Ethel Merman sings “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”03:16

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Published on July 4, 2016

“Everything’s Coming Up Roses” is a song from the 1959 Broadway musical Gypsy: A Musical Fable, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and music by Jule Styne. Introduced in the musical’s inaugural production by Ethel Merman, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” became one of Merman’s signature songs.

According to Sammy Cahn, the song had its genesis in the 1947 musical High Button Shoes, for which he was the lyricist. Cahn wrote lyrics for a song sung by a female character who can’t decide between two men; the lyrics began:

I’m betwixt and between,
Have to make my mind up which way to lean.
Shall I stop? Shall I go?
I simply must make my mind up!
I’m between and betwixt,
Running in a race someone has fixed.
Is it to? Is it fro?
I wish I knew how I’ll wind up!
Jule Styne, who was that musical’s composer, wrote music for it, but the director decided the song didn’t fit well into the show and removed it. When composing Gypsy, Styne decided to re-use the music for what became “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”, with new lyrics by Sondheim. It took Sondheim a week to come up with the title, the composer recalling: “The point was to [coin] a phrase that sounded as if it had been in the language for years but was in fact invented for the show.” (The similar phrase, “come up smelling like roses” has in fact been in general usage since the early 20th century.) The show’s director Jerome Robbins response to Sondheim’s lyric was: “Everything’s coming up Rose’s what?” prompting Sondheim’s assurance that “if anybody else has that confusion – anybody connected with the production, in the audience, any of your relatives – I will change the title”.

“Everything’s Coming up Roses” is performed at the end of the first act of Gypsy by stage mother Rose, who has just learned her daughter June has eloped and in effect left the vaudeville act Rose has devoted her life to without a star. Rose’s plain-Jane daughter Louise and Rose’s longtime fiancee Herbie are relieved, believing Rose will now marry Herbie and the three can lead a settled life: Rose’s reaction in fact is to make Louise the object of her dubious star-making abilities. The title “Everything’s Coming up Roses” is a pun: besides “roses” representing happiness, the title is referencing the possessive “Rose’s” as in Rose’s way or “Rose” as in Rose becoming a star herself, through her daughter.

Ethel Merman biographer Brian Kellow notes that while objectively “Everything’s Coming up Roses” seems “a big, brassy paean to the power of positive thinking…done in the old, electric Merman style”, within the context of the show “the song becomes a chilling illustration of blind ambition mixed with megalomania”. Kellow quotes Stephen Sondheim to the effect that while Merman’s comedic prowess was “nonpareil” as showcased in Gypsy’s first act she lacked the dramatic precision to be fully effective as the play grew darker; thus, Sondheim says of “Everything’s Coming up Roses”: “I wrote a song of the type that [Merman] had sung all her life, like [the Anything Goes number] ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’, which only requires a trumpet-voiced affirmation.” However Sondheim adds that Merman performed the song with an “intensity [which] came as a surprise”.

The emergence of “Everything’s Coming up Roses” as a Broadway anthem was evidenced by the song’s melody being utilized to open and close the 14th Tony Awards ceremony held April 24, 1960 (ironically Gypsy took none of its eight Tony nominations).

Jack Paar used an instrumental version of this song as the theme to The Tonight Show during the time that he hosted that show, as well as for his eponymous weekly prime time series that followed his tenure on Tonight.

In 1974 Ethel Merman appeared in a television advertisement singing new lyrics to the tune of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” to promote the Colgate-Palmolive dishwashing liquid Vel. That same year Merman recorded “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” for her album Merman Sings Merman recorded with Stanley Black & the London Festival Orchestra. In 1979 Merman again recorded the song for her album Ethel Merman Disco Album. In her final film appearance, a cameo in the 1980 film Airplane! as shell-shocked soldier Lieutenant Hurwitz who believes he is Ethel Merman, Merman sings a few bars of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”.

I had a dream, a dream about you, baby
It’s gonna come true, baby
They think that we’re through, but baby…

You’ll be swell, you’ll be great
Gotta have the whole world on a plate
Starting here, starting now
Honey, everything’s coming up roses!
Clear the decks, clear the tracks
You got nothing to do but relax
Blow a kiss, take a bow
Honey, everything’s coming up roses!

Now it’s your inning
Stand the world on it’s ear
Said it’s spinning
That’ll be just the beginning

Curtain up, light the lights
You got nothing to hit, but the heights
You’ll be swell, you’ll be great
I can tell, just you wait
The lucky star I talk about is due
Honey, everything’s coming up roses
For me and for you!

You can do it
All you need is a hand
We can do it
Momma is gonna see to it

Curtain up, light the lights
We got nothing to hit but the heights
I can tell, wait and see
There’s a bell
Follow me

And nothing’s gonna stop us
Till we’re through
Honey, everything’s coming up roses
And daffodils
Everything’s coming up
Sunshine and Santa Claus
Everything’s gotta be
Bright lights and lollipops
Everything’s coming up roses
For me and for you…

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