This is a blog of the owner of Footlight Records, Bruce Yeko. I have been going to the theater for 58 years. I have two Guinness type records. I have seen every new musical that opened on Broadway for the past 50 years. I have produced 124 cast albums, which is more than any other individual. I will be discussing my theater-going experiences and would be happy to talk about any particular show you are interested in.
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Ain’t Misbehavin’ was a very successful musical that transferred to the Manhattan Theatre Club and has been revived numerous times since. The music is by Fats Waller.
Angel was an unsuccessful musical based on the popular book, play, and movie Look Homeward, Angel. It was not a good sign that rather than appear in a standard tryout theatre in Philadelphia or Boston, it tried out in North Port Long Island, home of Patti Lupone. The score was certainly above average, written by the team who had done Shenandoah very successfully, Gary Geld and Peter Udell. It starred Fred Gwynne from the Munsters, Francis Sternhagan, and Don Scardino (who also appeared in our recording of the King of Hearts). The show just did not catch on and only lasted a few weeks. It was however recorded by the producer Phil Rose, and we have made this LP into a CDR which is available for purchase. Click here to see our listing for Angel.
The Ballroom, directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett, was a followup to his Chorus Line. Written by the Bergmans and Billy Goldenberg, it starred Dorothy Loudon and was a tribute to ballroom dancing and older people who frequented dance halls in the 50s and 60s. It tried out in Stratford, Connecticut which is very near to where I live so I saw the first performance. It had been done successfully on television but the Broadway version was too much to me standard dancing and did not appeal to all generations.
The Bar Mitsvah Boy opened in London and was based on a popular tv straight play. It debuted in London and was written by Jule Styne and Don Black. Don Black, as usual, did not add anything appealing to this musical and even Jule did not show any great inspiration. So the show played a very brief occasion and did not come to New York as I’m sure Jule hoped it would.
Barbary Coast, was a musical that started in California and did not get sufficient reviews to arrive in New York as was originally scheduled.
The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, by Carol Hall, started off-off-Broadway and within months opened on Broadway. The musical was really made successful by Tommy Tune in his first major directing role. It ran for several years and was made into a Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds movie.
Billy Bishop Goes To War had a little success in its Canadian production but again was not successful on Broadway.
A Broadway Musical, by Strouse and Adams, started inauspiciously. This musical did not have enough money or interest to open out of town, so they tried to do a downsized version at Riverside Church. It at least enabled them to raise money to do it at the Lunt-Fontanne and to get a new director, Gower Champion… but the material was not that worthwhile and the show closed opening night.
Dancin’ was a Bob Fosse musical of very appealing dance numbers and had a long and successful run.
Eubie started at AMAS. It was a musical tribute to Eubie Blake and starred Gregory Hines. It ran for one season.
Evita by Rice and Webber started as a concept album following Jesus Christ Superstar. It debuted in England and starred Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin. It was very excitingly directed by Hal Prince and choreographed by Larry Fuller. It was an instant success and the start of Patti Lupone’s historic career. It was made into a not-so-great Madonna movie.
King of Hearts tried out in Westport, Connecticut, 20 minutes away from me, and starred Robbie Benson who did many teenage movie musicals and years later played the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. It was about a 19 year old boy who goes off to France and gets involved in the war against Germany. It had music by Peter Link and lyrics by Jacob Brackman, who wrote many pop songs including some of Carly Simon’s hits. Westport County Playhouse is probably a 400 seat theatre so they felt that Robbie Benson would not have a big enough voice to play Minskoff Theatre, which probably has 1800 seats. Since everybody on a Broadway stage is mic’d, this to me did not seem the best decision. He was replaced by Don Scardino, which did a good job with the part but he should not have played a 19 year old boy. I loved the music enough to approach Peter Link and he said we could record the album in his apartment. Intrigued, asked how. He told me that it wouldn’t be all at one time. We could record the instruments a few at a time and even bring the singers in different groups. This actually worked out nicely and I’m very proud of the final result. I highly recommend this for purchase.
