To Revive, or Not to Revive

South Pacific opened on Broadway in 1949, swept the theatre world by storm winning every award in sight (including the Pulitzer) and when it closed in 1954 wasn’t seen in an official Broadway revival until this year, where it rinsed and repeated the original, currently remaining one of the hottest tickets in town in spite of the other shows dropping like flies around town. This leads me to think on this boring night about the olderTony-winning Best Musicals that have yet to receive a revival on the Great White Way. (For intense purposes, I’ve left out those shows from Evita onward)

Applause. It received a failed revisal at the PaperMill Playhouse in 1996. It was also presented in its original form at Encores! which, in spite of a game if ailing Christine Ebersole, only highlighted the many flaws in the project. It’s presentation at Encores! was exactly the sort of return the show can muster – a full scale revival seems highly unlikely.

Bye Bye Birdie. Instead of a revival, Broadway was treated to the four performance bomb Bring Back Birdie in 1981, which brought back Chita Rivera (which proved that she was an ultimate pro who could still deliver a superlative star turn regardless of the vehicle) and fast-forwarded the story of Albert and Rosie by twenty years, with them approaching middle age and dealing with their teenage children. The original musical is a period satire of the national craze over Elvis Presley’s drafting. The score, by Strouse and Adams, is a mix of superlative character numbers and spot-on parodies of period rock and roll. The show has been seen in every high school in the country, was presented at Encores in 2004 and even had a television remake in the mid-90s. But no Rialto berth… hmm. There lies only one problem that I can think of: who could possibly fill Chita Rivera’s admittedly daunting shoes?

Fiorello! This charming biomusical about NY’s favorite Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia was a big success in 1959, tying for the Best Musical Tony with The Sound of Music and picking up a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a rarity for a musical. The score was Bock and Harnick’s second Broadway entry after The Body Beautiful and put them on the map as a composing team of deft skill, craftmanship and an extraordinary ability to integrate song and scene and character (Fiddler on the Roof and especially She Loves Me further illustrate this point). This was hte first Encores! concert back in 1994, and would seem unlikely for a full-scale commercial revival; however it might prove a great entry from Roundabout (so long as they don’t reduce the orchestra or overhaul the book).

Hallelujah, Baby! Leslie Uggams starred in this concept musical about 200 years of African American history in the 1967. This Best Musical winner holds the distinction of being the show that got Jule Styne is one and only Tony award. Comden and Green did the lyrics; Arthur Laurents wrote the book and directed. The show is the second shortest running Best Musical (the winner of that dubious honor is Sondheim’s Passion), and most of the issues with the show have to do with its libretto (a time honored complaint). However it could soar with some considerable work from David Ives at Encores! with Anika Noni Rose.

A Little Night Music. One of the most enchanting Sondheim musicals, it is inexplicably the only one of his ground-breaking 70s works to not have a full-scale Broadway revival. Even Roundabout has plans to bring Merrily We Roll Along back within the next season or two. There is a London revival that is transferring to the West End for an extended run, but perhaps (and this is my hope) New York producers are waiting for the right time, the right star and all other stars to align for this show to come back. For years, there was talk of Glenn Close starring in a revival, though from what I understand that is no longer an option.

Redhead. Okay, this is one of the more obscure Best Musical winners. Many haven’t heard of it, but it was a decent-sized hit winning 8 Tonys in 1959, including two for stars Gwen Verdon and Richard Kiley. The musical, which was also Bob Fosse’s Broadway directorial debut, is a murder mystery musical about a Jack-the-Ripper type stalking ladies in and around the London waxworks museum. Even from the liner notes it’s apparent that the plot is a bit convoluted and the book not exactly up to par. Even if the book isn’t up to snuff, the score is pleasant if not top tier. This show is the definition of why we have the Encores! series. Perhaps one of these days, if they can find the right personality (Mara Davi? Charlotte d’Amboise? The ‘It’ Girl?), we can see this at the City Center.

Two Gentlemen of Verona. Probably better known as the show that won Best Musical over Follies, one of those decisions that still incites passionate reactions in the most emblazoned Follies enthusiasts. The show, a rock opera adaptation of the Shakespeare play, was a transfer from the Delacorte, written by Galt McDermott. It had a hit summer revival a couple years ago in the Park, but it doesn’t seem likely for a Broadway return. Perhaps the outdoor environment suits it best?

