February 6th, 1965. An important musical in my life, Kelly, by Moose Charlap and Eddie Lawrence, opened and closed on this day so it had to be added to the list of shows that I did not see. As years have passed, I’ve become more and more fascinated by this musical and have issued two recordings of the music. One is a composer demo in which they sing and tell the story of Kelly. The second is the York Theater cast which starred Brian D’Arsy James. It was given a reading and I did a recording after the reading which led to a subsequent short run of Kelly. The recording needed as many male singers as possible so I and a young friend Gavin Rehfeldt added our voices to the rousing title song. After a couple rehearsals the musical conductor said “I’m hearing something I don’t like.” I assumed it was probably me as the other people were singers and I was not. As it turns out, it was the great George S. Irving and the writer, Eddie Lawrence. He said to Eddie, “Eddie, you’re not singing the melody.” Eddie said “I’m trying to be funny.” The response to this was “This is an ensemble number, you can’t be funny.” He said to George S. Irving “You’re dominating the entire song.” So the two of them were eliminated and whichever males were left sang the title song.
Next up was Baker Street by Ray Jessel and Marian Grudeff. This was Alexander Cohen’s attempt to have a hit musical (something he never succeeded at) and had quite an appealing score and wonderful singers, Inga Swenson and Fritz Weaver. The show had troubles out of town and Hal Prince came in and did what he could in a short time. Bock and Harnick were added as writers but the songs they wrote were no better… in fact, maybe not as good as the Ray Jessel songs.
Next up is Do I Hear a Waltz by Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim. This would seem to have been a wonderful idea but Sondheim was very reluctant to work with Richard Rodgers and only did so out of loyalty to Oscar Hammerstein, his mentor. Rodgers also seemed to have a negative attitude toward things and nobody showed him reviews in which his work was criticized. I also feel that the casting of Elizabeth Allen was not a good choice as I have never cared for her in any show she has done. The end of the show is also very down, as it looks like the heroine has been lied to and there is no hope of anything promising happening to her.
Decline and Fall of the Entire World as told by the eyes of Cole Porter played off-Broadway and was produced by Ben Bagley and had quite a successful run. A CD was made which is now available.
Half a Sixpence starring Tommy Steele and written by David Henicker was a big hit in London and an even bigger hit and a later movie in the United States.
Flora the Red Menace was the Broadway debut of Kander and Ebb and produced by Hal Prince and directed by George Abbot. It was also the Broadway debut of Liza Minnelli. She was quite wonderful and most of the songs are quite wonderful. The thing that was not so wonderful was the idea of her being a communist sympathizer. This took place in the 30’s but I don’t see how that was an appealing musical comedy idea. It had a reasonable run but did not make its money back.
Roar of the Grease Paint by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse was a big hit. It had started in London starring Norman Wisdom but got bad reviews. David Merrick told Anthony Newley that if he would take over the starring role, he would take it to Broadway. He did and along with Cyril Richard ran for close to two years with song hit after song hit in the score.
Pickwick, based on a Dicken’s story, had a score by Cyril Ornadel and Leslie Bricusse. The problem here was the story didn’t have much happening and despite the thrilling voice of Harry Secomb it had a modest run of a few months and produced one hit song which was written, music and lyrics, by Leslie (“If I ruled the world”).
The next flop was called Drat! The Cat! written by Ira Levin, famous for his horror stories, with music by Milton Schafer who had written Bravo Giovanni!. It starred Lesley Ann Warren. The problem in my opinion was that it was a spoof and not all that funny. Everything was over the top. It only ran a few performances. It was more memorable for me in that a young lady named Judy Jacobson lived in my floor apartment dwelling and she consented to go to see the show. She was not overly eager to see a Broadway musical, as most of my friends weren’t. No one wanted to see Broadway musicals. I enticed her by offering her an expensive dinner at the very trendy Sign of the Dove. The meal was much better than the musical. She never wanted to see another musical after that.
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever opened in the fall by Allan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane, had a most appealing score and a performance for the ages by Barbara Harris. John Cullum is also top notch and it’s wonderful to hear a large chorus sing the title song. The story on ESP and going back in time didn’t always make the most sense.
Skyscraper, the first fall musical, by Cahn VanHusen, a book by Peter Stone, was not very interesting. The biggest problem was that the three stars, Julie Harris, Charles Nelson Riley, and Peter Marshall, were not top notch Broadway Singers, in fact as great an actress as Julie Harris was, she should have never been picked to sing. The score is also not top notch with a few exceptions.
A big hit, Man of LaMancha, opened in a tent in Greenwich Village in Washington Square Park. The superlative score is by Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh. It tried out at the Good Speed Opera House. I decided to see it on a snowy winter night. When I arrived at this new theater, I found the prices to be quite expensive for the time so rather than getting my usual up front seat I got the cheapest seat. As it turns out this was quite a ways away from the stage! Because of the weather and because no one knew about the show, the attendance was probably at around 30% capacity. I thought I should get a better seat before the show started. Especially because they said that Richard Kiley was somewhat indisposed and would not be acting on stage but would be singing the songs. I thought certainly they would not object to my moving to a much better seat, of which there were hundreds. As soon as I did so an usher rushed over and asked to see my ticket. I told him I had a seat way up there, but because of Richard Kiley not acting and there being minimal attendance, no one should object to my moving seats. She said I had to talk to the head usher about it, and to do so I must leave the theater. I told her I would ask for my money back, trying to make it seem that it was much more trouble than it was worth to send me off and hoping she would just let me off the hook. She told me “the box office is right over there”. I said “okay” and left, thinking that I would see it after it opened in a somewhat closer location. Alas, the show opened to rave reviews and there were no seats available so I did not see it for some time.
An ex-girlfriend Emma Macagba (who had also not been interested in seeing musicals) called me and asked if could I take her to see it. We had stopped dating so I was surprised to hear from her. My only reluctance was that I was engaged to be married to Doris Chu but decided that it would not be a problem to just take someone to see a musical.
Anya by Wright and Forrest was at the glamorous Ziegfeld Theatre. It was the story of Anastasia who may or may not have been shot by the Russians. The movie and the recent Broadway show by Flaherty and Ahrens did much better telling the story. Originally it was to have starred George London, a well known opera singer. During rehearsals he never sang at full volume. When questioned he said that he was saving his voice for the live performance. The truth came out that he had lost a lot of his voice and could never sing again and had to be replaced by Michael Kermoyan. The score is orchestrated by Don Walker was delightful to hear.
I have also reissued Anastasia Affair which has quite a few changed songs by Wright and Forrest and features a wonderful cast.
The next show, Great Scott!, about poet Robert Burns, played the Theater 4 which had almost exclusively flop shows and this did not change with this musical.
The last musical the Yearling with music by Michael Leonard and lyrics by Herbert Martin was produced by The Fantasticks producer Lore Noto. It was based on the Gregory Peck Movie. I planned a trip to England being sure that I would be back before the show opened as it had done very badly in Philadelphia. I returned to find they had run out of money in Philadelphia. They had come a week earlier to NY and closed the opening night (as there are no good deer actors who can act on a Broadway stage as they can in a movie where they can take so many takes). For such a flop show, it had quite a few hits, some of them recorded by Barbara Streisand.
I wanted to offer you loyal customers and readers of the blog an exclusive discount on Anastasia for $6.95 if you click here.
Each discount so far is available for three months after the time of posting.
Till next time, Bruce Yeko.