Tragedy Tomorrow, Jukebox Tonight!
From Ballroom to Billy to Buttrio Square, it's obscure showtunes that rock Ed Linderman's jukebox.
We may be officially in a new season, but tonight--Monday, June 10--there will be two shows in town that celebrate previous seasons. Last Friday, I mentioned The Broadway Musicals of 1964, which will be at Town Hall at 8pm. But before that, at 5:30pm, you can see another show (and this one's free!) that will commemorate the Broadway musicals of yesteryear. Better still, it won't just limit itself to one year.
Would you like me to tell you what songs you'll hear? I can't. I don't know. No one does. Because at Ed Linderman's Broadway Jukebox, you decide what songs you're going to hear. When you enter the theater, you're handed a list of 82 songs, all of them from shows that most of the public has never heard of. Different Times. 70, Girls, 70. Come Summer. Nefertiti. Check off whatever song title appeals to you and hand in your ballot.
Granted, if you don't know the songs, you can't be sure of what you'd really like to hear. But I remember when my girlfriend and I attended a production of Ed Linderman's Broadway Jukebox in the early '90s on Theatre Row, she spotted a song entitled, "A Cow and a Plow and a Frau" from Arms and the Girl and knew from that felicitous title that it was one she'd like to hear.
She didn't hear it; not that night, anyway. Ed can't possibly honor all requests, so your wish may not be granted. I later assuaged my girlfriend's disappointment by playing the cut on the cast album for her. But the night we were at the Broadway Jukebox she did encounter a song that immediately became one of her all-time favorites: "Useful Phrases" from Sail Away. So who knows what song you'll fall in love with if you attend Ed's presentation tonight?
Linderman starts with the '30s and goes all the way up to the '90s. At a presentation last week, I heard a song from 1946's St. Louis Woman, 1979's Carmelina, and the title song from 1969's Billy; the last, Linderman mentioned, was cut just before opening night (which was also closing night). By the way, while Linderman's list is heavily studded with songs from flops, he does occasionally throw in a song from a hit show that has since fallen into obscurity, like "Someone Wonderful I Missed" from the two-year hit I Love My Wife.
He admits that his selections are subjective. "They're based on my own taste and experience," he says. "After Rex Reed came to see the show, he spent paragraphs saying how I picked the wrong song from the shows." When you think of it, something like this has to happen. As two of Linderman's cast members were doing "Don't 'Ah, Ma' Me" from The Rink, I have to admit that I was wondering why he didn't choose "The Apple Doesn't Fall" from the same score. But, as I've learned whenever I've asked readers for their favorites, you never know what song is going to ring somebody's bell. There's probably someone out there who just adores the title tune from Sarava.
"These are the songs from the shows that no one came to see," Linderman said with a sigh as he began his presentation. He pointed out that Porgy and Bess and Candide were flops the first time around, and you can tell that he wishes that some of the failures he's celebrating would be equally vindicated sometime soon. I'll never forget what he said the first time I met him more than a decade ago: that everyone knows the story about A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum being in such terrible shape and desperate trouble before "Love Is in the Air" was replaced by "Comedy Tonight." Once the new opening number was inserted, the show was a hit. "So," Ed said, "who knows how many other shows were just one song away--one little song away--from being a hit?" Good point, Mr. L. (By the way: When I related this story to a good friend, he snarled, "Oh, I'm sure there were other changes made to A Funny Thing that made the difference and it wasn't just that one song." So the next time I interviewed Sondheim, I specifically asked him, "Was it just the one song that made the difference in A Funny Thing and nothing else?" and he said "Absolutely!" (He did, really; I still have the videotape.)
Whether or not we'll ever see Buttrio Square or Ballroom, we may be getting many chances to see Ed's newest idea for his show: What he'll be doing tonight at the Lark Theatre (939 Eighth Avenue, between 55th and 56th streets) is really a backers auditions. "Come with your Aunt Esther who has money," Linderman told last week's crowd, "and your Uncle Morris who owns a theater in Poughkeepsie." Here's why: He wants to get productions for two different versions of his show. One will be called The Amazing Broadway Jukebox and will be tailored to out-of-towners, featuring great songs that we musical theater aficionados might know but John Q. Theatergoer does not. Linderman would also like to jumpstart Broadway Jukebox Rides Again, a brand-new edition of the show for we know-it-all New Yorkers with plenty of new songs from more recent obscurities. For reservations for tonight's event, call 212-877-3302.