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My Personal Jason Carlyles

On the Mountain has Filichia considering the unreleased musical theater demos that he'd love to hear. logo
Ebon Moss-Bachrach and Amy Ryan in On the Mountain
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Saw On the Mountain at Playwrights Horizons. Christopher Shinn's new work is engaging for a while, but just when I was getting interested in the characters' dilemmas, the lights faded to black and the four actors came out to take their curtain calls. I wanted more.

The play deals with Sarah, a 34-year-old waitress who used to date a pop-singing legend, the now-deceased Jason Carlyle. Her past makes her awfully attractive to Carrick, a record store employee who's obsessed with Carlyle's music. (When Sarah told Carrick she had a recording of a song that Jason had never released, the astonished look on actor Ebon Moss-Bachrach's face was quite wonderful.)

I'm told that Jason Carlyle is based on Kurt Cobain of the band Nirvana. If my life depended on it, I couldn't name a single Nirvana song, and if someone showed me pictures of two men and asked me to say which was Cobain, I'd have only a 50-50 chance of picking him. To me, Cobain sounds like a nickname for actor Conrad Bain, whom TV audiences know from Maude and Diff'rent Strokes but whom I know from his appearances in the original Candide and Hot Spot, as well as a few plays. And Nirvana? That's being at the closing performance of Follies.

But I sure related to Carrick's reaction when he heard about a never-released recording. I started thinking, what musical theater recordings would get that kind of response from me? I wouldn't count the London cast album of Carnival, for which I've been searching forever, for that was actually released whereas Carlyle's record wasn't. I don't even think I should consider albums that were privately pressed (like Love and Let Love); they need to be even more obscure than that. Nor should I include shows that got on the boards but went unrecorded, be they artistic successes (Love Life) or fascinating failures (Love Match), or ones that had a recording contract but didn't make it to the studio (Love Me, Love My Children). There could possibly be recordings of all those, for some enthusiasts bring tape recorders to the theater, though the resultant tapes are murder on the ears. First you strain to hear what's coming from the stage, then you're suddenly assaulted by a loud barrage of audience laughter, or someone's coughing or talking. Such recordings aren't allowed to live in my house.

No, the closest thing to the unreleased Jason Carlyle record in musical theater terms would be a demo of a show that didn't even make it to rehearsal. I'm not including Enter Juliet, the 1977 musical version of Juliet of the Spirits that had music by Morton Gould and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, because the demo of that show has actually made it to CD. And while there would have been a time when Señor Discretion Himself, on which Frank Loesser was working before he died, would have been high on the list, that show got a workshop production in New York in the '80s and a full production at Arena Stage last year. I'm talking about shows whose demo tapes remain only in their authors' homes. Which never-weres that I've never heard would I most like to hear? Here's my Top 10:

1) Wonderful Town (1953). Yes, we all own seven different recordings of this score, but the one I want is the score that was dropped: Music by Leroy Anderson, lyrics by Arnold Horwitt. Five weeks before rehearsals were to begin, Betty Comden and Adolph Green got the call to write a new score. They summoned Leonard Bernstein, and look what they came up with in a month's time! But what did the original guys do? How many of the songs were in the same spots? I'd love to know.

2) A Pray by Blecht (1969). You read that right -- not A Play by Brecht, though it was based on a Brecht play titled The Exception to the Rule. Here's another aborted Bernstein show, this time with lyrics by Sondheim, who dropped out and was replaced by, of all people, Jerry Leiber (of future Smokey Joe's Cafe fame). He didn't work out, so Sondheim came back when John Guare said that he'd write the book. The songwriters penned eight or nine songs, the Broadhurst was booked, and then it all fell apart. Zero Mostel was going to star, and though I can't quite picture him deigning to do a demo, wouldn't it be something to hear him on one?

3) The Skin of Our Teeth (1964). Not the one that Kander and Ebb did a while back, but one that (here's that name again) Leonard Bernstein was composing to Betty Comden's and Adolph Green's lyrics. They worked on the project for six months, so imagine how much there must be of it if they could come up with the entire score for Wonderful Town in a matter of weeks. (Yes, I know Parkinson's Law -- that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Without a deadline, maybe they didn't write much over that half-year.) But if the two beautiful songs ("Here Comes the Sun" and "Spring Will Come Again") that showed up in By Bernstein (1975) are any indication, this score was -- or would have been -- something special.

4) I Picked a Daisy (1963). Richard Rodgers, fresh off his youthful-sounding score to No Strings, paired with Alan Jay Lerner to write a musical about a reincarnated woman whose shrink preferred her long-dead counterpart. Robert Horton, a TV star, and Barbara Harris, a real star, were to be directed by Gower Champion. But Lerner wasn't writing fast enough for Rodgers, who bolted to write Do I Hear a Waltz?. Considering that Waltz opened in March, 1965 and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever -- a show with the same plot as I Picked a Daisy but with music by Burton Lane -- opened a mere seven months later, how slow could Lerner have been?

Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick
5) Come Back! Go Away! I Love You! (1966). Three one act-musicals by Bock and Harnick. Sound like The Apple Tree? Indeed, this was the original title when the pair were musicalizing, in addition to Mark Twain's "The Diaries of Adam and Eve," Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" and Bruce Jay Friedman's "Show Biz Connections." We got the first one, but where are the other two?

6) Golden Gate (1964). This is a Kander and Ebb musical about a young woman (think a young Liza Minnelli) who moves from the sticks to San Francisco to find fame and fortune -- and arrives the day after the 1906 earthquake. Minnelli recorded one of the songs ("I'm One of the Smart Ones"), and another, "The Life of the Party," showed up in The Happy Time. But given that the team wrote such a good song about New York, New York, imagine their paean to San Francisco: "Everybody's Favorite City." (Wonder why I didn't opt for Kander and Ebb's backstage murder mystery, Curtains? Because I once attended a backer's audition and heard it. It's terrific.)

7) Softly (1967). The Colonial in Boston was booked for a September opening, and Jason Robards was to star in this musical based on an Indian novel. Music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Martin Charnin, who wrote a song called, yes, "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile."

8) Scandal (1984). One might expect to see a Michael Bennett musical higher up on the list, but let's face it: an audio recording wouldn't be able to capture that master's magic. Still, there was a time when composer Jimmy Webb was writing some wonderful pop tunes ("Up, Up, and Away," "MacArthur Park," "Didn't We?"), so I'd like to hear what he did in collaboration with the very funny writer Treva Silverman, who wrote the book.

9) Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Missing Santa Claus (1985). Dontcha just love the title? If Charles Strouse could set to music the wordy expression "What's a Nice Kid Like You Doin' in a Place Like This?" (as he deftly did for a TV-version of Alice in Wonderland), I wouldn't bet against his providing a nifty title tune for this show, even though he was working with journeyman lyricist Don Black.

10) Casablanca (1963). Music by Arthur (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) Schwartz and lyrics by Leo (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) Robin. Those who know me will tell you that I'm one of the big Casablanca fans of all-time, so why didn't I place this higher? Because the writers are known to have completed only three songs: "To Love and to Lose," "Why Should I Care?", and "Lucky to Be Alive." Was the first one for Rick to sing when Ilsa doesn't show at the train station? Was the second for Rick to sing after Ilsa returns to the Café Americain late at night? And was the third for Victor to sing when he wants the letters of transit from Rick? (I hear a song where he says he's lucky to be alive, not merely because he escaped from concentration camps but because he's fortunate to have married Ilsa.) I'm hoping that, some day, we'll know the answers to these questions.


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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