On the Twentieth Century by Cy Coleman and Comden and Green, starred John Collum and Madeline Kahn. It tried out in Boston and on my way from CT to Boston there was unfortunately a big, sudden snow storm and I was in an accident. I had stopped my car and a grocery store delivery truck barreled into me. My wife Doris was somewhat injured and I was never able to complete the trip to Boston. But I did see the final production in NY. I thought the first part of the show was brilliant where they gave the impression that you were on a real train. But the music turned into a not-so-good operetta. Imogene Coca as a crazed evangelist was not my taste or at all amusing. The show did have a decent run and was even revived by Kristin Chenoweth.
My One and Only was a revival with changes in the book of an early Gershwin show. It was directed by Tommy Tune. It was in danger of closing after not getting great reviews in Boston but Tommy, Peter Stone, and Maury Yeston made major changes in the Gershwin songs and dance numbers, and when it opened in NY with Twiggy as Tommy’s costar it proved to be most delightful and had a successful two year run.
Platinum, by Gary William Friedman and Will Holt, started originally in Buffalo, and at that time was titled Sunset and directed by Tommy Tune. To get it to Broadway, they got involved with Paramount pictures and got Joe Layton as the director. Alexis Smith was really great as a former movie star trying to fit in with the 60’s pop scene but her rock-n-roll younger boyfriend was not at all appealing and I find it hard to believe that the real Alexis Smith would have had anything to do with him. Despite some very catchy songs, it had a short run in New York.
Runaways by Liz Swados, about young children who runaway from home, started at the Papp Theatre downtown. It probably should not have moved to Broadway where it had a very brief run.
They’re Playing Our Song, by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, was a musical written about the songwriters’ relationship. This had a very funny book by Neil Simon and starred Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein. The only other people in the show were backup singers. It ran for a couple years.
Timbuktu was a reworking of Kisbet by Wright and Forrest, making it into a black musical starring Eartha Kitt. The original book to Kisbet is not terribly strong but the songs and the original performers made it into a hit. Somehow the reworking lost quite a bit of its appeal and it ran at the Mark Hellinger for only about a month.
Working was written by Stephen Schwartz, James Taylor, Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, and Mary Rodgers. Stephen decided to take the Studs Terkel book where he interviewed people in the common, every day, blue-collar, occupations. These stories were made into songs that were not necessarily the actual stories that Studs Terkel told in the book. To me while some of the songs are very appealing, some of the stories are not as equally appealing. In recent times it has been revised and a few new songs have been written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and that makes people seem to be happier about remaking the show. It was redone recently in England and is usually done in high schools.
Party with Comden and Green was a slightly different version from “The Comden and Green Evening” from the 60’s. It still had lots of charm.
Annie by Strouse and Charnin went from Goodspeed to Kennedy Center to Broadway where it ran for seven years. This cast is still the best one, unlike many revivals.
Hair was revived this year and this cast had some good performers but none to match the magic of the original cast. It only had a moderate run.
Happy End by Brecht and Weill came to Broadway with Meryl Streep and had a moderate run but didn’t have nearly the success that the Threepenny Opera had.
I Love My Wife by Michael Stewart and Cy Coleman – I saw this show in Philadelphia and it was obviously a winner and had a healthy run on Broadway even with the Smothers Brothers eventually taking over.
Ipi Tombi was an African show from I believe South Africa and London and was certainly full of exciting dancing and singing.
Jesus Christ Superstar by Rice and Webber started as a concept album. Although I wanted to see every musical I was somewhat dubious about actually going to see this one. But when it was during the end of its run I thought I had to see it. I was pleasantly surprised as it was very theatrical and I could see why it had been a hit.