The Definitive Eve…

Alright, so Applause isn’t exactly brilliance. In fact, considering the rather leaden Encores! concert from last season, it’s far from it. However, what is brilliance is Penny Fuller’s interpretation of the role of Eve. In fact, it is the only thing that keeps the telemovie version of the musical afloat. (From what I’ve been told, Tony winner Lauren Bacall was worlds better live in performance than she is here). For as much as I enjoy the film, I feel after having seen the Eves of Anne Baxter, Penny Fuller and Little Evie – er Erin Davie… that Fuller best encapsulates the character. She only gets to sing two numbers, including this ferociously explosive ironic reprise of “But Alive” toward the end of the second act that brought down the house (preceding the dead on arrival “Something Greater” for Lauren Bacall to all but resign herself to June Cleaver’s kitchen). I have to admit, it’s not a strong song as written but she sure as hell sells it.

Penny still looks fantastic and is giving one of the most honest performances on a NY stage right now in Dividing the Estate (look for more on that in the near future). She also gets to sing a little but, sounding exactly as she did almost forty years ago which prompts the question: why hasn’t she been in any musicals lately?

NCassidine Takes on "Applause"

NCassadine has provided ATC with yet another brilliant parody; this time taking on Applause at Encores! I hope he doesn’t mind my reposting it here. It’s pretty brilliant and hilarious.

This is dusty and corny and dated
tired, forlorny and yes, overrated
Let’s revive!
Let’s revive!
Let’s revive!
This is rotten, forgotten, affected,
All of the numbers are over directed
Let’s revive!
Let’s revive!
Let’s revive!

I wish I were home in Jersey
Chicken soup and cherry Halls ™
Maybe you can’t hear the lyrics
God I hope the curtain falls!

And this is silly and dripping with drama

I can be Margo if Patti is Mama

Not an ounce of lust
Showing off the rust
Knowing that we must revive!

(generic 70s music)
CHRISTINE EBERSOLE shows up at the Monster.


Fasten your seatbelts – it’s gonna be a bumpy night!


Put down your torches, now that we’ve sung (eh, eh, eh, eh, eh) the famous line!
Put down your torches, follow the weird melodic line
Ensemble numbers, they could sure use a redesign.
Make the noise,
Just get past the bumpy line.

What stops a show from workin’ out?
The flaws, the flaws.
Who has the plot? What’ve you got
but major flaws?
You’re rooting for Eve
then Bonnie’s the star
You never believe
what you’re watching
And now you’re plum distracted by
those glaring flaws
Casting’s a mess, book is a guess
but we refuse to distress cause
the words are sublime
now here comes the rhyme
The flaws! The flaws! The flaws!

The lights dim, and CHRISTINE EBERSOLE takes center stage.


Welcome to the Encores!
to the clunkers, to the flops
where jokes are old and rather stale
where characters are hard to nail
and subtetly is all for naught
Now you’ve entered City Center
What an eyesore, it’s true
Legroom’s unheard of and
renovation’s overdue
But welcome, Erin Davie
past the garden we called grey
You’re on your path to bigger parts
Just learn to smile and win their hearts
You’ll be miscast but you’ll hit the charts
from New York to Santa Fe
So,welcome to the theatre
My dear, you’re on display!

Rifke! …and other anecdotes from my trip to "Applause"

I’ve had a taste of, the sound that says love… ApplauseHm. Roxie and I attended the final performance of the Encores! presentation of this 1970 Best Musical winner. It was a great afternoon. I watched the impressive natural wonder of a arctic cold front push across the Hudson River while I waited for the train. Wandered around the Times Square area with Roxeleh before the show. Had a most amusing dinner at a diner down the street from the City Center. The title of this post comes from a rather absurd moment where this woman sat next to us while we were eating. First off, as she was being handed the menu she asked the waitress what I was eating as if I wasn’t even there. Her voice was also at a volume where her entire conversation was privvy to the both of us. And let me just say hilarity ensued. The woman was in her sixties and sounded like Mae Questal with a post-nasal drip. Roxie and I burst into a quiet frenzies of hysterical laughter when the woman started talking about her Yiddish class to a random friend and went on about her classmate Rifke. “Oh my goodness, Rifke put down she was 24! Can you believe it?! Oh that Rifke!” Now those of you who are familiar with Fiddler on the Roof know that Rifke is the first recipient of “The Rumor.” But the combination of the elements led Roxie and I into hysterical fits of laughter. You had to be there, but it could possibly rival seeing Ms. Ebersole tear up the stage as the highlight of the day.

