70, Girls, 70 was a Kander and Ebb musical that had many problems. The idea of casting 70 + year old actors proved to be a problem as one of them actually died. Actor David Burns in fact died on stage of a heart attack during the out-of-town tryouts in Philadelphia.
Actors in the show appeared to have trouble with some of the more active scenes. A specific scene comes to mind, one where the actors are breaking into a store, that highlights how much they seemed to be exerting themselves. It just looked to me that the actors could not handle that kind of activity.
The replacement for David Burns was Hans Conreid and he was nothing like David Burns. I managed to see the first preview in Philadelphia and was lucky to have seen David Burns before he died. The show hired a new director but closed after a couple weeks of performances.
Despite the mishaps that the physical show had, the cast album is very good.
Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death by Melvin Van Peebles was an all black musical and not in the tradition of your typical Broadway show. Many of the numbers were very jazzy and it was strange to see on Broadway. There never has been a CD but we may put one out sooner or later.
Ari by Leon Uris and Walt Smith was a musical based on the novel “Exodus” that didn’t sound like a terrible idea but it certainly was. Mr. Uris, who wrote the original book and screenplay, decided that it should be a musical. While skiing, he met somebody playing in a local bar and decided he would be the perfect composer for Ari. He was not. It was an embarrassing show. I saw the first preview and could not believe what I was seeing.
I did not see the final version that didn’t open in New York because I was in London at the time. I did manage to grab a program and I saw new songs written by other people. I asked Phil Lang, who orchestrated the music, who those people were and he told me that because they put money into the show they got to write a song or two.
We have the demo available for purchase at Footlight.
Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope by Micki Grant is a much more traditional black musical that people enjoyed for a fairly lengthy run.
Next is the Earl of Ruston. This is a musical created by Peter Links about himself and growing up in the South. There was no reason for this to be on Broadway because he did not have a very interesting life. He managed to write some songs and the songs were co-written by C. C. Courtney It closed opening night. There is an LP and we may put that out for people who just want everything.
Follies by Stephen Sondheim was of course a monumental musical in the history of theater,. Produced and directed by Hal Prince and co-directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett. Dorothy Collins and Alexis Smith were ideal as the two female leads. In all the subsequent productions of this show, no one has really matched these two women. I was at the first preview in Boston and seemingly everyone I know was also there (they tell me they were there, they could not all have been there). The show was even better when it opened in New York but never did make its money back even after a tour.
Frank Merriwell was a musical by Skip Redwine. This was a limited budget musical that looked cheap and was not highly entertaining but it could have been worse. It closed after a handful of performances.
Godspell, by Stephen Schwartz moved from off- Broadway to Broadway and had a very successful run. It’s been made into a movie and then revived and performed all over the country in the last fifty years.
Grass Harp, a Truman Capote Story, didn’t succeed as a musical. Claibe Richardson was on board for music and, despite really good songs and good performers such as Barabara Cooke and Karen Marrow, it just didn’t have an interesting story. My friend, Ben Bagley, wound up recording the show and putting it out on his label.
Grease was another very successful show that started off Broadway. It premiered at the Eden Theatre (formally known as the Phoenix Theatre). The show had been done in Chicago but was considerably different by the time it appeared in New York off-Broadway. I went to the first preview and there was a fifty percent discount if you came in tennis shoes. At that point I did not own any tennis shoes so I borrowed a pair from my brother in law who is not the same size foot. So I went to the box office in my regular shoes, my loafers, and put on the sneakers I was carrying. I realized that when I was in front of the box office that they couldn’t tell I was wearing sneakers so I just said I was and they just gave me the ticket. Some of the actors were coming out after rehearsal and they said “when are you going to see the show” I said “tonight” they said “please not tonight! We’re not ready!” and I said I already had my ticket so I was going. I did not care for the off-Broadway version that I saw that night but the version that moved to Broadway was a lot more appealing.
Inner City by Helen Miller and Eve Merriam was labeled a “ghetto” musical and had a very appealing rhythm and blues songs. It ran for a few months.
