My Year in Show Music

Old habits die hard. I haven’t written about theatre in years but I am still keeping track of what I listen to; a grasp at normalcy in abnormal times, perhaps. Every recording—which I listened to in its entirety; the only criterion—is linked to its own page on (a site I highly recommend for serious collectors of theatre music).

An asterisk indicates a first-time listen.

1/2 – The King and I [1977 Broadway Revival Cast Recording]
1/11 – Caroline, or Change [The New Broadway Cast Recording]
1/17 – The Card [Original London Cast Recording]*
1/18 – Charlie Girl [Original London Cast Recording]
1/19 – The Most Happy Fella [Complete Studio Cast Recording]
1/20 – I Can Get It For You Wholesale [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
1/24 – Linzi Hateley: For the First Time*
1/30 – Ragtime [Concept Cast Recording]
2/8 – Peter Pan [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
2/18 – Regina [1958 NYCO Cast Recording]
2/19 – Crazy For You [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
2/21 – Six [Studio Cast Recording]
2/23 – Brigadoon [2019 Vienna Cast Recording]*
2/24 – The Sound of Music [The New Broadway Cast Recording]
2/25 – Flying Over Sunset [Original Broadway Cast Recording]*
3/3 – West Side Story [2021 Motion Picture Soundtrack]*
3/8 – Hamilton [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
3/13 – Brigadoon [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
3/15 – No Strings [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
3/16 – Assassins [The 2022 Off-Broadway Cast Recording]*
3/17 – A Strange Loop [Original Cast Recording]*
3/19 – A Chorus Line [Original Spanish Cast Recording]*
3/20 – A Chorus Line [Original Spanish Cast Recording]
3/22 – The Sound of Music [1999 Australian Cast Recording]*
3/24 – The Sound of Music [Original Salzburg Cast Recording]*
3/28 – Camelot [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
4/1 – Ragtime [Original Broadway Cast Recording – LP Edition]
4/3 – The Sound of Music [1983 Australian Cast Recording – LP Edition]*
4/3 – A Family Affair [Original Broadway Cast Recording – LP Edition]
4/3 – Matilda [Original Broadway Cast Recording – LP Edition]
4/4 – Six [Studio Cast Recording – LP Edition]
4/4 – My Fair Lady [Original London Cast Recording – LP Edition]
4/5 – Christine Andreas: Piaf: No Regrets [LP Edition]
4/6 – The Color Purple [New Broadway Cast Recording – LP Edition]
4/8 – 42nd Street [First Complete Recording]*
4/9 – Sugar [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
4/18 – Thoroughly Modern Millie [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
4/18 – Marilyn Maye: Meet Marvelous Marilyn Maye [LP Edition]
4/24 – Funny Girl [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]
4/26 – A Strange Loop [Original Cast Recording]
5/2 – Caroline, or Change [The New Broadway Cast Recording]
5/6 – Six [Original Broadway Cast Recording]*
5/6 – Six [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
5/7 – Spring Awakening [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
5/8 – The Drifters Girl [Original London Cast Recording]*
5/8 – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
5/9 – Nine [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
5/14 – Carnival [Original Broadway Cast Recording – Deluxe Edition]
5/14 – No, No, Nanette [1971 Broadway Cast Recording]
5/16 – Into the Woods [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