Anyway. Applause. You can see my previous post back in October about the guilty pleasure status of this score. Well. It was certainly a fun time. The show is rather poor in practically every way. Yes, I’m well aware that 20th Century Fox wouldn’t allow the musical theatre team to use any of the screenplay; yes, I’m aware that the 1970s was a different era, and contemporizing was the rage. But did no one stop to think that what they were writing was pretty much sub-par?


Christine Ebersole. Yes, everything about her is true. She is a musical theatre diva with endless energy, voice, charisma, beauty and presence. Probably a whole slew of other things wondrous as well. Margo has never been more attractive and so relatable as she was last evening. For the first time, I felt “Hurry Back” worked. In the original production, it was performed as a part voice-over (what?!) and then Bacall, in her basement keys took over live. It just felt like dead weight that didn’t go anywhere. Ebersole brought it to life with a great deal of heart and some delightfully jazz vocals. Fortunately for the comfort of all in the house, the keys for Margo were brought up 4ths and 5th, allowing Ebersole her comfort belt and tones, which sold every number; especially her powerhouse rendition of the second-rate “Welcome to the Theatre” (if the first half of the lyrics were as good as the second half, I’d consider a change). And especially for someone who missed a great deal of the rehearsal time due to influenza, she scored big time and unlike Stokes in Kismet, I was able to forgive her reliance on the prompt book.
Mario Cantone. Playing the role of the sassy gay sidekick to the diva usually lends itself to caricature; but Cantone played Duane, Margo’s dresser as a friend and confidante who also just happened to be a very funny individual. Cantone’s exercise in restraint and nuance was much appreciated by those in attendance. You knew he cared for and protected Margo; and it showed with a very warm relationship between the two characters.
– The ensemble. They danced it up; especially the boys in “But Alive” who managed to send up the camp while delivering it. (Here’s the clip from the 1973 telecast with Bacall. Outrageous. They brought down the house with the title song. They even managed to work with the dreck of “She’s No Longer a Gypsy,” the bizarre “Fasten Your Seatbelts,” and “Backstage Babble.”
Kate Burton. Who can do so much with so little. What a treat. And what a waste of a role. This woman deserves to be doing anything from Phyllis in Follies to Vera in Mame.
Michael Park and Tom Hewitt. In choice supporting roles as lover and producer of the star; they take a necessary backseat to the Margo-Eve story.
– The first act. It plays much smoother. What is bad, is at least enjoyable camp and therefore more amusing to watch and hear.
– The gentleman behind us who was so excited to see Christine Ebersole we thought he was going to have a diva fit. It was priceless. Especially Roxie’s enjoyment of the entire proceeding.
– The orchestra. They sounded phenomenal. Great sound, great musical direction and a great complement to the singers.

The In-Between:

Erin Davie. A fresh-faced delight from Grey Gardens; her best scenes were opposite Ebersole. However, I don’t think she was well-directed. She was too “Little Evie” for my liking. Noah was incredibly accurate in describing her “One Hallowe’en” as “Daddy’s Girl.”
Chip Zien. He’s rather annoying. But he wasn’t terrible.
– The midsection of the title song. It was cute, but it got cloying. They removed the original mid-section of the number with a send-up of various hit musicals by replacing lines with “applause.” Here, they did an Encores! best-of run-down, setting up a small gold proscenium and people performing snippets from a slew of musicals that have been done in recent years. A few of them were amusing, but come on. Also, he glaring anachronism of using “All That Jazz” and “Beautiful Girls” in a song that takes place in early ’71 was rather irritating. (Granted Follies was a few months away, but it’s highly doubtful this chorus boy would have been singing “Beautiful Girls” at this point). The original was also quite famous for its Oh, Calcutta! moment where the boys flashed their asses to the audience; something that was also telecast on the Tony’s in 1970 ON CBS!!!! (I’m surprised they got away with it).


