On this day in 1968…

Darling of the Day opened at the George Abbott Theatre in New York City. The musical by Jule Styne and Yip Harburg was based on the Arnold Bennett novel Buried Alive, a decidedly Anglophilic romp in which a nobleman artist assumes the identity of his deceased manservant “to get out of the world alive.” In doing so, he also takes up the deceased’s correspondence with a widow from Putney, named Alice Challice. Anyway, a convoluted farce ensues where he paints under his pseudonym and is found out by snobbish art dealers. This leads to a courtroom climax that brings about a conclusion with a decidedly Gilbert & Sullivan-esque flair.
The show’s creative process was less than happy. Darling of the Day went through various directors (4), choreographers (2), book writers (5) and titles (2) and the show opening in NY without a credited librettist (a death knell for a musical; Nunnally Johnson insisted his name be taken off the show). The revolving door also included Peter Wood, S.N. Behrman, Albert Marre, Stephen Vinaver (who was hired and fired twice) and Peter Gennaro among others. In spite of the mess created by such a tumultuous tryout period, the show managed to allow the effervescent Patricia Routledge to shine in the role of the spirited widow. The cast album is a marvel for the strength of Styne’s music and the cleverness of Harburg’s lyrics, with Routledge getting the best of the material. Every one of her numbers in the show is worth hearing: “It’s Enough to Make a Lady Fall in Love,” “A Gentleman’s Gentleman,” the devastatingly beautiful waltz “Let’s See What Happens,” a lost gem of a ballad “That Extra Something Special,” and her rousing piece d’resistance, her eleven o’clocker “Not on Your Nellie.”
Routledge stole the show from the non-singing Vincent Price and won the show’s general acclaim. Darling couldn’t withstand the initial critical drubbing it received and shuttered after 32 performances. The show would (fortunately for all) record a cast album; Routledge would win the Tony award for Best Actress in a Musical, tying with Leslie Uggams who appeared in Jule Styne’s hit-flop/flop-hit Hallelujah, Baby! (Talk about book trouble).

As per Walter Kerr: [Routledge gives] “the most spectacular, most scrumptious, most embraceable musical comedy debut since Beatrice Lillie and Gertrude Lawrence came to this country … I understand there are some insane people going around this town saying that they didn’t care all that much for Darling of the Day. I’d stay away from them if I were you. I warn you: if you don’t catch her act now, you’ll someday want to kill yourself.”

Talk about a notice.

The original cast album is now woefully out of print, though it was issued on CD by RCA Victor in the late 1990s. There are copies available used on amazon and also through Arkiv Music (a CD-R with reproductions of original liner notes). The show plays on record as a hit, as many flops scores do. (I forgot to mention that Ralph Burns was the orchestrator). There is also a rare recording of the opening night performance, muddied and poor quality, but you’d never believe the show was a disaster from the way the audience responds, particularly to Routledge. (Her ovation for “Not on Your Nellie” went on so long, she had to plead with the audience to let the show continue).

And now, my new favorite flop is 40 years old. It’s not often revived; though there were recent attempts at revisions, including the version presented at Musicals in Mufti a few year’s back (featuring Rebecca Luker). If we’re lucky, Encores! will present this delightful obscurity as part of their series starring Victoria Clark as Alice.

Of course, an ideal season would also include the long forgotten A Time for Singing and Donnybrook! (How about it, Encores?)