Wednesday, April 29, 2015


How would Guys and Dolls have fared if we spent all our time with General Cartwright in the Save-A-Soul Mission? Maurice Evans was the star and he played the Reverend Brock so he got five stodgy songs. The fun numbers go to the prostitutes and gamblers, leaving the show with a permanent imbalance.

After the 2000 Encores revival the New York Times wrote:

The book, by George Abbott and Jerome Weidman, is full of hokum, but the score has a great deal of the sophisticated charm that is characteristic of the composer and lyricist, whose gift for time-specific musical spirit is apparent in numbers like the winking, oversentimental ballad ''Artificial Flowers'' and the ragtime-ish production number ''Little Old NewYork.'' The score also shines a light on a number of gems. One, ''How the MoneyChanges Hands,'' is an explanation by the chorus of prostitutes to a disguised Reverend Brock of the sequential payoffs of a corrupt capitalist system. Sung to a slowly swaggering Bock melody, it has the same gleeful that's-the-way-of-the-world acceptance as ''Politics and Poker'' from ''Fiorello!''

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


There are lots of shows I want to draw but life and rehearsals are getting in the way. Up today is the first in a series of shows by Bock and Harnick. Best known for Fiddler on the Roof this team has written many delightful shows that have resurfaced in the New York's Encores series.

I've covered The Body Beautiful in the past. Fiorello! was their first big hit, running 795 performances and winning the Pulitzer Prize for drama. It also tied with The Sound of Music for the best musical Tony, beating the beloved Gypsy! 

The best-remembered songs in Fiorello go to the leading ladies. Fiorello himself has little to sing. After the 2013 concert the New York Times wrote:

"Unfortunately single-minded, incorruptible people with a Mission (in this case, to save New York from the moral slime of Tammany Hall politics) tend to lack many arrows in their psychological quivers. And even with a new second-act number (written not long before Bock died in 2010) in which Fiorello bares his soul after losing both his first mayoral run and his first wife, the character remains a gleaming brass instrument with a limited range of notes to play."

Next up: Tenderloin!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Carousel vs. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Quick! Which of these two shows features:

If you answered both you are correct!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn's Johnny never beats his long-suffering wife. He just drinks and gambles away her money while promising to "Buy her a star." Meanwhile Carousel's Billy brings an actual star to his daughter but settles for giving her a slap.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Funny Girl

Funny Girl has been dismissed by several critics as a rickety vehicle for a star turn. Without Barbra Streisand is there reason to revive it? People love the big songs but how many are longing to hear "Henry Street" or "Rat-tat-tat-tat" again?

I mentioned earlier this week that the show has similarities to the often revived Gypsy. Let's compare two key moments in the musicals Funny Girl and Gypsy. 

The awkward young performer makes her big debut:

Louise's Let Me Entertain You strip is full of tension. She's terrified to be on that stage but once she stops listening to her mother and starts talking to the audience her confidence grows. We segue into a fabulous montage as Louise Hovick transforms herself into Gypsy Rose Lee. We are late into act two and building towards the shows climax.

Meanwhile Fanny Brice is desperate to be on stage. She surprises her boss by leaping out of the chorus to belt the solo Cornet Man. Fanny can't keep up with the dancers but the crowd loves her voice. There's no consequence for sabotaging the number and Fanny is quickly hired for the Ziegfeld Follies. She repeats her tactics for the Ziegfeld debut, making an ensemble number all about her by wearing a fake pregnancy pad. We're only halfway through act one and Fanny has achieved stardom.

The long suffering leading man says goodbye:

Rose broke Herbie's trust when she forced her daughter to strip. Rose has shown Herbie the ugliness of her ambitions and proven she'll never be a "wife" to him. We've seen his arc resolve through two acts. He leaves her alone to sing a sad reprise.

Fanny broke Nick's trust when she offered him a job through her connections... huh? Instead he sells illegal bonds, goes to prison, then asks for a divorce. Most of his arc leading to this was off stage. He leaves her alone to sing a sad reprise.

In conclusion

Roses' showbiz ambitions in Gypsy propel the show destroying family and romantic relationships in their path. Stakes are high. Fanny's showbiz ambitions in Funny Girl are quickly achieved learning her to pine for her cipher of a leading man for the rest of the night. Stakes are low.

