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One Day More

Filichia revisits Darling of the Day in preparation for the upcoming Musicals in Mufti production. logo
So what's the most arcane item in my apartment? My copy of the first CD release of Saturday Night, on which Sondheim's first name is spelled "Steven"? My hexaflexagon that was included with the original LP of The Magic Show? My program for Senator Joe from my visit to one of its three previews at the Simon?

No, it's my original cast recording of Darling of the Day -- on 8-track tape. How amazing that this trouble-plagued, 31-performance, 1968 flop even got a cast album on then-conventional vinyl. But with a score by the composer of Gypsy and Funny Girl (Jule Styne) and the lyricist of Finian's Rainbow and The Wizard of Oz (E.Y. Harburg), it has always found a way to survive. While Darling of the Day only got one Tony nomination -- for Patricia Routledge as Best Actress in a Musical -- and was long gone by awards time, Routledge won (though she did tie with Hallelujah, Baby!'s Leslie Uggams, whose show ran more than nine times as long). Fascinating, isn't it, that both winners were in a Jule Styne show? And speaking of Styne: Through the '70s and '80s, when I saw him at parties where he was asked to perform, he always did "Let's See What Happens" from this score. He often said that it was his favorite of all the songs he wrote.

The York Theatre Company did Darling of the Day as part of its Musicals in Mufti series in 1998 and, in a rare move for the troupe, will do it again come April 15-17. It won't be a word-for-word, song-for-song recreation of the original, but adapter Erik Haagensen says that his revised script and new lyrics are close to what audiences saw in 1968. That's becasue, back in 1998, Hal Prince's longtime associate Arthur Masella was asked by Mufti what he'd like to stage there. Masella, who'd taught Haagensen at NYU, checked with his student for "a title that was fixable," and Haagensen's first choice was Darling of the Day. For years, he'd loved the cast album (which I'm sure he'd only heard on LP, not on 8-track tape).

Not only is the Styne-Harburg score terrific, but so is the story, based on Arnold Bennett's 1895 novel Buried Alive. British painter Priam Farll isn't favored by Queen Victoria, so he and his butler Henry Leek leave England for the country. When Edward VII assumes the throne, he summons Farll home to offer him a knighthood. But Leek suddenly dies, and when a clerk mistakenly puts Farll's name on the death certificate as the deceased -- and Leek as the survivor -- Priam thinks that this is a lovely opportunity to begin a new life. He even falls in love with a local who has the felicitous (if silly) name of Alice Challice. Now, how can he make a living? And shouldn't he tell his wife the truth about himself?

In 1908, Bennett adapted his story as a play called The Great Adventure. That was first filmed in 1913, then remade as His Double Life in 1933 and Holy Matrimony in 1943. A quarter-century later, Styne and Harburg decided to musicalize the much-renamed property -- and while they did return to the title The Great Adventure for a while, they eventually changed it to Married Alive!.

Haagensen says that Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall -- authors of Billy Liar and the now-forgotten British comedy smash Say Who You Are -- originally were writing the book, then yielded to S.N. Behrman, the noted playwright who'd had one hit per decade from the '20s through the '50s but not in the '60s. He left, and Nunnally Johnson, who'd recently suffered with Henry, Sweet Henry and Breakfast at Tiffany's, was brought on, partly because he'd written Holy Matrimony. The illustrious Theatre Guild was the show's chief producer.

Famous names, all. But who was Steven Vinaver, who was asked to direct? His biggest credit was staging the successful Off-Broadway revue The Mad Show. "My guess," says Haagensen, "is that they had an older team in place and wanted someone young to join them." Vinaver was 32, so he fit that criterion, but apparently didn't have much else to offer. "They fired him," says Haagensen, "and then brought in someone else, fired him, and rehired Vivaver. Then they fired him again and brought in Noel Willman." Here was a director with two major-league credits for staging A Man for All Seasons and The Lion in Winter. But needless to say, though both were England-based, each was a drama about nobles and not a musical in which a man wants to find the simple life.