5/16 – High Society [Original London Cast Recording]
5/24 – A Chorus Line [Original Spanish Cast Recording]
6/3 – Fanny Und Alexander [Original Cast Recording]*
6/12 – A Strange Loop [Original Broadway Cast Recording]*
6/15 – Matilda [Original Stratford Cast Recording]
6/19 – Stars in Your Eyes [Original Studio Cast Recording]*
6/21 – Irma La Douce [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
6/22 – Hair [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
6/23 – Mame [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
7/25 – The Baker’s Wife [Original Cast Recording]
7/26 – The Unsinkable Molly Brown [The New Off-Broadway Cast Recording]*
8/11 – Once Upon a Mattress [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
8/14 – Brigadoon [1991 Studio Cast Recording]
8/15 – Hairspray [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
8/19 – A Commercial Jingle for Regina Comet [Original Cast Recording]*
9/4 – The Secret Garden [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
9/12 – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
9/21 – Donnybrook! [Original Broadway Cast Recording – Deluxe Edition]
9/22 – Dreamgirls [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
9/23 – The Music Man [The 2022 Broadway Cast Recording]
9/23 – 1776 [The New Broadway Cast Recording]
9/30 – Into the Woods [2022 Broadway Cast Recording]*
9/30 – Into the Woods [2022 Broadway Cast Recording]
10/4 – Kismet [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
10/7 – Cats [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
10/11 – Anyone Can Whistle [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
10/12 – Mame [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
10/12 – Dear World [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
10/12 – Gypsy [Original London Cast Recording]
10/12 – Sweeney Todd [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
10/12 – Prettybelle [Studio Cast Recording]
10/12 – A Little Night Music [The New Broadway Cast Recording]
10/13 – Bedknobs and Broomsticks [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]*
10/13 – Beauty and the Beast [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]
10/13 – Mrs. Santa Claus [Television Cast Recording]
10/21 – Knoxville [World Premiere Cast Recording]*
10/23 – Pippin [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
10/24 – Fiddler on the Roof [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
10/28 – Company [Original Spanish Cast Recording]*
10/28 – Company [Original Spanish Cast Recording]
11/3 – Robert and Elizabeth [Original London Cast Recording]
11/4 – Barbra Streisand Live at the Bon Soir*
11/11 – December Songs [For Voice and Orchestra]*
11/11 – To Steve with Love: Liz Callaway Celebrates Sondheim*
11/17 – Little Me [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/21 – Funny Girl [New Broadway Cast Recording]*
11/29 – Matilda [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]*
12/8 – The Light in the Piazza [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
12/11 – The Girl Who Came to Supper [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
12/13 – Chess [Concept Cast Recording]
12/13 – Chess [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
12/17 – Cabaret [2021 London Cast Recording]*
12/24 – She Loves Me [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
12/26 – Bye Bye Birdie [Original Broadway Cast Recording]

