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An Alphabetical Look at the Musicals of 1969

I saw the world premiere of 1776 ( London cast version available by clicking here) in New Haven. It was quite a different show in its first tryout. The composer came from the world of pop and rock and the score had a definite rock feel to it with the arrangements by Eddie Sauter. It was greatly improved in New York when it was given a more traditional orchestration. There was also a number that probably only lasted a performance or two where Ben Franklin and a few other men from the congress go to a whore house.

Billy was written by Barry Manilow’s manager, Ron Dante. It was based on the story of Billy Budd and it took place on a ship. At the world premiere, the ship would not rotate but they did the musical without the ship moving so I’m sure it was somewhat different. “It Ain’t Us That Makes The Wars But It’s Us That Does The Dying” was a particularly good song. I would probably have seen the show again to see what it was like to see the ship moving but the show closed opening night.

Another big flop was Big Time Buck White by Oscar Brown Jr. . This musical starring Cassius Clay (also known as Mohammad Ali) didn’t have very good songs unlike the very good songs Oscar had written for a show in Chicago, Kick and Co.. Big Time Buck White also closed opening night.

Celebration by Schmidt and Jones started as a workshop at the small theater they owned called Portfolio. There it was fairly successful. However when they moved it to a Broadway theater it lost a lot of its charm. Still, there are some wonderful songs on the cast album.

Coco by André Previn and Alan Jay Lerner is most remembered because it was Katharine Hepburn’s musical debut. She played Coco Chanel and pretty much talked the songs. There is a wonderful youtube video that was from the Tony Awards and the choreography by Michael Bennett is unbelievable. Kate insisted on touring the show so the producers would get their money back. I particularly liked the song “Always, Mademoiselle”. André Previn died just a week ago, may his soul rest in peace.

Dear World by Jerry Herman starred Angela Lansbury had a very attractive score, especially the title song. But somebody decided that Angela should have really garish makeup and that kind of turned me off to it. The story about finding oil under Paris was also a turn off because of how unbelievable it was.

Jimmy by Bill and Patti Jacob was Jack Warner’s idea to do a musical about the famous New York Mayor, Jimmy Walker. The idea of a doing a story about a colorful mayor had worked with Fiorello but this did not work. I wondered why Jack Warner would have chosen Bill and Patti Jacob rather than well known song writers. He also picked Frank Gorshin who was not a good singer but was instead picked on the merits of his nightclub imitation of James Cagney (whom Jack Warner loved). This didn’t seem like a great way to pick a lead performer to me. Julie Wilson had a few good songs. I met Patty Jacob about fifteen years ago and she had gotten married and changed her name but she also changed her first name which seemed odd.

Lysistrata was a play with Melina Mercouri with a handful of songs by Peter Link. It had a moderate run.

1491 by Meredith Wilson was scheduled to come to New York from California but never made it. It was about Christopher Columbus. We have recently discovered a very interesting and rare tape of Meredith Wilson singing the score which you can find if you click here.

Oh Calcutta was a musical about sex with some rock songs. It had a very long run off-Broadway because of tourists from around the world seeing the show and not needing to understand anything but enjoying the nudity.

Oklahoma by Rodgers and Hammerstein had a major Broadway revival and is the best version I have ever seen. It starred Christine Andreas and Harry Groener. This is the show that Richard Rodgers was willing to pay to record rather than Mama because he said the recording would make money.
We have several versions of this musical available for you to take a look at:
Oklahoma from the Royal National Theater
Oklahoma! a 75th Anniversary Edition
Oklahoma! the 1980 London Cast

Red, White and Maddox, a musical by Don Tucker, was a spoof about the governor of Georgia. It probably was funny if you lived in Georgia where they first did the show but was not that funny on Broadway, although it had a TV production which might be on Youtube but no cast album.

Fig Leaves are Falling (the live and demo version is available by clicking here) by Allan Sherman and Albert Hague was directed by George Abbott and had Dorothy Loudon (who was of course wonderful). Barry Nelson, who played the husband who has eyes for his secretary, was not much of a singer. When they cast him in another musical, the Act with Liza Minnelli, they didn’t let him sing even a note.

The last show, Megilla of Itzik Manger was a musical from Israel that didn’t for some reason have a cast album on Club View records.

As a special thanks to our Footlight customers who also read the blog, we’ll be offering 1491 for $12.95 ! Just follow this link and the album is on sale!

2 thoughts on “An Alphabetical Look at the Musicals of 1969

  1. Good description of Celebration. While the intimate setting of the Sullivan Street Playhouse heightened the emotional intensity of The Fantastics, and was the proper setting for simple, otherwise banal lyrics, when Schmidt and Jones transplanted another “cutesy” allegory to the vast B’way theatre (with a black box cube as the setting, if I remember correctly) their Celebration fell flat. Very tuneful and memorable. I still sing this score
    to myself 50 years later. (Don’t misunderstand, The Fantastics has always been great.)

  2. Really fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing all these great memories.

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