Sondheim song discussion- "What Can You Lose?"

Sondheim song discussion- "What Can You Lose?"

darquegk Profile Photo
#1Sondheim song discussion- "What Can You Lose?"
Posted: 12/3/10 at 8:01pm

I remember an interesting discussion had on this board a while ago about Sondheim's "Dick Tracy" musical that ended up only having about four songs, some of which were cut from the final movie.

Almost all of them have become beloved Sondheim tunes and most appear in the revues. All except "What Can You Lose," a tender little ballad sung as a duet by Mandy Patinkin and Madonna. Better than it sounds.

A lot of people have had ideas, info or opinions on why this song has never showed up in anything else, or whether it was even intended to be in DICK at all- it's been suggested that it may have been a new song or a cut song from "Follies" or "Merrily" in one of its incarnations.

Any thoughts? I feel like this is one of Sondheim's lesser-known gems.

singtopher Profile Photo
#2Sondheim song discussion- 'What Can You Lose?'
Posted: 12/3/10 at 8:13pm

I LOVE this song, and I keep meaning to add it to my book.

Here is a video of Audra McDonald singing a mash up of it with "Not a Day Goes By"


"If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it." -Stephen Colbert

SeanMartin Profile Photo
#3Sondheim song discussion- 'What Can You Lose?'
Posted: 12/3/10 at 11:51pm

My guess -- and this is only a guess -- is that it got cut because it's a "musical theatre" number, not a "cabaret performance" number like the rest of the songs in the movie. It would be a "stop the action so these two can sing" kind of scene.

BTW: the only songs by Sondheim that I know of from the film are "Sooner or Later", "More", and this one. What's the fourth?


Disneyland Magic Man
#4Sondheim song discussion- 'What Can You Lose?'
Posted: 12/4/10 at 12:30am

All the songs are featured in the movie.

"Sooner or Later" is sung a couple of times by Madonna.
"More" is done in rehearsal a couple of times and it's performance is spliced with action scenes.
"What Can You Loose?" is definitely performed at a piano with Madonna and Mandy in the film.
"Live Alone and Like It" is played over a radio in the film, sung by Mel Torme.
"Back In Business" is played over a sequence of action shots a little over halfway through the film.

All of his intended songs are in the movie. Were not cut.

#5Sondheim song discussion- 'What Can You Lose?'
Posted: 12/4/10 at 1:39am

Yeah I was going to day I remember the scene "What can you lose?" was performed in.

Incidentally- Dick Tracy had 3 "Soundtrack" albums:
The official "Soundtrack" of 30's style pastiche numbers performed by various contemporary pop artists (most of which were heard briefly, if at all)

Danny Elfman's orchestral score

Madonna's album "I'm Breathless" which featured her 3 (yes, 3) Sondheim/Dick Tracy songs, "Now I'm Following You" and "Back in Business" (which are non-Sondheim songs from the movie) and a few sort-of 30's style numbers that are sort of in her character of Breathless Mahoney (Hank Panky) and a handful of songs completely unrelated (Vogue).

#6Sondheim song discussion- 'What Can You Lose?'
Posted: 12/4/10 at 3:40pm

JoeKv99, didn't Sondheim write "Back in Business"? I would assume so, seeing as it's in the revue Putting It Together.

Disneyland Magic Man
#7Sondheim song discussion- 'What Can You Lose?'
Posted: 12/4/10 at 4:58pm

Madonna wrote the original version, which was not appropriate for the film, so Sondheim wrote another song under the same name which was used.

Madonna didn't record the new song in a fit, some sound-a-like did. And her album, she recorded the one she wrote.

Two different songs written for the film with the same name.

#8Sondheim song discussion- 'What Can You Lose?'
Posted: 11/18/23 at 5:19am

I just listened to “What Can You Lose” while reading Look,  I Made a Hat and it’s a lovely song. Mandy Patinkin is terrific, Madonna does fine, and the lyrics are poignant.

No idea if it was in the movie (I saw Dick Tracy when it was released but have no idea. There is YouTube footage, for what it’s worth.)

It’s fun to run across mostly forgotten Sondheim gems.

#9Sondheim song discussion- 'What Can You Lose?'
Posted: 11/18/23 at 6:40am

FWIW…there’s a lovely clip online of Gavin Creel singing “What Can You Lose?”, proclaiming it to be his favorite Sondheim song. His vocals on it are buttery and beautiful. 

thirtythirtyninety Profile Photo
#10Sondheim song discussion- 'What Can You Lose?'
Posted: 11/18/23 at 9:10am

Just for clarity: “What Can You Lose?” is 100% in the theatrical cut of the film. Not sure why anyone believes it wasn’t. 

one of my favorite Sondheim songs not written for the stage

#11Sondheim song discussion- 'What Can You Lose?'
Posted: 11/18/23 at 10:57am

I assumed it was in the film. In his book, Sondheim mentions that director-star Warren Beatty wanted an excuse for Mandy Patinkin, who had a minor role, to sing a song. It’s not listed as a cut song, and there’s a clip of Patinkin and Madonna singing it.

I did see it’s been covered by more than a few Broadway stars. I can see why. 

BrodyFosse123 Profile Photo
#12Sondheim song discussion- 'What Can You Lose?'
Posted: 11/18/23 at 11:53am

Here’s the full scene in the film DICK TRACY:


Jay Lerner-Z Profile Photo
Jay Lerner-Z
#13Sondheim song discussion- 'What Can You Lose?'
Posted: 11/18/23 at 12:11pm

I think that's a music video, not an actual scene from the movie.

Beyoncé is not an ally. Actions speak louder than words, Mrs. Carter. #Dubai #$$$

TaffyDavenport Profile Photo
#14Sondheim song discussion- 'What Can You Lose?'
Posted: 11/18/23 at 2:58pm

Just watched the sequence on my Blu-ray:

In the movie, the song starts in the background during a scene in the diner when Dick Tracy finds out that Tess Trueheart has left town, then continues with a montage of him and The Kid, and Tess with her mother. Just as in the video posted above, it cuts to Mandy (88 Keys) at the piano as he sings "as she closes the door," just before Madonna (Breathless Mahoney) joins in, and it shows the two of them through "something may be broken," then more montage of Tracy policing the city, back to Madonna as she sings "leave it alone" and Mandy sings "hold it all in," then more montage of Tess and Tracy waiting by the phone. The song ends in the background as Breathless meets Tracy at the docks.



Updated On: 11/18/23 at 02:58 PM