Nefertiti by David Spangler and Christopher Gore was originally at Lamama with a different title and I was very impressed with the show there. David Spangler played piano on the album of the Baker’s Wife and when Nefertiti played the Blackstone theatre in Chicago I got a phone call from David asking me to come to Chicago. Sherwin Goldman, the producer, planned to close the show. David hoped I could convince Sherwin to keep the show open. I very much doubted that my opinion would change his mind but I was anxious to see the show in its revised form and so I drove to Chicago. I wound up loving the music even more with a full orchestra, which was orchestrated by Robert Freeman. The show did close in Chicago and David Spangler said that Sherwin wanted to pay for a recording of the Chicago cast with Andrea Marcovechi, Michael Nouri, and Robert Lupone (Patti’s brother). Sherwin had been told that I was going to pay for the recording but since we both wanted to do it, we agreed to split the cost. Sherwin said “I only want to do it if everyone contributes their services”. Unfortunately Andrea, who originally said she’d be thrilled to sing for the recording, signed a contract with Barry Manilow’s record label as a pop singer and they did not want her to record this album. We then tried to replace her with a new singer, Mary Clair Nelson, who had just arrived in town. We recorded all the music first and had her come in and spend over three hours recording one song and since she had no theatre experience, she could not put in any theatricality into the songs. They were just sung as words. We then had her sing the song, one line at a time, telling her what each line meant. But when all these individual lines were put together it did not sound the way we wanted. The next time we recorded other singers, we recorded it in Radio City, where Orsen Wells had recorded War of the Worlds. I went into a darkened lobby and Andrea got off the elevator. She did not know who I was (she had never met me), but looked right at me and said, “Everything was going to work out”. She was coming to record Nefertiti with us. And she did. Beautifully. This is still a favored recording and we recommend the cast album plus a live recording from Chicago.
Side by Side was a revue of songs from various Sondheim shows that had been a hit in London, came over here, and had a very healthy run.
The Act by Kander and Ebb was originally tried out in San Francisco as Shine it On. It played a couple other theaters and came to New York and it was really a musical for Liza Minnelli as all the songs are about her. Mary Nelson, who was her romantic interest, never sang a note. It was just an odd idea of a musical, to only have one person out of the whole cast sing, but Liza certainly did shine.
The King and I was another revival. Yul Brynner came back as the King which was now the more important role compared to Anna. It was a tough ticket but when he went on vacation and they replaced him with Michael Kermoyan, with Anna played by Angela Lansbury, the tickets were much more easy to obtain. I loved Angela Lansbury in the role of Anna.
Together on Broadway with Ethel Merman and Mary Martin was the first time the two ladies sang together on the same stage. After they did their individual hits, they did indeed sing together. If there was a winner of the sort of competitive nature they had, Ethel Merman came across more than Mary Martin did. It was recorded live and sold as an LP for $100 to benefit the museum of the city of New York. We now have that same album on CD at a much more reasonable price.
The Wiz by Charlie Smalls. I was sure this did not have much chance of success. I was afraid that everybody would think it was a bad idea to do a new version instead of the traditional movie version by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. The reviews were fairly good but I went to see it again and there were many empty seats in the orchestra. They turned the show around by getting black church groups to bus in to see the show and eventually it became a very successful musical that was made into a movie and revived everywhere.
Rodgers and Hart was a revue but more like a summer stock show with moderately talented singers. It only ran a couple months despite some good songs.
Shenandoah by Gary Geld and Peter Udell was a wonderful civil war musical about a father whose sons go off to war. It starred the always talented John Collum. I saw this at the Goodspeed Opera House and was happy that it went to New York. It had at least a three year wonderful run.
The Lieutenant was a rock musical about the My Lai massacre. Well intentioned but did not belong on Broadway.
Truckload by Louis St. Louis and Wes Harris. The book was written by Hugh Wheeler, the wonderful writer of A Little Night Music. This was not a wonderful musical however as it was just about people going around in trucks. It was intended to be something like Hair but did not have the music for it and closed without ever opening.
Very Good Eddie. This was a vintage Jerome Kern musical that started at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut and had a nice run at the Booth Theatre. It makes for a very listenable CD.
