"They’re down on steel and carbon and high on UFOs…"

To be honest, I didn’t think anyone would be interested in reviving How Now Dow Jones, but much to my surprise, I received a press release regarding the revised version being presented at the Fringe Festival. Then Sarah asked if I’d like to go and I said yes. The show has been rarely performed since the late 60s, so there has been little opportunity (aside from a 2002 Mufti concert) to see it.

While hardly a bomb like Here’s Where I Belong, the show is an established failure with a notoriously poor libretto done in by one of the flimsiest plots since the Princess musicals. Kate, the Dow Jones girl (who announces the progress on the stock exchange on the hour) is engaged to a man who won’t marry her until the DJIA hits 1,000 (oh, those were the days, huh?). When the girl has a one night stand with our hero, a suicidal failure named Charlie who finds his greatest success selling stocks to widows and orphans, she finds herself pregnant. In a desperate ploy to get married to avoid the scandal (after all, the musical opened in 1967), she announces the Dow has hit the millenium mark.

I know. The plot is absolutely preposterous. And believe me, Max Shulman’s original book didn’t go unscathed when the show opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in 1967. In fact the show was troubled from the start. The show went out on the road and it was just not working. Choreographer Gillian Lynne found herself out in the cold while Michael Bennett on his ascent to auteurism came in to fix the show. Madeline Kahn had a featured role that was written out in Boston. (Kahn would find her character written out of Promises, Promises only a year later). Tommy Tune (who was in attendance at the performance I attended) would join the cast.

The show ran 220 performances in NY, a financial and artistic failure. However, it had the good fortune to open in a dreary season and was nominated for a slew of Tonys, including Best Musical. The show would win one, and that was Best Featured Actor for Hiram Sherman (as Wingate). The song “Step to the Rear” would continue to have a life outside of the show, but other than that it was basically long forgotten.

Director Ben West has streamlined a good chunk of the libretto, cutting dialogue, characters and numbers bringing the originally 2 1/2 hour, two act musical comedy to a brisk intermissionless 80 minutes. The cast has gone from 40 to 8, and there were several songs restored, including the gorgeous “Where You Are” which was dropped in Boston. The staging and production values are simple, allowing us to look deeply into the text to see where it succeeds, and inevitably where it fails.

The show can never really work, thanks to Shulman. In spite of the flaws and some uneven casting, the result is rather entertaining. Mr. West makes a gallant effort and offers a rather entertaining way to spend an hour and a half. Much as the case with the underrated revival of Old Acquaintance, SarahB and I found ourselves quite amused, and enjoying ourselves immensely. The jokes and references are archaic and dated, the characters little more than caricatures, but there was a feeling of familiarity – almost as if watching one of those 60s sitcoms on TVLand. (Some might argue that it’s as relevant as ever given our financial chaos – not really. But I also don’t buy that argument for Finian’s Rainbow either).

Where How Now Dow Jones does not fail is in its score. The music of Elmer Bernstein is entertaining; however, it is Carolyn Leigh’s lyrics that standout above all else. Witty, intelligent and clever, Leigh creates a level of satire and sophistication that is lacking in every other department of the musical. The opening number “ABC” has fast become one of the most listened to songs on my iPod. The showstopping “Step to the Rear” has been moved from the first act to the finale, and is a fun way to send the crowd out into the streets (even if I missed the matchmaking Jewish widows leading the parade).

Two names I want you to remember: Colin Hanlon and Cristen Paige. Mr. Hanlon, late of Rent and I Love You Because, is Charlie and plays him with considerable charm, affable presence and a mega-watt smile that is poised for stardom. Ms. Paige, who has been seen in The Visit and the national tour of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, is lovely, sweet and utterly captivating as Kate, the lovelorn heroine. Paige also gets the bulk of the show’s ballads whose lyrics give us a greater glimpse into the character than any single line of dialogue.

The rest of the company was amiable enough, but none shone as bright as the two stars. The one weak note in the casting was Cori Silberman as Cynthia, a role originated by Brenda Vaccaro. Cynthia is Kate’s best friend and sidekick (though Vaccaro got nominated for a Leading Actress Tony and her costar Marlyn Mason did not) and the Dow Jones tour guide. She’s a lovably brash New York girl in search of Mr. Right (in this case, she’s looking to become a kept woman). Silberman appeared mannered, amateurish and out of her element, failing to score until “He’s Here” toward the end of the show.

