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The Broadway Musicals of 1960

From Bye Bye Birdie to Camelot to Do Re Mi, 1960 was a landmark year for the Broadway musical. logo
1960. Gosh, what a swell year it was! I hardly know where to begin. There was Xerox and lasers; the Twist and the Pill; a city in Brazil that no one wanted to fill. Khrushchev stopped screaming, and Librium came in -- and Nixon didn't win.

And 12 musicals opened on Broadway. Four were hits, while four others were flawed but had terrific scores. On Monday, June 9 at Town Hall, Scott Siegel will celebrate these eight as well as the four outright flops when he hosts "The Broadway Musicals of 1960." Thus, it's time for my guessing game, as I surmise what songs Siegel will choose as representative examples of the shows -- or, more to the point, which ones I think he should choose.

For better or worse, Siegel tends to pick the most famous songs from the musicals he highlights. So expect to hear "A Lot of Livin' to Do" and "Put on a Happy Face" from Bye Bye Birdie; "Hey, Look Me Over" from Wildcat; "Make Someone Happy" from Do Re Mi; and "If Ever I Would Leave You" and the title tune from Camelot. (Given that Brent Barrett will be on hand and that he just starred as Arthur in Camelot at Paper Mill, look for him to at least sing the latter tune). But six songs isn't enough to even make a first act. Let's take a chronological look at the dozen musicals of 1960 to see what else Siegel will choose to round out the evening.

Beg, Borrow or Steal (which opened on February 10, 1960) started life as a concept album called Clara, but actor Eddie Bracken thought it was so good that he encouraged the writers (none of whom you've ever heard of) to expand it for Broadway. They did, and Bracken kept it there for five performances. But this show is so obscure that Ethan Mordden, when writing about '60s musicals in his excellent Open a New Window, didn't even deign to mention it. Given that a show's title song is usually its best one, we'll assume that "Beg, Borrow or Steal" is the finest of the lot and that Siegel will select it.

Greenwillow (March 8): Frank Loesser's folksy score for a show about a lovely, mythical town did produce a song that got a few recordings: "Never Will I Marry," introduced by star Anthony Perkins but championed by Barbra Streisand. While that's what we'll probably hear, I vote for "Could've Been a Ring," a charming ditty in which an elderly man and woman who have known each other since Day One muse on how close they came to getting married. Tovah Feldshuh and Eddie Korbich are much too young for the number, but given that they're in Siegel's cast, I can see them performing it to good advantage.

Bye Bye Birdie (April 14): As well as the two standards named above, the show had two other reasonably well known songs: (1) "Kids!" in which Paul Lynde so memorably mourned, "Why can't they be like we were, perfect in every way?" and (2) "We Love You, Conrad," which lyricist Lee Adams later massaged into "We Love You, Beatles" when John, Paul, George and Ringo made it to our shores in 1964. Interesting, isn't it, that a song which originally parodied the celebration of a rock sensation wound up celebrating another rock sensation?

From A to Z (April 20): You're excused if you don't know this revue, which didn't get a cast album, what with its measly 21-performance run at the Plymouth. I've never heard a note from it, either, but there are three pieces from which I hope Siegel chooses: (1) "Hire a Guy," by composer Mary Rodgers and lyricist Marshall Barer; could it be as as good as some of their Once upon a Mattress score? (2) "I Said to Love," a collaboration between composer Paul Klein and his then-lyricist Fred Ebb -- who would, to say the least, go on to great success with another composer; and (3) "The Sound of Schmaltz," Don Parks and William Dyer's parody of the recently opened The Sound of Music, in which they detailed the ups and downs of the von Klaptrap Family Singers.

Christine (April 28): If Siegel overlooks this 12-performance flop (about an Irishwoman who travels to India) by composer Sammy Fain and lyricist Paul Francis Webster, you won't hear a peep out of me. I have no need to hear such unmemorable -- nay, painful -- songs as "Freedom Can Be a Most Uncomfortable Thing" or "The UNICEF Song." What could be worse than a number called "I'm Just a Little Sparrow"? Well, the one that followed it in the show, "We're Just a Pair of Sparrows" -- that's what! And the statement that I made earlier about a title song usually being the best in a show? It probably is in Christine, but it's still a pretty awful song. Siegel traditionally starts his second act by having the band do an instrumental, so let's hope they play "The Cobra Ritual Dance" and we then call it a night for this dreary musical.

Vintage '60 (September 12): There weren't too many eight-performance flops for producer David Merrick during these years, but here was one -- a revue that featured another Klein-Ebb song entitled "Dublin Town." Maybe it's a good lyric, for we sure know that Ebb can write about towns. Witness his lyric about one city that doesn't sleep, or the show he wrote that took its title from yet another toddlin' town.

Irma La Douce (September 29): Very shortly after Merrick closed Vintage '60, he had a hit with this import. You might know the property, not from the stage show but from the famous 1963 Billy Wilder movie in which schlemiel Nestor (Jack Lemmon) falls hopelessly in love with Parisian prostitute Irma (Shirley MacLaine). If you can't remember more than one song in it, don't feel bad; all the others from the Broadway score were dropped. (I've often said that if Irma were to be revived -- some legal snafus seem to be preventing it -- most people would assume it to be a brand new musical version of the film comedy). Ironically, the song that the movie did retain ("Dis-Donc") was not the song that got the most recordings or airplay when the show debuted; that was "Our Language of Love," which Nestor and Irma crooned to each other. But the score's most beautiful song is Nestor's "From a Prison Cell," which tells us where he wound up until the show's happy ending. Marc Kudisch, who's also part of Siegel's cast, would do a fine job with either song.

Tenderloin (October 17): Perhaps I should have included this show's "Artificial Flowers" in my earlier paragraph of hit songs, but I'll tell you why I didn't: Although Bobby Darin did have a success with the number, he did it in an uptempo version that bears no relation to the tender art-song waltz that Ron Husmann sang in the show. Good song -- but I prefer the insouciant "Little Old New York" and "Picture of Happiness," each of which extol the virtue of vice.

The Unsinkable Molly Brown (November 3): Meredith (The Music Man) Willson was able to start this show, about a Colorado hillbilly who yearns for more out of life, with two terrific numbers. "I Ain't Down Yet" is Molly's insistence that she'll amount to something and "Belly up to the Bar, Boys" is a rouser that's performed at the girl's first place of employment. Let's hope that Siegel chooses one of these two, for there's nothing else in the score of equal quality.

Camelot (December 3): Aside from "Fie on Goodness," is there anything that you wouldn't want to hear from this show? Two people have told me that their favorite song of all time comes from Camelot: My ex-wife's is "Guenevere" and press agent Kevin McAnarney's is "Follow Me." Hope Siegel chooses both.

Wildcat (December 16): Here's where Liz Larsen can shine, taking the songs that Lucille Ball originally sang. "What Takes My Fancy" especially takes my fancy, but "Tall Hope," which didn't involve Lucy at all, is the score's most beautiful and haunting song and the one that Siegel should choose for Brent Barrett.

Do Re Mi (December 26): Before anyone suggests the rousing "It's Legitimate," the ersatz-rock "What's New at the Zoo?" or the soaring "Adventure," may I point out that Variety's Bob Daniels tells me that, on opening night in 1960, the song that really tore down the house was the haunting "Cry Like the Wind." Maybe lightning can strike once again.

Siegel's evenings are routinely recorded and released by Bayview Records. Whether or not he chooses what I'd like to hear for "The Broadway Musicals of 1960," I'm already looking forward to this disc.


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

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