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – this Leonard Bernstein and Alan Jay Lerner musical made to celebrate the centennial was a good idea but never really came together. There were many problems in telling the story of being backstairs at the White House with the president and first ladies. It changed songs, directors, and even story lines… eventually limping into the Mark Hellinger Theatre and only lasting 7 performances. We have a demo of a few of the songs.
The Baker’s Wife was a Stephen Schwartz and Joseph Stein show. A part was originally offered to Zero Mostel, who said he would only do it if he owned a part of the show. Producer David Merrick was the last person who would give an actor ownership of his show so Chaim Topol, from the movie Fiddler on the Roof, was chosen. Topol did not want to keep the story true to the original Baker’s Wife plot because he felt no woman would ever leave him for a younger man. Carol Demas was replaced by Patti LuPone and six months later Paul Sorvino replaced Topol. I very much liked the Paul Sorvino version and made it into my first Broadway cast album which I am very proud of.
Bubbling Brown Sugar was a black revue originating from Rosetta LeNoire at her Harlem based amas repertory. It moved to Broadway and had a healthy run and was even done in London after that.
Music Is, by Richard Adler, directed by George Abbot, started in Seattle and then played the Kennedy Center but closed quickly when it arrived in New York City. There are a few nice songs but it was not Broadway worthy.
Pacific Overtures by Sondheim tried out at the Colonial in Boston and came into New York. While it was liked by many, it was not a typical Broadway musical as it was about the Americans’ Admiral Perry going to Japan. There are fascinating songs in this and it is highly recommended.
Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart was originally offered to Alan Jay Lerner who unfortunately was not healthy enough to participate. The show with Michael Crawford who suddenly had gotten a much bigger voice than he had in the film Hello, Dolly! was a huge hit and arrived in New York and is still there.
Side by Side by Sondheim was the first Sondheim revue and featured his best known songs with a small cast of well known actors. It has been done in other places very successfully.
Rex by Richard Rodgers and Sheldon Harnick starred Nicole Williamson was about Henry the VIII. I saw the world premier in Wilmington, Deleware and then the New York production. I was sad to see that the critics did not like it well enough to let the show run.
Rockabye Hamlet by Cliff Jones started in Charlottetown Canada where it was called Kronberg: 1582 and was done originally in a very classical way. Gower Champion took over the show and decided to turn it into a rock musical that featured an entirely different cast except for Beverly D’Angelo who had originated Ophelia during the Canadian tour. The rest of the cast included Larry Marshall as Hamlet, Alan Weeks as Claudius, Leata Galloway as Gertrude, Kim Milford as Laertes, Rory Dodd as Horatio, Meat Loaf as the Priest, and Christopher Chadman and Winston DeWitt Hemsley as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. I really enjoyed both versions but the critics were appalled that the show had been turned into a rock musical.
So Long, 174th Street by Stan Daniels was based on Stein’s play Enter Laughing, based on the Carl Reiner book of the same name. It had such appealing songs and great Luther Henderson orchestrations that I eventually made the cast album. Robert Morse was just too old to play a teenager (He was in his 40’s!) and the show closed within a week. They keep trying to get the show going again and it was recently done at the York Theatre for the third time but it would not succeed on Broadway in today’s world.
Something’s Afoot was an Agatha Christie type movie-murder/whodunnit. Where the majority of the cast is killed one by one. It starred Tesse O’shea who was great in the title role but the show only managed to run a couple months. John Yap has, after all these years, made a New English recording with well known English singers and it is scheduled to be available around Christmas-time.
Your Arm’s Too Short To Box With God was a black revue that had a brief run and has not been revived since.
Hellzapoppin’ was an attempt to bring Jerry Lewis to Broadway in a contemporary version of the movie Ole Olson and Chic Johnson had starred in in the 40’s. The score was mostly by Hank Beebe and Bill Heyer and unfortunately was somewhat lacking in Broadway appeal. The shows that I saw, the opening in Wilmington and the closing in Boston, would simply not have succeeded on Broadway.
