It was truly the last star-studded year of Broadway musicals. The Great White Way saw, in alphabetical order, Carol Burnett, Jack Cassidy, Carol Channing, Barbara Cook, Sammy Davis, Tammy Grimes, Buddy Hackett, Richard Kiley, Bert Lahr, Angela Lansbury, Steve Lawrence, Beatrice Lillie, Zero Mostel, Robert Preston, Lee Remick, Chita Rivera, and, oh yes--Barbra Streisand. In less prominent roles, we had such soon-to-be-familiar names as John Davidson, Eileen Brennan, David Hartman, Julia Migenes, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Jean Stapleton.
It was 1964, and Broadway was doing its part to assuage the nation's grief. A much-beloved president had been assassinated just 39 days before the new year began. (Who knew that that tragic event would later be brilliantly examined in a musical?) Broadway answered the challenge in pretty high gear, for of the 16 musicals that opened that year, five would run over 500 performances. And yet, one show that opened and closed on
successive Saturdays, Anyone Can Whistle, has proved to have more staying power than two of the long-runners, Golden Boy and What Makes Sammy Run? When producer-host Scott Siegel and director Robert Armin debut Broadway Musicals of 1964 Monday, June 10 at Town Hall, none of the above-named stars will be there, of course. But songs by Adams and Strouse, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Bock and Harnick, Comden and Green, Jerry Herman, Bob Merrill, Stephen Sondheim, and Jule Styne sure will be.
But which ones? Part of the fun of attending this Broadway Musicals series at Town Hall is guessing what will be part of the program. Here's what I anticipate that Siegel and Armin will choose:
Hello, Dolly! (opened January 16, 1964). Well, of course we'll hear the title tune that swept the country for the first six months of 1964. But given that Carol Channing impersonator extraordinaire Richard Skipper will be on hand, I expect we'll hear "So Long, Dearie"--one of musical theater's great 11 o'clock numbers--too. This female impersonator is, to quote a song from a Broadway musical of 1936, "A Little Skipper from Heaven Above."
Rugantino (February 6). Here was a musical written by Italians and performed by Italians--in Italian. Thus, the show sported an innovation that has now become commonplace in opera: supratitles. (They, by the way, were translated into English by Alfred Drake--yes, that Alfred Drake.) A listen to the Warner Brothers cast album shows that the two Italian songsmiths must have come over to America in the late '50s, saw West Side Story and My Fair Lady, and said, "Oh, so that's how it's done"--for their show contains plenty of influences from those hits. I'm sure that Siegel and Armin will choose "Roma Nun Fa La Stupida Stasera," a pretty song indeed--but not the blockbuster that the authors thought it was. Listen to it on the Original Cast Album, and see if you can keep a straight face. First everyone sings it. Then the men's chorus sings it. Then the women's chorus. Then they sing it together again. Think we're done? No, for then the young male lover sings it. Then the young female lover. Then the male comic. Then the female comic. It's gotta be over now, right? No, for then everyone joins in to sing it a capella. The first time I heard this on the cast album, I fell out of my chair. I know people say that all the time, but this was only once of two times in my life that I really did fall out of my chair while listening to a record, for I started to believe that this song might never, ever end.
Foxy (February 16). The name on everybody's lips is gonna be Foxy, at least for one song: "Talk to Me, Baby," which composer Robert Emmett Dolan and lyricist Johnny Mercer thought would be their big hit. They did get two singers to record singles of it before the show opened. One was a little-known warbler (Jesse Pearson, who played Conrad in the Bye Bye Birdie movie the year before), while the other was
substantially better-known (Francis Albert Sinatra).
What Makes Sammy Run? (February 27). Armin knows this show inside out, because he's revamped the book, and is looking to direct a new production. (Nice idea!) He'll probably choose "A Room Without Windows," for it was an affable pop hit of the day, but I'm hoping he'll stage the duet that Robert Alda and Sally Ann Howes sang, "Maybe Some Other Time," which is hauntingly beautiful.
Funny Girl (March 26). With expert Streisand impersonator Steven Brinberg on hand, expect to hear "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat" or "His Love Makes Me Beautiful"--the comic songs. I suspect, though, that Siegel and Armin will give the famous ballad "People" and should-be-famous ballad "The Music That Makes Me Dance" to a "real" singer like Liz Callaway.