When I saw Married Alive! in Boston during its December 1967 tryout, Vinaver was still in charge and the show was a frightening mess that barely made sense from one scene to the next. It included such songs as "A Blushing Bride" and "Ding Dong Day," songs that never made it to New York. And though the program insisted that the horrifically titled "Don't Pour the Thames into the Rhine" was in the score, it had already been cut during the previous tryout in Toronto. At that point in my theatergoing life, I'd been following Variety's weekly grosses for four years, and let me tell you that every pre-Broadway tryout in Boston -- yes, even A Time for Singing, How Now, Dow Jones, and Sherry! -- routinely sold out at the Colonial. Married Alive! at the Shubert was the first show not to do so. I was in the third row orchestra with a sea of empty seats around me. I daresay that this was the show that died for all the other musicals' sins, as if people said to themselves, "We've just got to stop going to these monstrosities." For that matter, the Proper Bostonians who made up much of the theatergoing audience had been dying off, too.

Styne and Harburg were of the generation where you don't think you've done arduous work if you change one song. They wrote "That Something Extra Special," "Money, Money, Money," and "Panache," and rewrote their opening song "Darling of the Day" as "He's a Genius." (Ironic, isn't it, that they changed the title of the song, which includes the phrase "Darling of the Day," and yet retitled the show by that name?) Still, Johnson wasn't happy with the way things were going and asked that his name be taken off the credits. But when the show opened, Clive Barnes, then the chief critic of The New York Times, liked it. So why 31 performances? Because, as William Goldman details in his book The Season, Barnes didn't review it on opening night but instead covered a dance event because he was then also the dance critic for the Times. So the second-stringer went to Darling of the Day and wrote a negative notice. Thus, less than 25 years after the Theatre Guild was saved by the smash success of Oklahoma!, it was crippled by the quick failure of Darling of the Day. It wouldn't produce again for six years, and after that, never again.

Was the show gone for good? Not on your Nellie! Darling of the Day probably managed a cast album because every Jule Styne score was recorded, no matter what. (That would end with his very next show, Look to the Lilies, which still has no cast album 35 years after its closing.) Oh, and if you look closely at the Noises Off movie, you'll even see a window card for the show in one scene. Now Darling of the Day will be back on 54th Street, albeit on the East Side and not the West, where it was originally ensconced at the since-razed George Abbott Theatre. York artistic director Jim Morgan wanted to bring the show back for the Jule Styne centenary. Once again, Michael Montel will direct. ("Yes," says Haagensen, "after all that, Artie Massella wasn't able to do it.") Montel has been able to get back three of his four leads -- Simon Jones, Charlotte Moore, and Stephen Mo Hanan -- though Nancy Opel, who played Alice in 1998, can't participate because she's still cavorting as Yente in Fiddler.

While there are new lyrics, Haagensen insists that 95% are by original lyricist Harburg. Two that Haagensen rewrote were in songs that weren't in the finished Broadway product, "That Stranger in Your Eyes" and "Putney on the Thames." The former has Priam deciding to tell Alice the truth, while the latter has Alice's friends commenting about the budding love affair between her and Priam. Haagensen rewrote half of another song, too; he's changed "That Something Extra Special" back to "A Little Extra Shilling," using it to replace "Money, Money, Money." Says Haagensen, "This lyric is the one that Harburg preferred. It deals with the Farlls' financial problems and it has a socialist overtone." (Oh, that loveable leftie Harburg!)

Darling of the Day will have another life after the Mufti run. Bridget McDonough, general manager of Light Opera Works in Evanston Illinois -- "a theater that does everything from Countess Maritza to No Way to Treat a Lady," says Haagensen -- will stage a full production with a five-piece orchestration by Larry Moore, again under Montel's direction. It will run October 2 through November 6. "While I'm not sure we'll ever see Darling of the Day at the Majestic," says Haagensen, "it is a nice, intimate show that centers on four people, and with a cast of 12, it's very doable. For theaters that have done My Fair Lady one time too many, here's another musical set in Britain in the same era." As Harburg wrote lo these many years ago, "Let's see what happens."


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

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