show, visit LUCKY STIFF’s MTI ShowSpace page.

Black Jack

Black Jack

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    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    Steve Edelson August 27, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    That Molly sure is cute!!!!

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