My Year in Show Music

Old habits die hard. I haven’t written about theatre in years but I am still keeping track of what I listen to; a grasp at normalcy in abnormal times, perhaps. Every recording—which I listened to in its entirety; the only criterion—is linked to its own page on (a site I highly recommend for serious collectors of theatre music).

An asterisk indicates a recording I listened to for the first time.

1/9 – Kiss Me, Kate [The New Broadway Cast Recording]
1/26 – Big [Original Broadway Cast Recording]*
1/27 – The Pajama Game [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
1/28 – The Light in the Piazza [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
1/29 – Baby [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
1/31 – Les Miserables [10th Anniversary Concert Cast Recording]
2/3 – Gentlemen Prefer Blondes [Encores! Cast Recording]
2/5 – Chrysanthemum [Original London Cast Recording]
2/5 – Cyrano [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
2/5 – The Band’s Visit [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
2/7 – The Sound of Music [Original London Cast Recording]
2/11 – Saturday Night [Original Cast Recording]
2/21 – Carnival [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
2/22 – Chess [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
2/25 – Wonderful Town [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
2/25 – A Little Night Music [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
3/9 – Show Boat [1971 London Revival Cast Recording]
3/10 – Hello, Dolly! [1967 Broadway Cast Recording]
3/11 – Sondheim: A Musical Tribute [Concert Cast Recording]
3/19 – Merrily We Roll Along [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
3/21 – Funny Girl [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
3/29 – The King and I [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
3/29 – The King and I [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]
4/11 – The Grass Harp [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
4/13 – Carnival [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
4/14 – Gypsy [1989 Broadway Revival Cast Recording]
4/19 – The Producers [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
4/22 – My Fair Lady [Original London Cast Recording]
4/23 – Judy at Carnegie Hall
5/3 – The Most Happy Fella [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
5/5 – Cinderella [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
5/5 – The Mystery of Edwin Drood [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
5/6 – Six [Studio Cast Recording]
5/31 – Do I Hear a Waltz? [Pasadena Playhouse Cast Recording]
6/11 – The Light in the Piazza [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
6/16 – Dreamgirls [Concert Cast Recording]
6/17 – Guys and Dolls [The New Broadway Cast Recording]
6/23 – Li’l Abner [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
6/27 – Anything Goes [1988 Studio Cast Recording]*
7/1 – Very Good Eddie [Broadway Revival Cast Recording]*
7/26 – Sunset Boulevard [Kim Criswell EP]*
8/8 – Mame [London Studio Cast Recording]
8/9 – Sweet Charity [London Studio Cast Recording]*
8/10 – Sunday in the Park with George [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
8/11 – Funny Girl [2016 London Cast Recording]
8/18 – Applause [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
8/18 – A Little Night Music [Original London Cast Recording]
8/20 – Girl From the North Country [Original Broadway Cast Recording]*
8/25 – On the Level [Original London Cast Recording]
9/6 – Miss Liberty [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
9/6 – The Most Happy Fella [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
9/14 – Barbara Cook: It’s Better With a Band
9/19 – Six [Studio Cast Recording]
9/20 – Kismet [1964 Studio Cast Recording – Mantovani]
9/20 – Naughty Marietta [1981 Studio Cast Recording]
10/5 – Little Women [Original Television Cast Recording]*
10/9 – Caroline, or Change [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
10/11 – Diana [Original Broadway Cast Recording]*
10/14 – How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
10/28 – Caroline, or Change [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
10/30 – Tina [Original London Cast Recording]
11/1 – Half a Sixpence [London Studio Cast Recording]*
11/6 – Tina [Original Hamburg Cast Recording]*
11/7 – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat [1991 London Revival Cast Recording]*
11/14 – The Bridges of Madison County [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/16 – Merrily We Roll Along [Original Broadway Cast Recording [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/17 – Diana [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/18 – They’re Playing Our Song [Original London Cast Recording]*
11/24 – Cabaret [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/26 – West Side Story [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/26 – Gypsy [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/26 – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/27 – Anyone Can Whistle [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/27 – Do I Hear a Waltz? [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/27 – Company [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/27 – Follies [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/27 – A Little Night Music [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/27 – Pacific Overtures [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/27 – Sweeney Todd [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/27 – Merrily We Roll Along [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/28 – Sunday in the Park with George [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/28 – Into the Woods [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/28 – Assassins [Original Cast Recording]
11/28 – Passion [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
11/30 – Brigadoon [Encores! Cast Recording]
`12/1 – Candide [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
12/3 – Annie Live! [Television Cast Recording]*
12/5 – Barbara Cook Sings Mostly Sondheim
12/9 – Caroline, or Change [The New Broadway Cast Recording]
12/10 – Fiddler on the Roof [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack – 50th Anniversary Edition]
12/12 – Caroline, or Change [The New Broadway Cast Recording]
12/14 – Caroline, or Change [The New Broadway Cast Recording]
12/17 – Caroline, or Change [The New Broadway Cast Recording]
12/18 – Caroline, or Change [The New Broadway Cast Recording]
12/21 – Bye Bye Birdie [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
12/23 – Caroline, or Change [The New Broadway Cast Recording]
12/24 – She Loves Me [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
12/25 – Ballroom [Original Broadway Cast Recording]
12/31 – Mame [Original Broadway Cast Recording]

At Large Elsewhere: Stage-Rush TV Edition

In the last post, I mentioned toward the end that I made an appearance on Jesse North’s Stage-Rush TV (my 2nd!) co-hosting the 70th episode of his weekly web series about the goings-on in New York theatre, especially Broadway. This time around we talked about what shows I was looking forward to, as well as Kate Baldwin’s album, Sister Act and some of the Broadway grosses. Be sure to stick around to the very end.


