I first heard of Man with a Load of Mischief a couple years ago while reading a discussion on essential cast albums not available on CD. The small off-Broadway musical, which had been a hit in 1966, starred two favorites: Reid Shelton, the sonorous baritone known mostly as the original Daddy Warbucks in Annie and the lovely Virginia Vestoff (Abigail Adams in the original Broadway company and film adaptation of 1776). I set off on the task of finding a copy of the not-so-easy-to-find album and when I did, I found myself quite enchanted.
Man with a Load of Mischief is a chamber musical based on a play by Ashley Dukes with a book by Ben Tarver, and a score by Tarver and John Clifton. It opened off-Broadway at the Jan Hus Playhouse in late 1966 to great notices and proved to be something of a sleeper hit that season, running for 241 performances. Set at an English countryside inn in the early 19th century, as an accident between two coaches brings four strangers together for the night. The innkeeper and his wife are of the older, doddering sort who wish to play matchmaker, thinking the Lady of one coach and the Lord of the other would be well suited for each other. However, she longs to be away from the noble lifestyle, and he is interested in currying favor. The saucy maid and a mysterious valet complicate matters further. The score brims with wit and charm and after the first time I listened to the album, I listened to it twice more.
The jaunty melodies are tuneful and delightful, with a small but sharp orchestration reflecting the early period setting of the piece. The lyrics, too, are also worthy of note, both clever and earnest. There are several songs I enjoy, notably the frolicsome Maid’s “Once You’ve Had a Little Taste,” but I was not prepared for the drop dead gorgeous “Come to the Masquerade” sung by Shelton toward the end of the first act. I was floored, and have found myself listening to that song and its reprise on repeat.
The show was recorded by Kapp Records, but with time it seemed that the show slipped from the radar. The musical has not been forgotten and there are ardent fans of Mischief. The show was presented by Musicals in Mufti in 2003 with Diane Sutherland as the Lady. Ms. Sutherland appeared on the subsequent studio album, but I confess the recording is marred by the use of a synthesizer. While it is more complete, it ultimately lacks the charm and voices of the original.
Just a couple months ago, while browsing the Drama Book Shop with SarahB, I found a copy of the vocal score. I hadn’t known that the writers had only recently published the score for the very first time. I was uber-excited to see it there, because it’s another step for the work to be performed and revived. (Enough cannot be said for what the exposure a cast album and a readily available libretto/score can do for a lesser known title).
Well, Clifton and Tarver have taken it upon themselves to try and bring the show back to New York. In order to get a jump start, they have put together a movement on Kickstarter to raise funds for a backer’s presentation. Any contribution is welcome, but I’d like to point out to musical theatre enthusiasts, for $25, you can get a specially remastered copy of that prized 1966 cast album. There are other enticing items for those who are able to contribute more (including tickets to the backer’s audition, autographed rarities and other gems.
Their goal is $30,500 by January 6. Mounting anything in NY, from a musical to a horse, is not cheap and money is needed to pay those who would be working behind the scenes, as well as the space necessary for rehearsals and presentations. As of right now, they have reached $29,422. Almost 96% of the goal. Not bad for a little show that could, eh? I have never considered myself a backer of anything, but I couldn’t resist the chance to help this small show, one that I enjoy so much, make its way back to the stage so I can have an opportunity to see it. And so I can get a remastered copy of the cast album.