Jesus Christ Superstar, Webber-Rice, started as a concept album from England. Despite there being good songs I somehow did not think I would enjoy the show so I waited until the end of the run from two years later and I found that I was wrong and that it was an excellent production in edition to the songs being good.
Lolita, My Love – a musical by Alan Jay Lerner and John Barry, of James Bond fame. Started in Philadelphia (and I was there!) and Alan Jay Lerner came out and begged us to be kind because things might go wrong. He was afraid the show may have to be stopped, it was not stopped and although there were fascinating songs, the songs are problematic because of the subject matter of an older man and an underage girl. They fired the Lolita I saw and hired a slightly older, but still underaged, girl in Boston and the show closed there. There are two recordings that we have, one live from boston and recently we put together a composer demo and more songs by pop singers – we highly recommend this score.
No No, Nanette by Irving Caesar and vincent Youmans, this was a revival of the 20’s show that had been a big sensation. They gave it a more up to date feel. They rewrote the book and reorchestrated it to make it sound like the 60’s. I knew nothing about the show prior to seeing the tryout in Boston and was pleasantly surprised how it worked well in 1971. It went on to have a long run in NY with Ruby Keeler, Bobby Van, and Patsy KElly. It made a wonderful recording and was done in London and on tour.
On The Town, by Bernstein, Comden, and Green, was a revival of the 1945 musical. Even though it had really good stars, like Burnadette Peters, Phillis Newman, something was missing. It managed to play for a few months but it was disappointing.
Prettyebelle by Styne and Merrill – On the way back from a California vacation, I found that Prettybelle was going to close in Boston and caught the closing performance. I certainly appreciated the music, but the show was a show that should never have played in Boston because the subject matter was totally inappropriate for a typical Boston audience. Ten years later the idea of recording the musical was mentioned to Jule Styne. He then got all excited and said that we should call Angela because he had her California number. She was not in California but we found that she was making the movie of the Pirates of Penzance. She was reached on set and of course came to the phone for Jule Styne. Despite the face that there was a big misunderstanding about the payment to Angela, we still got the recording with Angela and most of the cast.
Soon by Joseph M. Kookolis and Scott Fagan was a musical about the record industry and had an unbelievable cast of soon-to-be-famous people such as Barry Bostwick, Peter Allen, Richard Gere, and Nell Carter. It was a bitter tale of the record industry and did not appeal to the critics or the audience and closed opening night.
To Live Another Summer and Pass Another Winter was an Israeli musical that I remember almost nothing about but it was recorded on LP.
Two Gentlemen of Verona (Galt MacDermot and Jean Guare) was loosely based on Shakespeare but was more in the spirit of Hair. It started as a summer musical in Central Park and moved to the St. James for a fairly long run and was even taken to London. Broadway people disliked this show because it beat out Follies for best musical.
Wild and Wonderful by Bob Goodman was a small musical that starred Walter Willison and was supposed to have starred pop singer Julie Budd. During rehearsals, Julie felt that being in this musical was not a good idea and she quit. They then had to postpone the opening to find another singer. The show closed opening night. It was orchestrated by the great Luther Henderson. I asked him during the first preview that I saw why a few of the songs weren’t orchestrated and just had piano and it had turned out that they didn’t have the money to pay him.
W.C. by Al Carmines was done as a tryout in the Guber, Ford and Gross tent shows in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Long Island. It starred Mickey Rooney and featured Burnadette Peters. I saw an early preview in Massachusetts on a Wednesday matinee and it was sparsely attended. Mickey, who was at a low point in his career, was bored and while the show was going on, he sat with the audience, chatting with members while others were performing. I did enjoy some of the songs but Mickey did not give it much effort. I then decided to see the closing performance a couple months later on Long Island. This was a packed house and, to his credit, Mickey Rooney rose to the occasion and gave an inspired performance. It was still determined that the show would not be able to run in New York and was never done again. We did a recording of the principle songs with Al Carmines singing along with the score. They do a great job singing the songs and there are some other songs from Al Carmine’s musicals.