Broadway, His Way
In a continuing series of Town Hall concerts produced by Scott Siegel, songs from musicals past -- hits and flops alike -- are showcased.
Scott Siegel is still trying to decide what to do about The Fantasticks. That's because Siegel, a fellow TheaterMania columnist (with his wife Barbara) who's been producing and hosting a terrific series of evenings at Town Hall that celebrate Broadway musicals of various years, has decided that one of the concerts he'll offer next year will be The Broadway Musicals of 1960.
Whatever he selects from Do-Re-Mi is bound to make someone happy, though how to handle Camelot is still a problem and what from Wildcat strikes his fancy remains to be seen. However, Siegel will put on a happy case full of songs from Bye Bye Birdie and do tunes from Greenwillow that may have everyone walking away whistling. He'll give little old New York a chance to hear more of Tenderloin and he's got the lot of Irma La Douce songs from which to choose. What will he include from The Unsinkable Molly Brown? "If I Knew," moans the still unsure Siegel. Those were the hits, of course, but Siegel's inclination to be a completist means that he'll also include songs from 1960's less successful musicals. From Vintage '60, the eight-performance bomb that David Merrick co-produced, he might consider three songs that Sheldon Harnick wrote with David Rogers -- not to mention "Dublin Town," the first song that Fred Ebb ever had on Broadway. Siegel will probably be compelled to include something as well from Beg, Borrow or Steal, which actually sprang from an album of songs called Clara. (And you thought Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice invented the concept album!)
According to Siegel, even the woeful, 12-performance atrocity Christine will be represented. Will he choose "Kathakali" or "The Lovely Girls of Akbarabad?" I doubt that we'll hear "The UNICEF Marching Song," which never became the official UNICEF anthem -- probably because the people at UNICEF heard it. Hey, any score that has a song called "We're Just a Pair of Sparrows" is just asking theatergoers to give up musicals now and forever.
But then there's The Fantasticks, one of the best-known titles from 1960 and one that literally ran much more than 10 times as many performances as all of the above-named shows lumped together. There is a curious paradox, of course, in the fact that The Fantasticks doesn't actually belong in a program called The Broadway Musicals of 1960 because -- as any schoolchild can tell you (I wish!) -- it never was a Broadway musical, having been performed for all of its 41-plus years in the 150-seat Sullivan Street Playhouse. So Siegel goes round and round in making his decision. Never say no, Scott! We'll see if this story has a happy ending when your show happens. (Siegel certainly has ample time to decide, given that the concert won't be produced until June 9, 2003.)
It'll probably be sold out well before showtime, even at the 1,500 seat Town Hall. Siegel, who started in 2000 with merely two presentations of The Broadway Musicals of..., expanded to four last year and this year as business has steadily grown to the SRO level. Not only that, he's now CDs of several of his shows on the Bayview label. (The Broadway Musicals of 1951 was released late last month.) The diminutive and shy Siegel says, "I can't sing and I'm not an actor; so when people say to me, 'I just got your new CD!' I'm still stunned, because those are words I never thought I'd hear." He's also pleased to announce that some of these discs have gone to #1 on Footlight Records' best seller list.
The new series begins on February 17 with The Broadway Musicals of 1925. "I'm thinking about doing that one completely unamplified," says Siegel, which would be apt for a year that obviously was body-mikeless. Siegel mentioned that his cast will do songs from The Coconuts, The Vagabond King, and Sunny, but didn't mention the shows from which I'd most like to hear tunes. I'm looking forward to something from Louie the 14th because I love the plot of that show. (You're assuming it has something to do with the French monarch, aren't you? No -- a hostess is holding a dinner party and, at the last minute, realizes that she has invited 13 guests. The superstitious hostess decides she'd better invite someone else lest she hex the party, and Louie's the 14th guest.) I'm also lusting for a song from Bringing Up Father -- for, long before Li'l Abner met Daisy Mae on Broadway and Charlie Brown met Lucy Off-Broadway, comic strip characters Maggie and Jiggs met in this show at the Lyric Theatre. Let's also hear something from Kosher Kitty Kelly. And here's hoping that Siegel snags Stephen Mo Hanan to do Jolson's songs from Big Boy.
March 17 brings The Broadway Musicals of 1939. "Everyone knows that 1939 was a great year for Hollywood," notes Siegel, "but it was a terrific year for Broadway too." He gives as evidence DuBarry Was a Lady, Stars in Your Eyes, Too Many Girls, and The Straw Hat Revue. Sure, but I'd like to hear "Kiss Me and We'll Both Go Home" from One for the Money, "JoJo the Cannibal Kid" from Blackbirds of 1939, and "Her Pop's a Cop" from Sing for Your Supper.
May 12 -- the day that drove poor Olivia De Havilland crazy in Arthur Laurents's The Snake Pit -- will drive audiences crazy in a different way when Siegel does The Broadway Musicals of 1953. Siegel mentions Wonderful Town, Kismet, Can-Can, and Me and Juliet, but I tell him to grab Debbie Gravitte and have her repeat the astonishing performance she gave of the high camp number "That Man Is Doing His Worst to Make Good" on the album Unsung Musicals. It's from Carnival in Flanders, and I expect that Siegel will offer the now-famous "Here's That Rainy Day" from that flop, which lasted less than a week.
I expect this because Siegel is quite frank in stating that "One criticism I've gotten is that we tend to do too much obscure stuff." This may be, Scott; but I do think that, when you make your CDs, you should stress the unfamiliar on them. I really don't need new recordings of songs from The King and I or Oklahoma! but gimme, gimme anything I don't already have on disc or tape. Siegel also admits that he heard some carping over his inclusion of book scenes from What Makes Sammy Run? in The Broadway Musicals of 1964 last June; the lackluster reaction to them convinced him to do no more such dialogue excerpts. "Songs are our mission," he says. To which I say: "Mr. S., try to remember The Fantasticks next June 9."
Admission for the series is $140 per subscription, plus $2 postage and handling per order. Make checks payable to The Town Hall and mail them there -- 123 West 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036 -- or phone 212-997-1003.