"One of the Boys"

Bluegobo has returned! They may not have the Ed Sullivan clips, but there is still a lot to enjoy at the website. To celebrate here’s a clip:

Before Allison Janney started singing a song of the same name in the current 9 to 5, Lauren Bacall delivered “One of the Boys” in Woman of the Year, winning a second Tony in this then-contemporary updating of the Tracy-Hepburn classic. Not the strongest of book shows, it sports a fun musical comedy score from Kander and Ebb, which has been out of print on CD for years (Arkiv Music, get on it!). Perhaps it’s time for Encores! to give us another NY production, starring the aforementioned Janney or maybe one of our regular musical leading ladies like Donna Murphy.

Here is Bacall and the boys delivering the crowd pleaser on the Tony telecast in 1981.

Quote of the Day: "One of the Boys" Edition

The invaluable Janney juggles acerbity and warmth with flair in the Lily Tomlin role. She’s no great singer but is frequently buffered by the superior pipes of her co-stars and handles solo duties with assurance and decent pitch. Violet’s splashy “One of the Boys” is a knowingly cheesy late-’70s-style showstopper that recalls Lauren Bacall sashaying and barking through numbers in “Woman of the Year.”

– Variety on 9 to 5

The comparison seem to make sense… Janney could do well in a series of musical theatre acting roles that require less in the singing department. But does anyone recall the title of Lauren Bacall’s act one showstopper in Woman of the Year, which also served as the show’s Tony performance? That’s right. “One of the Boys.” Just thought I’d draw attention to that. Meanwhile, Janney would be a perfect choice to headline a revival of Woman of the Year.

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. http://youtube.com/watch?v=71dRwNTN69I). 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.

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.