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Musicals of 1981

Bring Back Birdie, the sequel to Bye Bye Birdie, was originally only intended to be done in stock and amateur but the songs turned out so well that they decided that they would move it to Broadway. This was not a good idea. The book certainly had problems with it. They were able to get a top notch star in Donald O’Connor (who had turned down the original) and they brought back Chita Rivera from the original Birdie. But they did not go out of town and at the first preview one of the songs about necrophilia got booed and was cut. Donald O’Connor, at one point when he could not remember lyrics, even gave up and said “Oh, what difference does it make? It’s a lousy song anyway!”
The show thus opened and closed.
Because I had really enjoyed the music, I decided to do a cast album. O’Connor had not wanted to do that and quickly went back to LA. Rex Reed said “Donald, you’ve never had a Broadway cast album. You should really consider doing this!” So Donald came back and he worked really hard, particularly on his tap dance numbers. 

After we finished the recording the book writer, Michael Stewart, who was in a terrible mood said “I was not consulted about what dialogue would be on the album.”
When told we didn’t have dialogue on the album, he said “I want dialogue on the album” just to be ornery. So he wrote what is now at the top of the show – a fairy godmother says something to the effect of how smoothly the story went and that Albert and Rosie had settled into suburbia and had two wonderful children… until now – and then the wonderful overture by Ralph Burns starts. I find this to be wonderful.

Cats came to Broadway and stayed far too long. It ran for 18 years and had many people who went on a regular basis to see it, like you’d go to see a popular movie. 

Chorus Line by Marvin Hamlisch and Ed Kleban came out of people talking about their stories about being Broadway musicals with Michael Bennett at the Public Theatre. It then was turned into a musical and was quite successful off-Broadway so moved to Broadway and had a long run (though not as long as Cats). 

Copperfield by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn was based on the story by Dickens. But unlike Oliver, this did not lend itself to a popular musical. It was sadly lacking in almost every category. It closed after a few performances. 

Dream Girls by Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen tried in Boston and I did not find it to be initially appealing yet some people seem to be cheering for no particular reason… except for maybe the song “I’m Telling You, I’m Not Going” which is loosely based on the story of Diana Ross and the Supremes. It had a long run on Broadway and it was made into a successful movie musical. 

The First (DEMO GOES HERE) by Bob Brush and Martin Charnin was about Jackie Robinson with a book by TV critic Joe Siegel. It starred David Grier as Jackie and Lonette McKee as his wife, Rachel. It had a great song called “There Are Days” that made me want to record the show after it’s few-week run. The music was published by Morris Music and Martin Charnin and I went to talk to the head of Morris to see if they would help in the financing of recording. They declined. I did eventually receive the demo that Bob Brush made from Martin Charnin and I’m happy to be able to share the music and lyrics with you – this is a true Footlight Exclusive! We also recorded a few songs on the Martin Charnin Album “Incurably Romantic”. 

Lena Horne, the Lady and her music, was so good that it actually had a healthy run at the usually unpopular Billy Rose Theatre on 41st street. Lena worked hard doing the previews to get the very best songs and stories and the result was a two year run. 

The Little Prince and the Aviator by John Barry and Don Black – This famous children’s story by the French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry has been musicalized and performed in many versions through the years. 

John Barry of movie background score fame said this is one of his favorite pieces. Unfortunately the score he wrote was not up to his usual standards. 

This show was solely produced by a lawyer and by the end of the first week the word was not good on the show and the owners of the theatre decided to close the show before it even opened. The lawyer sued and collected the cost of the production which he used later to finance other musicals. But no cast album exists. 

March of the Falsettos by William Finn was a sequel to In Trousers and achieved quite a bit of success compared to In Trousers. 

Marlowe by Leo Rost and Jimmy Horowitz may have been the worst off-Broadway musical of our generation. It was based on Shakespeare’s contemporary. This is a musical about his life and was so amateurish that I could not think of another equally bad musical in all my theatre-going. It starred Chita Rivera’s daughter, Lisa Mordente, who was fairly good at the female lead. It was directed by Lisa’s father, Tony Mordente. It closed opening night and no recording exists.

Merrily We Roll Along by Stephen Sondheim has been talked about in many places. It was based on an unsuccessful play by George S. Koffman from the 40’s and takes place in reverse order so we see the end of the show and then we work our way backwards. Most of the characters were not likable and the show closed quickly. It certainly was not Stephen Sondheim’s fault, as he provided what many feel was his most tuneful score. So through the years it has been revised and revived till it’s performed more than some of Sondheim’s more successful shows.

Pump Boys and Dinettes by Jim Wann was a very lively country-concert type of show and had a moderate run and successful recording.

Sophisticated Ladies by Duke Ellington and various composers started as a book musical in Philadelphia but doing that run it was decided to get rid of the book and to do this as a big glamorous review. This is a very wise choice and Gregory Hines and the cast made a hit show. 

Woman of the Year by Kander and Ebb was the second show that Lauren Becall did as a musical. It was based on a successful Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn movie of the 40’s about a woman sports writer, Harry Gardino. It did well in the Spencer Tracy role and Lauren Becall had almost as big of a hit in this as she did in Applause. The highlight of the show was the song she sang with Marilyn Cooper called The Grass Is Always Greener. It had a successful year or two run but closed after Raquel Welsh and Debbie Reynolds were unable to keep the box office going.

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