Anyone Can Whistle (April 4). Actually, the title tune has had so many cover versions (I recently learned from readers) that I'm sure we'll hear this tender melody here--undoubtedly sung by the wonderful Tom Andersen. But wouldn't it be delicious to hear Andersen do "With So Little to Be Sure Of," so we could finally hear it done well? (Lord knows it was beyond Harry Guardino's range.)
High Spirits (April 7). I can sure hear Sharon McNight do a heavenly version of another great 11 o'clocker, "Home, Sweet Heaven." Maybe we don't hear this one as much as we might because it has a dated reference in it--about Emily Bronte doing The Twist. (Needless to say, I'm implying that The Twist is dated, not Miss Bronte.)
Cafe Crown (April 17). This three-performance flop didn't get recorded, and I've never come across anyone's recording of a single song from it. The music was by Albert (Plain and Fancy Hague, and the lyrics by Marty Brill, much better known as an actor who'd have big success a decade or so later playing the title role of Lenny in Boston. Anyway, with only song titles to go by, I do hope that Siegel and Armin choose one that at least sounds as if it could be fun: "Au Revoir, Poland - Hello, New York."
Fade Out--Fade In (May 26). Jule Styne's second Broadway score in two months can't match the first, and Carol Burnett reportedly told the composer flat-out that he didn't write as well for her as he did for that Streisand woman. Granted--but the title tune has charm, and I suspect that Liz Callaway will make it all the more charming.
Fiddler on the Roof (September 22). Picking the right song or two from this show is trickier than it might seem at first glance. So much of the score is so overexposed--and who wants to hear "Sunrise, Sunset" when they'll hear it next week at a wedding or a bar-mitzvah? But the one lovely song that people tend to forget from this show is "Now I Have Everything," and I won't be surprised if Siegel and Armin choose it. But I'd like to see Norm Lewis tackle "If I Were a Rich Man."
Golden Boy (October 20). Here's a chance for the aforementioned Mr. Lewis to reprise "While the City Sleeps," which he did at Encores! earlier this year. But I'd like to see him lead the cast in a rousing rendition of "Don't Forget 127th Street" ("The neighbohrood is classy; we got rats as big as Lassie") or the ever-so-clever "Colorful," in which our hero talks about being green, feeling blue, and acting yellow before he realizes that black suits him best. But "Night Song" is most everyone's favorite from this show, so I suspect Siegel and Armin will opt for that.
Ben Franklin in Paris (Octorber 27). "Half the Battle" is a nice rouser, and would be a perfect second-act opener for this show (though it originally appeared in the first act, under Robert Preston's expert guidance). While most everyone thinks that the song Jerry Herman wrote in a hurry ("To Be Alone with You") is the best song in the score, I'll stick with the original authors' "Look for Small Pleasures" instead.
Something More (November 10). Hard to know what they'll choose, given that ABC-Paramount didn't make the original cast album it promised it would--which deprived us of some Barbara Cook cuts. But I suspect that either Skipper or Brinberg will do "You Gotta Take All the Fruit"--because it's a song that Mae West later did--in the 1969 movie, Myra Breckenridge. Is that the oddest example of recycling you've ever
Bajour (November 23). Everybody's looking for the big Bajour song that Siegel and Armin will choose. I'm hoping it's "Honest Man," yet another terrific 11 o'clocker (there were a lot of them this year, no?) in which two gypsy kings trade barbs. Columbia Records excised one of the naughtier lyrics from this song when recording the album, so we'll see if it's restored in these far more permissive times.
I Had a Ball (December 15). While this is a pretty junky score (by Stan Freeman and Jack Lawrence), the title tune is a real bolt-of-lighting toe-tapper. Karen Morrow--who should be up there in the first paragraph with Broadway's other great stars--did a galvanizing rendition of it in 1964. On the original cast album, alas, she's interrupted by an irrelevant sequence involving a belly dancer. Think about it: Belly-dancing is supposed to be eye-candy, and yet they put the instrumental sequence on the album! (I will admit that before the sequence is done, the orchestra does sound as if it's building to an orgasm.) Anyway, here's hoping that Siegel and Armin won't have a belly-dancer on hand--unless Brinberg or Skipper steps forward--for then we can hear the number in all of its uninterrupted glory.
Oh, What a Lovely War! (December 30). Picking one from this is a toughie, and I wouldn't blame the guys if they just offer "They Didn't Believe Me," which this show used--though, of course the Kern melody comes from a show produced more than a half-century earlier, The Girl from Utah. But Oh, What a Lovely War's title song is a rouser, too, and could be a good start to Siegel and Armin's show as well. We'll find out on Monday night.