“How to Succeed” on Broadway

The team behind the upcoming 50th anniversary revival of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying has just unveiled the show’s first TV commercial. The production will star Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame and John Larroquette, who’s been making me laugh since his four-time Emmy winning turn on Night Court. Further casting has yet to be announced.

I have to admit it, I just love this show. Period. It’s got a funny libretto; an incisive, episodic satire of mid 20th century big business. Frank Loesser’s score is a delight (his lyrics are especially sharp). I keep both Broadway cast albums on my ipod at all times. The original production was a huge success, running 1417 performances and winning the Best Musical Tony and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, ever rare for a musical. The show was directed by co-librettist Abe Burrows and choreographed by Bob Fosse. Robert Morse, headlining as window-washer turned executive J. Pierrepont Finch, won a Tony and later recreated his role in the enjoyable if less edgy 1967 film adaptation. Charles Nelson Reilly also went home with a Tony as Finch’s nemesis Bud Frump. Rudy Vallee was the boss, Ruth Kobart his stern yet operatic secretary. The 1995 revival starred Matthew Broderick, who also won a Tony, and Megan Mullaly, running 548 performances with voice over narration by Walter Cronkite. Both productions played at the Richard Rodgers (née 46th Street) Theatre.

A few years back, another revival happening within this relatively short time period might have seemed unthinkable, but 15 years seems like eons when compared with Gypsy, La Cage Aux Folles and Ragtime. I’m really hoping the show does exceedingly well, but I do wonder if the recent revival of Promises Promises might have a curbing effect on How to Succeed. Both shows, while vastly different in tone and style, have a many parallels about 1960s corporate ambition and gender roles in the workplace. There’s no question in my mind that H2$ is a far superior show, a tongue-in-cheek satire whose book remains quite funny. Promises, Promises doesn’t have as strong a score, in spite of its Bacharach-David hits and Neil Simon’s book has been much criticized this time around.

I compare the two shows for two reasons. First, they are landing on Broadway within a year of each other.  Second, both productions share similar producers and more importantly, the same director/choreographer. Comparisons will be inevitable, especially since Promises, Promises was moved from its specific setting of 1968 into 1962, which puts it within the era of How to Succeed, in terms of visual look and period context. The critical reception of Promises was about as exciting as a root canal. While negative reviews haven’t curbed the box appeal (thanks to stars Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth), it does make me a little nervous what will happen with H2$. (Word of advice to Ashford – trust the material, don’t interpolate and remain true to the show’s time period. It isn’t broke. Don’t fix it).

Radcliffe may be a little younger than the usual Finch, but I think he and Larroquette are excellent choices for their respective parts. I’ve enjoyed seeing and hearing Radcliffe talk about the desire to theatre, as well as his enthusiasm at seeing the revival of Sunday in the Park with George. It seems that unlike most child stars, he’s quite intelligent, well spoken and interested in challenging himself and seems en route to a long career on both stage and screen.

The show starts previews on February 27 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Opening night is set for March 27.


The Broadway Thriller

Does anyone remember the Broadway thriller? It was a popular genre around the middle of the 20th century, with entries that were both good and bad. Audiences would be thrust into a situation that was as terse and tense as the most popular Hitchcock film. One of the most popular was the British import Angel Street, which famously ran on Broadway for 1295 performances, about a woman in a fog-bound Victorian London being driven to madness in her own home. It’s best remembered from its Oscar winning adaptation Gaslight, which was also the play’s original title (and was the second major film adaptation in four years).