Bruce Yeko, owner of Footlight Records, reflects on the musicals of 1974.
Brainchild by Michel Legrand and Hal David closed in Philadelphia. It took place in the mind of a woman and was very confusing. Tovah Feldshuh played one of the women.
Candide by Leonard Bernstein and Richard Wilbur moved from a small Brooklyn theatre’s base to the 8 or 10 times as big Broadway theatre. It was still worth seeing even at the expense of taking out seats and other things as a result of the musical not returning it’s investment.
Good News started in Boston where I saw it and found it was quite well done. Unfortunately, Alice Faye and the somewhat older cast were sent on a nine month tour and by the time it finally arrived at the St. James Theatre, everyone was just tired. The recording we have was made by one of the cast members, Lane Bryant, as he toured with the show. It has many songs that were cut during the long tour.
Gypsy by Styne and Sondheim starred Angela Lansbury. It was first done in London and a triumph there sent it up to Winter Garden in New York.
Lorelie was a revival by Styne, Robin, and Comden and Green. It starred Carol Channing reprising her ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ role with additional material as she looked back upon her life. It too had a very long tour and was made into two LP’s: one was the out of town tour after many changes and the second LP was made to incorporate the new songs. It arrived on Broadway and had a moderate run.
Miss Moffat by Albert Hague and Emlyn Williams. This show was Bette Davis second and unfortunately last attempt at doing a musical. At the first preview in Philadelphia, she was given the task of riding a bicycle across the stage. Which was obviously something not easy for somebody at her age. The curtain came down and she started the show off the bicycle. This musical version of ‘The Corn Is Green’ takes place in the South where she is a teacher. She was only able to do a few performances in Philadelphia and they closed the show without going to New York.
Mack and Mabel by Jerry Herman was about Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand, really early pioneers in the silent movies. The great score, one of the best Jerry Herman ever wrote, was sung by Bernadette Peters and Robert Preston. Unfortunately they felt compelled to tell the actual story which was not a musical comedy and it involved murder and cocaine and this was seemingly responsible for the show not having the run it deserved. It has been revived many times and the story gets a little better each time.
Over Here by the Sherman brothers was a WWII musical starring the Andrews Sisters and introducing John Travolta and Ann Reinking. It had a successful run at the Shubert but by the end of the run the two remaining Andrew sisters were not talking to each other off-stage. The show has only been done infrequently since 1974.
Rainbow Jones by Jill Williams was a musical but certainly did not belong on Broadway. It was written by an unknown person. Both music and lyrics. And I have no memory of anything that happened during the show. The music wasn’t the best, better suited for off-Broadway, and closed, I believe, opening night.
Ride the Wind by John Driver was a samurai philosophical musical that did not belong on broadway or anywhere. It too closed opening night.
Sheba (Come Back, Little Sheba) was intended for Broadway. Starring Kaye Ballard, it played a small theatre in Chicago and never reached New York. Many years later it played West Port County Playhouse where the fabulous Donna McKechnie took over the lead role. We were lucky to preserve this and we did it primarily because of Miss McKechnie and the wonderful Ralph Burns orchestrations. I believe this is the only small show he ever orchestrated.
The Magic Show by Stephen Schwartz was quite popular with Doug Henning’s magic. I believe many tourists did not even know it was a musical. But it is an excellent score and we have a CDR that has been long out of print.
Where’s Charley? by Frank Loesser was revived by the Circle in the Square theatre. It starred Raul Julia who was quite excellent in the lead role but it did not get extended past the initial run. We have found a very rare recording of the Where’s Charley score from a school in the 50’s with the original orchestrations. Look for this in future releases.
Words and Music was basically an evening with Sammy Cahn. It moved from the 92nd Street Y after one performance to a Broadway show where it played a few months. It was also done I believe in London and Los Angeles. Sammy Cahn was always worth watching.
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