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July 23, 2000

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Sony on Broadway

Another set of classic Broadway re-releases has arrived from Sony and we sample several of them.

PLAYLIST
Selection Source Performer(s) Comments
Opening on October 10th, 1947, Finian's Rainbow had music by Burton Lane and E.Y. ("Yip") Harburg and book by Harburg and Fred Saidy. The idea for a show in which a bigoted Southern senator is turned into a black man and forced to "live under his own Jim Crow laws" first occurred to Harburg in 1945 as a reaction to a racist senator in Congress. Reading James Stephen's novel The Crock of Gold gave him the inspiration to combine his message of racial injustice with the fanciful tale of an Irish immigrant and a Leprechaun's pot of gold. The show ran 725 performances and was denounced in Congress (still racist and now hysterically anti-leftist as well) as a Communist plot.
That Great Come-and-Get-It Day Finian's Rainbow (OC 1947) Donald Richards and the Lyn Murray Singers Irish immigrant Finian McLonergan finds the secret gold stash of the Leprechaun Og and invites his neighbors in Missitucky to celebrate. This version of the song was dropped from the original cast album for technical reasons.
When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love Finian's Rainbow (OC 1947) E.Y. Harburg, Richard Leonard (piano) From a talk by Harburg recorded in 1973.
Don't Pass Me By Finian's Rainbow (OC 1947) E.Y. Harburg, Burton Lane (piano) This song was cut from the show pre-Broadway. Nobody seems to know where this recording came from.
Based on the popular 1911 play of the same title by Edward Knoblock (which provided a star vehicle for Otis Skinner), Kismet (allegedly the Arabic for "fate") was suggested to Hollywood composers Robert Wright and George ("Chet") Forest by producer Edwin Lester, who remembered the play fondly from his youth. They liked the idea, but what really sold them was the fact that Alfred Drake (already a star as a result of Oklahoma! and Kiss Me Kate) had been hired to play the role of the poet Hajj. Lester suggested that they use the music of Tchaikovsky as the basis for the score but this idea (along with the suggestion that they mine the works of Rimski-Korsakov) was rejected in favor of using themes by Alexander Borodin. In fact, only a small number of Borodin's themes were used (from the Symphony No. 2, the D Major String Quartet, the Polovtsian Dances, In the Steppes of Central Asia and a piano etude). For the rest, according to Wright, "we wrote in the style of Borodin...[and] most of the score is totally original".

The action of Kismet takes place in a 24-hour period - dawn to dawn - in ancient Baghdad. A roguish public poet (Drake) assumes the identity of Hajj the beggar and embarks on a series of fantastic adventures, which include: drowning the wicked Wazir (Henry Calvin), seeing his daughter Marsinah (Doretta Morrow) married to the Caliph (Richard Kiley), getting himself appointed Emir of Baghdad. and going off into luxurious exile with the Wazir's delectable wife, Lalume (Joan Diener).

Kismet opened on December 3, 1953 and ran for 583 performances. An all-black version, re-titled Timbuktu, opened in 1978 and ran for 221 performances. Re-set in Mali, it starred Eartha Kitt, Ira Hawkins, Melba Moore and Gilbert Price.

Trivia note: Kiley and Diener would star on Broadway again in 22 years in Man of La Mancha (1965), the same year Drake starred in a triumphant revival of Kismet at Lincoln Center.
Fate Kismet (OC 1953) Alfred Drake Hajj contemplates the vagaries of fate and wonders what is in store for him.
Not Since Ninevah Kismet (OC 1953) Joan Diener, Henry Calvin, Chorus Lalume sells the city of Baghdad to three visiting princesses, each of whom hopes to wed the handsome Caliph.
And This is My Beloved Kismet (OC 1953) Alfred Drake, Doretta Morrow, Richard Kiley, Henry Calvin A beautiful song, period, with a melody derived from the second movement of Borodin's D Major string quartet. Marsinah praises the Caliph to her father as the Caliph instructs the Wazir to find the mysterious woman (Marsinah) who has entranced him.
From the fantastic to the down-to-earth: The Pajama Game (1954) is based on Richard Bissell's then-popular novel Seven and 1/2 Cents, about a labor dispute at a pajama factory and the star-crossed romance between Union activist Babe Williams (Janis Paige) and the new shop superintendent Sid Sorokin (John Raitt, the original Bill Bigelow in Carousel). Also in the mix: the turbulent romance between "time study man" Hines (Eddie Foy, Jr.) and Gladys (Carol Haney). Hines' attempts to overcome his obsessive jealousy lead to comic complications.

