Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Gay Life

Barbara Cook spent the first decade of her career playing ingenues in musical comedies. The Music Man was her biggest hit but even "flops" like Candide and She Loves Me gave her signature songs like "Glitter and Be Gay" and "Vanilla Ice Cream." Today I look at one of her real flops; The Gay Life. 

We start with a set of one act plays about a rouge named Anatole and his many mistresses. In adapting them to a musical a through line was needed. That would be Liesl the young woman who loves him from afar. Like Bobby in Company she observes all his adventures. Like Sandy in Grease she wins him by asserting her own sexuality. The role could have been a cipher or a joke. Instead Barbara Cook made her the beating heart of the show.

Italian film star Walter Chiari couldn't really sing. The mistresses and the sidekick get the comedy numbers but those are mostly uninspired. The good stuff goes to Barbara Cook and her tracks on the cast album are spellbinding.

"Our leading man couldn't act, dance, sing or speak English, which was a handicap." ~ Howard Dietz

"When the show was published for the first time in 1986, it was retitled, for perhaps obvious reasons, The High Life." ~ Kevin Mandelbaum

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