– The score. I’m sorry Sarah, in spite of occasionally amusing campy numbers, and one really good song (the title), this is the worst score of a Best Musical winner. Strouse and Adams have run the gamut – Bye Bye Birdie to Bring Back Birdie should say it all. The second act is particularly hideous (“One of a Kind” takes it cue from a coffee tagline; then crams too many words into too short a space and just kinda sits there awkwardly).
– The book. Jesus Christ. One of the greatest films ever. A pretty middling book. It lacks bite. It lacks character development; And it lacks a satisfying ending. In fact, the ending was a complete rushjob. Comden and Green have delivered class and wit in many of their shows; in spite of a few great one liners, they were not the people for this job. Certain characters (Karen, Buzz, etc) just lose so much in this translation.
– The second act. There is little to salvage even for a camp factor. And who the hell thought “Truman Capote’s balls” was a good idea for a lyric?
– The ending. A combination of the two previous entries. Not only was it rushed, it was unsatisfactory. All of a sudden everything was wrapped up; Eve was basically a kept woman by her producer and Margo decides to give up the theatre for marital bliss. WHAT? Well, at least that’s what came about from the terrible eleven o’clock number “Something Greater.” The hook: “There’s something greater.” I’m still not sure if it was intentional, but suddenly it feels as though the actress playing Margo is commenting on the song she’s singing… When you get the revelation that Margo wants to “be what to her man what a woman should be is something greater and finally that’s for me.” Horrible. When Encores! did Fiorello! in its first season, they revised the creaky “strikes me” line from “The Very Next Man.” Besides, someone as interesting and in love with theatre like Margo couldn’t possibly give up one for the other; but try to find a balance between the two. It’s not Bill would ever give up his directing career for her, so why would she not be the diva to her adoring public? Also, we lose the book-end effect of the flashback, where we come back to the awards and everyone gets in their parting shots (Bette Davis has what I think is the greatest exit line on film) and also the incredibly memorable final scene of poetic justice.
– Direction. I don’t think Kathleen Marshall showed up.
– Playbills. How could the City Center run out of Playbills for a 5 performance run? Most of the gallery received photocopied programs that you might get at an elementary school production. Fortunately Roxie spotted some while we were making a brief trip to the rear mezz to see Sarah and Kari. Though it felt like we were going to have to ward off the angry mob when we got back up after intermission.

Imagine if:

Arthur Laurents wrote the book, with Jule Styne and Bob Merrill providing the score. Perhaps Angela Lansbury was Margo Channing; we can keep Penny Fuller, who may be the definitive Eve; watch her on the telecast and prepare to be floored. She even, after the flashbacks, makes early Eve likable. Just throwing that out there….

Overheard while waiting for the train…. Three actors talking in Grand Central Station… “Oh my goodness, we just came from the final dress of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It was embarassing. We couldn’t even stay for the third act.” Oh dear. Well, I guess I’ll find out for myself on March 12.

Upcoming Excursions

Today was an eventful day. I worked for 8 1/2 hours; drank a lot of green tea and bought a laser printer (thank God for 50% sales), 1500 pages of blank paper, binders and sheet protectors for my latest project; organizing my vocal scores. My first effort was for the score of 1600 Pennylvania Avenue (from the Philadelphia tryout). Now all I need is a piano… The much-loved (by me) “Duet for One” is a whopping 26 pages long. The Bernstein estate will not permit the original Broadway version of the show to be presented; the Cantata is a concertized revisal which eliminates a great deal of the book with some revision among the musical numbers, dropping the original’s “Rehearse” and reinstating the endless “Monroviad.” (Bernstein was so disappointed with the show as it played in NY in 1976, he refused to allow the cast album to be recorded, can you believe that? ARGGH!). Speaking of which, the Collegiate Chorale is giving the Cantata its New York premiere on March 31 at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center (what a curious name for a venue). I really, really want to go. Baritone Dwayne Croft and soprano Emily Pulley will be singing the roles of the President and First Lady. Anyone else interested? The top tickets are $85, but I plan on aiming a bit lower ($65, 55, 45, 35, 20).

Broadway-wise: I’ve got my season ticket to The 39 Steps on February 24th. I will not be lingering in the city that night, since it’s supposed to be Oscar night (oh please, God). Also, I will be attending the March 12th matinee of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Broadhurst. It’s going to be exciting as it will mark the first time I’ve seen James Earl Jones or Phylicia Rashad live in performance. I’m seeing Sunday again as a subscriber on March 9th. But first? Applause this Sunday at the City Center. Hearing how the flu has caused her to miss rehearsal and to lose her singing voice, I hope Christine Ebersole’s health will be much improved by then. This, among all the other festivities is going to make for one hell of an exciting spring season of New York theatre.

PS – My script of August: Osage County arrived in the mail today (along with Auntie Mame, Mister Roberts and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?). Huzzah!