In Ethan Mordden's book Open A New Window he points out two reasons for Nicky's lack of character. First the real Arnstein was "alive and litigious." Second the role was cut down during the shows disastrous out of town tryout. Streisand was the only part audiences liked so replacement director Jerome Robbins focused the show on her. This is even more apparent in the movie where nearly everyone elses songs are cut.

If you bring Funny Girl back to Broadway you're bringing back the songs for Eddie Ryan, Mama Brice, Ms. Strakosh and the blander than bland Nicky Arnstein. You better have a Fanny who can distract you from them.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


I've tried to avoid the classics on this blog unless I could find an interesting take on them. In this case I've decided to compare Gypsy and Funny Girl.

Arthur Laurent's libretto for Gypsy has been heavily analysed and highly praised. The show lived past Ethel Merman's original star turn for three revivals, two films and countingFunny Girl's book was dismissed as weak. The film was heavily edited to focus on it's star Barbra Streisand and subsequent attempts at revivals have yet to secure backing.

Some similarities: Both musicals have backstage rise-to-fame plots, VERY LOOSELY based on real-life stars and scores by Jule Styne. Fanny and Louise both clash with their mothers. Nicky and Herbie both abandon their leading ladies after a dressing room confrontation. Both shows end act one with a rousing song of unhealthy determination.

Later this week I'll look at how the shows differ, and why a Funny Girl revival may be better in our imaginations than in reality.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How To Succeed Clones

"The sad thing about a poor musical is that as much effort goes into it as goes into a good musical - probably more." ~ Clive Barnes. New York Times. 1967 review of How Now Dow Jones.

When a new idea is a hit it looks easy. Oh sure. Let’s take a satirical novel about corrupt businessmen and make it a musical!

I Can Get it for You Wholesale and What Makes Sammy Run went for grit; focusing on the victims of the con men. How Now Dow Jones went for breezy and jokey but gasped and wheezed instead. Both Sammy and How Now have been revived regionally with revised books but none have captured the lightning in the bottle of the frequently revived How to Succeed.

Monday, April 6, 2015

My Fair Lady Clones

How do you write a song for Sherlock Holmes, Mr. Darcy or Vincent Price? Perhaps make them sound like Henry Higgins? My Fair Lady was, and is, an unusual musical despite attempts to clone it. Lerner and Loewe's Camelot and Gigi both used structural pieces of their prior masterpiece to create something new.  Other imitations were less successful.

Baker Street: He has Holmes being pursued by a woman in love with him.... After all, Alan Jay Lerner had Higgins getting quite cozy with Eliza Doolittle at the end of "My Fair Lady..." If you're a strict constructionist of the Holmes canon, you won't like the early crudities of this treatment. ~ Howard Taubman. New York Times. 1965.

Darling of the DayOne way to really appreciate what a flawless musical “My Fair Lady” is, is to experience the ultra-rarely performed imitation of it called “Darling of the Day..." Not helping matters was having hopelessly miscast screen boogeyman Vincent Price attempt a Rex Harrison imitation in the leading role ~ New City Times. 2005.

First Impressions: Although Mr. Burrows is an able man with gags and guffaws, he is not likely to settle comfortably in the smaller compass of a Jane Austen novel. Even if he were, Hermione Gingold would not be the proper lady to keep steady company with him there.... she scampers nibly around the stage like a beldame in a burlesque show ~ Brooks Atkinson. New York Times. 1959

Friday, April 3, 2015


courtesan : noun : a woman who has sex with rich or important men in exchange for money : a prostitute who has sex with wealthy and powerful men

Lerner and Loewe followed the success of My Fair Lady with a lavish adaptation Colette’s Gigi. The music and costumes disguise the sordid aspects of the story. Gigi is groomed, like Eliza Doolittle, for high society but the cost is steep. As Tom and Lorenzo put it in their hilarious recap “Because this is a film from 1958, the oral sex lessons take place off-camera.”

The film was adapted the stage in 1973 and is being revised for a Broadway revival in 2015.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


How does Lancelot get from the boy of C’est Moi to the man of If Ever I Would Leave You? We watch Arthur and Genny mature but Lance’s arc was cut during the disastrous out of town try out. The unbalanced love triangle makes it easy to miss the political subtext and dismiss the book unfairly. Still the score remains evergreen.