In 1966, Lee Remick starred in one of my favorites: Frederick Knott’s Wait Until Dark, about a blind woman who is terrorized by drug smugglers. She is unknowingly in possession of a doll that is filled with heroin and they torment her viciously. However, the woman uses her strengths and instincts to put up a valiant fight. In the Broadway production and in its subsequent film adaptation starring Audrey Hepburn, as the story progressed to its climax, the lights in the theatre were brought down to the lowest legal allowances, allowing the audience to further understand the protagonist’s plight. I was rewatching the film recently and there is one really, really BIG scare toward the end of the film. Even though I’ve seen it before, it still got me!


London is currently seeing a revival of Ira Levin’s Deathtrap about an author who is desperate for another hit and considers murdering another writer to steal his play. The original production was a Broadway blockbuster. The show ran for four years on Broadway, with featured star Marian Seldes appearing in every single performance. A 1982 film adaptation followed.This was slightly different as it mixed elements of dark comedy with the suspense and plot twists.


There have been others, of course. Kind Lady, Sleuth, Dial M for Murder and The Bad Seed are some others that have played on the audience’s fears. (On the other end of the spectrum there was Children! Children! starring Gwen Verdon in her only non-musical outing on Broadway. That one opened and closed the same night). But it seems that nowadays that there isn’t much place for suspense on Broadway. I’d like to think this isn’t the case, but have there been any successful plays in recent memory that have also been notable thrillers? A revival of Wait Until Dark bombed in 1998 due to the miscasting of Quentin Tarantino as the main villain. Angel Street was last seen on Broadway in a 1976 revival. But perhaps the London Deathtrap may transfer to NY? I personally wouldn’t mind having the bejesus scared out of me at a Broadway show. How about you?

Broadway Injuries

Broken bones on Broadway aren’t a new phenomenon. It’s not a pleasant thing by any means, but in live performance there is the potential for injuries and illness, one of the few unfortunate aspects of the experience. There are explicit union instructions and regulations in place to help protect actors. For instance, whenever stage combat is required – whether it’s blow by blow or a sword fight – actors are required to attend what is known as fight call. It takes place about an hour before the show and involves the actors in the scene reviewing the fight choreography in slow motion, then a second time in regular motion. When I was in college, there was a specific flight call before a dance event for a main dancer to test the harness which would be sending him soaring through the air as a part of the choreography.

It was revealed in Michael Riedel’s column on Friday that actor Kevin Aubin of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark broke both of his wrists at a recent event for ticket brokers and group sales representatives. The show’s technical display is among the most complicated and expensive in the history of live theatre. It makes for additional fodder in the press, which has had a field day because of the show’s troublesome gestation and expense. Everything about the show is under the microscope and The environment staging of the show, which required the gutting of the Foxwoods Theatre, has been promoted as one of the most dazzling technical displays of our time. Most shows in general involve a traditional proscenium staging. Director Julie Taymor and her team have created some eye-popping effects, with actors flying out from all areas of the theatre. Riedel takes his requisite glee at these troubles, but raises the legitimate question as to whether or not the safety of the audience has been taken into consideration as well.

While everything in plays and musicals is carefully planned and executed – particularly dances, stage combat and aerial maneuvers, sometimes things go wrong. There have been cases where actors have wandered too far downstage and fallen in the pit. When Lisa Kirk did it in 1947’s Allegro, she got up without missing a beat and received a big laugh. She almost lost her job recreating the moment at the next performance. At that same performance, one of the dancers from the show got his tap caught in the stage track, tearing the ligaments and tendons in his legs. He had to be carried into the wings screaming. When a dancer fell offstage in Anyone Can Whistle in 1964, the pit musician on whom he fell died. In Mary Martin’s autobiography, she talked about taking flight in Peter Pan and due to the rudimentary technology would find herself being flown into sets and walls. Barbara Cook decided not to come to Broadway in Carrie when the malfunctioning set almost decapitated her on opening night.