The guilty pleasures of 1970

Katharine Hepburn in Coco. It’s not an exceptional musical, but it features an amusing score (Andre Previn & Alan Jay Lerner did the honors). Hepburn is, well, I don’t have to tell you how unqualified she was to headline a musical… but there is something about her star quality and the fun in Previn’s score that just makes for an entertaining listen. The book by Lerner is rather irritating, with all the filmed sequences that presented a flashback into Coco’s youth. Then again, when one thinks of Chanel, one would hardly think of Kate. Legendary is the Tony performance which, tasteless laugh track aside, presents a 15 minute sequence from the show’s finale, including one of the legendary fashion promenades staged by Michael Bennett. It remains the longest performance piece in Tony history. Unfortunately, the recording quality of the cast album is as incredibly poor; even in a CD transfer it doesn’t sound like a 1970 stereo effort, but closer to the primitive 40s mono recordings. Perhaps it could use a remaster, but then again, only the curios and the true fans of those involved would be interested. (For comparison’s sake, Rex Harrison sounds like Venetian glass. Hepburn sounds like she swallowed some…) But I can’t not listen, not enjoy the personality and presence of such a star taking on such a daunting task. Critical misgivings not withstanding, audiences came out in droves and the show shuttered two months after she left, though the more character appropriate Danielle Darrieux had taken over in the title role. David Holliday is in fine voice (check out the OLC of Sail Away for more of that glorious tenor); Gale Dixon is a pallid ingenue whose presence, voice and acting ability are so lacking you wonder why she was cast in the first place and secondly, you wonder why Coco would become so invested in her life. Rene Auberjonois won a Tony as the campy rival (with the over-the-top exercise in schadenfreude, “Fiasco” as well as stereotypical scenery-chomping) and George Rose and Jon Cypher also offered support. Kate was fearless and one of a kind, regardless of the medium. I find it endlessly amusing how the Tony race was between her and her non-singing friend Lauren Bacall who was croaking her way (with maybe a slightly better idea of pitch) through the campier mediocrity Applause. (Third nominee Dilys Watling from the four performance debacle Georgy stood absolutely no chance).

Which brings me to my next guilty pleasure: the TV telecast of Applause with Lauren Bacall. The musical, an adaptation of the film All About Eve (and the original story “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr) opened in NY in 1970, ran for 895 performances and won a slew of Tony’s in a considerably weak year. The show shortly thereafter made its way to London with Bacall and original NY Eve Penny Fuller, with Larry Hagman (who is pretty good) in the role originated by Len Cariou. It was this production that was filmed (on a soundstage) in an abridged form for telecast in 1973. Now the score to Applause has two kinds of numbers the brilliantly awful and the awfully brilliant, more of the former than latter, truth be told – “One Halloween,” the pastiche “Who’s That Girl?” and the title song are the winners (Strouse and Adams have done worse… Bring Back Birdie anyone?) Anyway, from an opening voice over, Bacall gives her all in one of the worst performances of a musical I’ve ever seen. The audience is immediately subjected to the revolutionary scene (at the time) where Margo Channing skips the opening night party to go to a gay bar. Segueing into her first character song, it quickly becomes one of the unintentionally funny moments ever created for a musical. First of all, the caricatures abound from wall to wall. Then to make matters worse, Bacall cannot dance to save her life and it shows. She gets tossed in the air by a large group of screaming queens extolling “Margo!” repeatedly with all their heart. Her performance stays at that high level and is a marvel for sheer presence, if little else. (I would have loved to have seen how Broadway replacement, Anne Baxter, fared in the role.)

Penny Fuller; however, delivers a nuanced and compelling portrait of the conniving Eve Harrington. Her musical selections are few and far between, but when she sings, you pay attention. Most notably, the ferocious explosion that is “One Hallowe’en” late in the second act. Applause may be the worst score of a Best Musical Tony winner, but that doesn’t stop it from being fun (if not always for the right reasons). There are clips on youtube and I believe the tape is in archives somewhere, should your curiosity bring you to want to see it. You’ll laugh a lot, I promise. And marvel at Ms. Penny Fuller. However, for the real thing, I refer you to the brilliant and highly rewatchable original film, whose dialogue is as sharp and compelling as ever, especially with its terse deliveries by Bette Davis, Baxter, Celeste Holm and George Sanders, not to mention the always-reliable Thelma Ritter. One of the largest problems of the stage musical is the loss of the latter two characters; the sardonic columnist Addison de Witt was replaced by the less interesting Howard Benedict, a producer with sights on Eve. Also in a ploy to modernize the story, the dresser Birdie became the dresser Duane, who memorably mentioned having a date as an excuse for not clubbing with Margo. Bacall shocked the blue-hairs in the audience with the deathless “Bring him along!”

So I enjoy them both in spite of myself. Sue me.