Frank Loesser was originally approached to write the music and lyrics but he declined and recommended instead the relatively unknown team of Jerry Adler and Richard Ross, who had never written a complete musical before. With a book by the legendary George Abbott (who also directed along with Jerome Robbins) and choreography by Bob Fosse, the show was a huge hit, opening on May 13th, 1954 and running for 1,063 performances. It was made into a popular film in 1957 with nearly all of the original cast intact (the one exception being Janis Paige; Doris Day got her part) and was successfully revived in 1973 with a cast that included Hal Linden, Barbara McNair and Cab Calloway.

Adler and Ross had another hit in 1955 with Damn Yankees and might have continued as successful Broadway songwriters had not Ross died at the age of 29 shortly after Damn Yankees opened. Adler's career as a songwriter continued, but he never had another hit like the two he had with Ross. His memoir, You Gotta Have Heart (written with Lee Davis) was published in 1990.
Sleep Tite The Pajama Game (OC 1954) Janis Paige, Chorus The Sleep Tite Pajama Company anthem, cut from the original LP issue of the cast recording.
Steam Heat The Pajama Game (OC 1954) Carol Haney, Peter Gennaro, Buzz Miller A show-stopping dance number.
Interview with Jerry Ross; The World Around Us; Interview with Jerry Ross; There Once Was a Man The Pajama Game (OC 1954) Jerry Ross, Mike Wallace, John Raitt, Janis Paige Exceprts from the CBS Radio show Stage Struck, recorded in 1963 while The Pajama Game was still in out-of-town tryouts. Mike Wallace interviews lyricist Jerry Ross and Raitt and Paige perform the songs. "The World Around Us" was cut from the show pre-Broadway.
Bye Bye Birdie (1960) continues to be popular on the summer stock , community theater and high school circuit despite the fact that the events that inspired it - Elvis Presley's induction into the army in September of 1958 and the attendant media circus, complete with a staged "last kiss" by a WAC named Mary Davies - are recalled by fewer and fewer people as time goes by. The Muny has staged it several times and a 1995 TV version with Jason Alexander, Vanessa Williams and Tyne Daly was a hit. The show opened on April 4th, 1960 with truly pathetic advanced sales (a whopping $200) and got royally panned by Brooks Atkinson in the Times ("Neither fish, fowl nor good musical comedy"). Every other paper in town raved, through, and the audiences loved it -and still do. The show ran for 607 performances, and was filmed in 1963 (with some new songs by Strouse and Adams, including the title song; there is no "Bye Bye Birdie" in the original).

The show made a star out of Dick Van Dyke, partly by giving him a show-stopping tap-dance solo in "Put on a Happy Face", and gave the songwriting team of Charles Strouse and Lee Adams their first Broadway hit - and their first Broadway show, for that matter. They went on to write Golden Boy (1964) and Applause (1970), among others, and Strouse teamed with Martin Charnin to produce Annie in 1977. Gower Champion directed (his debut in that role); it was his idea to cast actual teenagers in chorus.

Bye Bye Birdie was probably the first Broadway show to deal with the rock phenomenon and certainly the first one to do so sympathetically.
The Telephone Hour Bye Bye Birdie (OC 1960) The Teenagers And they really were! Champion insisted on using real teenagers for the chorus roles.
Honestly Sincere Bye Bye Birdie (OC 1960) Dick Gautier, Barbara Doherty, Teenagers Trivia point: at one point during its development, Bye Bye Birdie was going to be a vehicle for Dick Shawn, doing an Elvis spoof.


Acronyms and other mysteries defined:

OC: Unless otherwise indicated, the Original Cast recording of a Broadway show, along with the date.

OS: Unless otherwise indicated, the Original Soundtrack recording of a film, TV show, etc.


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