Credited in the playbill is UnsungMusicalsCo, which is a non-profit production company “dedicated to the preservation of musical theatre through the presentation of infrequently performed works.” Director Ben West is the company’s Artistic Director and they are currently at work on revising Platinum, Lend an Ear and Rock ‘N Roll! The First 5,000 Years. I find the idea of the group rather exciting, as they look at the musicals anew and make an effort to fix the shows and offer musical theatre aficionados not unlike myself the opportunity to see something like How Now Dow Jones onstage. My question for Mr. West: can we expect Lolita, My Love or Prettybelle?

Step to the Rear: "How Now, Dow Jones" receives Fringe revival

With all the Fringe shows being presented, this one caught my eye as I consider Ken Mandelbaum’s Not Since Carrie a personal Bible. The release tells you all you need to know about the show, so I won’t go into detail. While the original production failed after six months, one song in particular managed to find a life of its own: the act one production number “Step to the Rear.” The song has been used in political rallies, Dodge car commercials and has even been adapted into the University of South Carolina Fight song (“The Fighting Gamecocks Lead the Way” – I kid you not). Here is star Tony Roberts (then still just Anthony) leading the cast in the song on the 1968 Tony Awards. Anyway, here is the press information on the revisal of this long neglected musical:

The new developmental production of How Now, Dow Jones (www.HowNowDowJones.com) starring Cristen Paige (Spelling Bee, The Visit, Cry-Baby), Colin Hanlon (Rent, I Love You Because) and Fred Berman (The Normal Heart, Room Service) will begin performances this Saturday at the Minetta Lane Theatre (18 Minetta Lane) as part of the 2009 New York International Fringe Festival. This new production will also restore an Elmer Bernstein-Carolyn Leigh cabaret favorite to the show: “Shakespeare Lied”.

In a statement, director Ben West (Old Acquaintance) said, “We are thrilled to be developing this new version of How Now, Dow Jones as part of the NY International Fringe Festival. Though it was written over forty years ago, Dow Jones remains wonderfully timely particularly given the current state of the economy and the sexual politics that dominate Washington and big business. As the project has developed, we have included previously unused lyrics by Ms. Leigh, previously unused dialogue by Mr. Shulman, and just recently restored ‘Shakespeare Lied’ to the score. With its extraordinary original material – reshaped in this new version – I look forward to returning Dow Jones to the American musical theatre canon.”

With book by Max Shulman, music by Academy Award winner Elmer Bernstein and lyrics by Tony Award nominee Carolyn Leigh, this new version – revised and directed by Ben West (Old Acquaintance) – plays the following dates and times:

*Saturday, August 15 at 12 Noon

*Monday, August 17 at 10:30 PM

*Tuesday, August 18 at 8 PM

*Thursday, August 20 at 8:15 PM

*Sunday, August 23 at 5:45 PM

How Now, Dow Jones is a zany 1968 musical comedy that follows Kate, the voice of Dow Jones, whose fiancé won’t marry her until the Dow Jones Averages hit 1,000! Bribery, adultery and neurotic Republicans abound in this madcap and timely tale set in the heart of Wall Street.

This new version will be performed without an intermission by a cast of eight. The Tony-nominated score will feature three new songs: “Don’t Let a Good Thing Get Away”, “Where You Are” and “Touch and Go”; all cut from the original Broadway production. Four major roles and the ensemble have been eliminated while five musical numbers have been cut. Additionally, the musical’s signature song “Step to the Rear” will take its own advice and close the show, replacing the previously existing finale.

The production also stars Shane Bland (Bombay Dreams), Jim Middleton (Goodspeed’s 1776), Dennis O’Bannion (White Christmas), Elon Rutberg (The Black Monk) and Cori Silberman (Movie Geek). Choreography is by Rommy Sandhu (Applause, Mary Poppins) with music direction and arrangements by Fran Minarik (Sessions, The J.A.P. Show).

Tickets are currently on-sale by visiting www.FringeNYC.org or calling 866-468-7619. Visit: www.HowNowDowJones.com. The Minetta Lane Theatre is located at 18 Minetta Lane in Greenwich Village, NYC.

The original Broadway production of How Now, Dow Jones opened on December 7, 1967 starring Tony Roberts, Marlyn Mason and Brenda Vaccaro. The David Merrick production was directed by George Abbott with choreography by Gillian Lynne (and an uncredited Michael Bennett). It played 220 performances and was nominated for six Tony Awards including Best Musical, winning one for co-star Hiram Sherman. The musical, originally presented with a cast of over 40 actors, has been rarely performed since.