One of the great disappointments is arriving at the theatre to discover that the star will be out. Gwen Verdon, the Tony-winning above the title star of Redhead, was well aware of this. When she was forced to miss the August 1, 1959 performance due to a severe sprain, the star came to the theatre and made the understudy announcement herself: “I’m sorry for the accident, but at least this will give me my first chance to see the show. I hope you’ll stay and see it with me.” She then made her way to a seat on the aisle and sat with the audience for the evening. According to Peter Filichia’s cast album liner notes, “only a handful did.”

Most shows deal with injury on a regular basis, which is also why some of the bigger dance shows have the confetti of understudy inserts in the Playbills. Sprained ankles, tumbles and falls are a part of the dancer’s life, most vividly brought to life by the character Paul in A Chorus Line. There have been many occasions where stars have gone on in spite of their injury, the audience none the wiser. (Carol Channing once performed Hello, Dolly! on tour from a wheel chair following a foot injury). However, there are many instances where that’s just not possible. Karen Olivo was forced to withdraw early from West Side Story after breaking her ankle. Fela! was forced to cancel a performance last fall when there were too many injuries and the understudies weren’t ready to go on. More recently, an actor in the Donmar revival of Passion suffered an eye injury when a pistol containing blanks misfired during a performance.

The most recent incident that made major headlines involved actor Adrian Bailey while the veteran was appearing in The Little Mermaid. The Disney musical was choreographed on heelies and with an intricate design. While running through various scenes before the show, the actor fell through a trap door in the set which sent him falling forty feet to the stage. Mr. Bailey suffered two broken wrists, a broken foot, several broken ribs, a fractured sternum and also broke his back and a shattered pelvis. His medical injuries required extensive surgery and rehabilitation. A lawsuit against Disney was filed and is currently in litigation.

As for Spider-Man, this production is going to be unlike anything we’ve seen before. According to producer Michael Cohl, safety is a top priority. That said, from a physical element, everything that is done in the theatre will have to meet city and state regulations. While I know the intent is to wow the audience with its spectacle, I do hope they remember the safety of their actors, and in this case, the paying audience as well.

“She Loves Me”: An Appreciation

When people find out that I’m an avid theatergoer or that I know a lot about musicals, I get asked “So, what’s your favorite?” It’s not the easiest question to be asked, and the same goes for favorite book (East of Eden? To Kill a Mockingbird?) or movie (The Third Man? The Godfather?). I really don’t know and hate having to make a decision. I try whittling it down and leave myself several options as that remains more indicative of range, taste and interest. However, there are my “top three” that I use as a quick answer: The Light in the Piazza, She Loves Me and Sweeney Todd.

Piazza stems from an intensely personal experience with the show, which I saw 12 times in its original Broadway run. Sweeney Todd is one of the most brilliant and audacious ideas I’ve ever seen executed in a musical, and I got to see it on Broadway in its acclaimed 2005 revival. It’s a slightly different story with She Loves Me: I’ve never seen it live. I’ve watched the 1978 BBC-TV version and I own two versions of the libretto – the original 1963 text and 1993 revision. I have the four English language cast albums, the Viennese cast, two instrumentals plus a live recording of the 1977 Town Hall revival with Madeline Kahn and Barry Bostwick and the composer demo. A few weeks ago I picked up an original playbill at the Broadway Flea Market.

The musical, with a sublime score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick and a sharp, near-perfect libretto by Joe Masteroff, opened on Broadway in 1963. It was Harold Prince‘s first original directorial project. (He stepped into the troubled A Family Affair after the original director didn’t work out). Officially based on Miklos Laszlo‘s play Parfumerie, you might recognize the plot from the various films inspired by the same source: The Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Old Summertime and You’ve Got Mail. A guy and a girl fight and bicker every time they see each other (in all but You’ve Got Mail, they’re coworkers) and unbeknownst to them they are smitten pen pals who meet through a lonely-hearts ad.

For the musical, Barbara Cook and Daniel Massey were hired to play the at-odds lovers Amalia and Georg. Julie Andrews was originally sought, but due to some filming requirements she was unavailable. She told Prince that if he could wait, she’d do it, but he was adamant about getting the show up and moved on. Rounding out the cast were Nathaniel Frey (who was also part of Prince, Bock & Harnick’s Pulitzer and Tony-winning Fiorello! four years prior), Jack Cassidy, Barbara Baxley, Ludwig Donath and Ralph Williams. Carol Haney provided the musical staging.

The jewel box of a show opened to rave reviews at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre where it ran for 302 performances and folded at a loss, overshadowed by bigger musicals that year. It was nominated for five Tony Awards including Best Musical, but only took home one award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Cassidy, as the lothario). Its original London staging, which featured some changes for the British audiences, lasted 189 performances. Andrews was set to reclaim the role that was almost hers in a film adaptation opposite Dick Van Dyke. However, when film musicals started falling out of favor toward the end of the 1960s, those plans were scrapped.

In spite of its financial failure, the show remained a favorite of musical enthusiasts. The show was revived by Roundabout in 1993 in a highly acclaimed production starring Boyd Gaines (who won a Tony) and Judy Kuhn. The show was popular enough to warrant a commercial transfer, moving to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre for an extended run of 354 performances. However, it once again closed in the red. The Roundabout revival crossed the pond for its first London revival earning Ruthie Henshall an Olivier. The production ran a year, but it too lost money.

So the show doesn’t guarantee coin, but it is, in my estimation, one of the most perfectly constructed musicals ever written and is hugely popular with colleges and regional theatres. I am particularly taken with the characters and how real and three-dimensional they seem, especially George and Amalia. We have a glimpse into two musical theatre characters who aren’t the juvenile and ingenue singing stock platitudes about falling in love. Instead we see two real people, lonely yet lovable, singing of their insecurities and fears and the discovery of falling in love. This charm pervades the other characters; even the cad is somewhat lovable. Out of the numerous variations of Lazslo’s play, this is my favorite (though I enjoy the Lubitsch touch on The Shop Around the Corner).

I first discovered the score in high school, borrowing the original cast CD from the library. In an unusual move for a cast album, MGM Records gave the score a 2-LP set, allowing the entire score to be preserved. This original cast album is one of my all time favorites, with definitive performances and sumptuous original orchestrations by Don Walker, whose charts expertly evoke an Eastern European sound and style. The comic numbers are genuinely funny and honest and Amalia’s ballads are among the best musical theatre material ever written for a soprano. The OBCR is one of those albums I would take with me to that proverbial desert island; one of my holiday traditions is to play the cast album every Christmas Eve (which is the night of the show’s climax). It also preserves one of the most satisfying finales in musical theatre history.

The song that first stood out to me on that first listen turned out to be the most famous song from the score: “Ice Cream.” I’ve cited it before as an example of what I call “Musical Theatre Zen” but it bears repeating that it’s one of the loveliest theatre songs ever written. Amalia, thinking she was jilted by “Dear Friend” (who is naturally Georg, who helped ruin her evening by showing up as himself and antagonizing her), is home sick from work. George comes to apologize, get her to go to work and brings her a carton of vanilla ice cream to cheer her up. Renewed and refreshed, she sets about writing another letter, but is now distracted by this new admiration for her former enemy, culminating on a joyous mock cadenza with high B natural. It came full circle for me in 2003, when I sat third row center at Barbara Cook Sings Mostly Sondheim at the Paramount Center for the Performing Arts in Peekskill, NY. Cook, then 76, sang the song and stopped her show with a flawless interpretation – and in the original key too. (This song and “Tell Me I Look Nice” which was cut out of town made Sondheim’s list of songs he wished he had written).

I’d love to see a NY revival of the musical. Even though it was last seen on Broadway in 1994, I think audiences would once again welcome the show with open arms. A current Chicago production once again brought the piece raves. It would be nice to see this charming musical brought back to Broadway for another generation. Or just for me.

“The Scottsboro Boys”: A Story to Tell

This is hands down the best TV commercial for a Broadway show I’ve seen in quite a while. One of the topics Stage Rush’s Jesse North and I discussed after the first preview of The Scottsboro Boys (but not on-air) was the show’s marketability. With a tough storyline, hard-hitting concept and all around edginess, this isn’t your ordinary, everyday family/theme park musical. The show’s team has done exemplary work on this 30 second spot. Needless to say, one look at this commercial and I want to see it again. Also, the original off-Broadway cast recording was released by Jay Records this week and is a must-have.


“Broadway Musicals: The Biggest Hit & The Biggest Flop”

In Broadway Musicals: The Biggest Hit & The Biggest Flop of the Season, critic/columnist/author Peter Filichia took it upon himself to examine the Broadway musicals of the last half century, putting together his personal list for the biggest hit and flop of each year. Now, that’s not to say his list is a best and worst sort of deal; he’s more interested in which show was the biggest success or the biggest fall from grace.  He offers analysis of the shows, plus some unique perspectives on the material. On some of the biggest hits of all time, he offers some suggestions that might have made the show better. There are a couple of hits that he clearly has little love for, as well. With financial success as the most critical factor, it’s much easier to pinpoint the break-out hits of the season than failures. In dealing with the flops, he also takes into consideration critical response, award recognition, and most importantly, expectations.

From 1959-2009, he gives us glimpses not only into the good and bad, but also into the shifts in sensibilities and styles over the years. Also, Filichia spices up his conversation by following the traditional definition of a Broadway season June 1 to May 31 – not the Tony season, which means that some Best Musical winners end up in a face-off.

A couple quick examples: I found myself nodding in agreement with Peter’s assessment of 1776, for which he makes an incredible valid argument that it has the greatest libretto of all time (and gives his reasons why it trumps Gypsy in his estimation, too). On the other hand, I wasn’t as enthralled with 1969-70’s greatest hit, Applause, which he listed certain attributes to defend it in comparison to the film. (Not saying he prefers the show, but just pointing out certain strengths). But I think we can both agree it’s not an especially revivable property (After that Encores! concert, I wouldn’t mind if I never saw it again). It’s his opinion, for sure, but his statements are valid and he is able to back them all up.

He goes into the some greater detail with the flops, running the gamut from The Pink Jungle, a camp mess starring Ginger Rogers and Agnes Moorehead that folded out of town to 9 to 5. Frankly, it is usually more interesting reading how it all went wrong than right, which is part of the appeal for flop enthusiasts like myself. There are even a couple of shows listed here that I knew nothing about, particularly one that closed before rehearsals even started. More shows fail than succeed, and therefore there are some years where he weighs several different options before settling on his final choice. There are also some interesting correlations as creative staffs find themselves with the biggest hit one season..then the biggest failure some time later. (There are also three musical sequels on the list). Stephen Sondheim isn’t represented in the biggest hits column, but has three shows in the failure column. As a consolation, Peter allows the composer/lyricist the final word. And, yes, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue makes the cut, and not without the requisite praise for Patricia Routledge’s “Duet for One.”

The book makes for a rather quick, engaging read, each show receives similar treatment to the flops in Ken Mandelbaum’s Not Since Carrie, a compilation of essays. It’s well-researched, but I know for fact that Peter has seen many of the shows he talks about himself. His recall is impressive and can pretty much remember every single show he has seen. There are a couple of small errors here and there but nothing extraordinary (if Applause Books wants to hire me to proofread, I’m available). If you read the book, I also encourage you dropping Peter an email; not only is he incredibly gracious but he gladly welcomes the conversation (We’ve been in contact for over eight years now, starting when I was a freshman in college!).

And finally, whether or not he chose Prettybelle or Lolita My Love as the biggest flop of 1970-71, well, I don’t want to spoil everything…