For decades, people haven’t believed me.
Now, thanks to what Laurence Maslon included on page 220 of his terrific new book
BROADWAY TO MAIN STREET: HOW SHOW TUNES ENCHANTED AMERICA
(Oxford University Press, $34.95), everyone can see that I haven’t been fibbing all these
My story goes back to the morning of January 29, 1966. Although I was still a teen, I had
invested a little money – don’t make me tell you how little – in SWEET CHARITY, the
new (in alphabetical order, because they were all luminaries) Cy Coleman-Dorothy
Fields-Bob Fosse-Neil Simon-Gwen Verdon musical.
I took the train from my native Boston to see my first-ever opening night. Of course I was
extra-excited, for the reviews from the world premiere in Philadelphia and the subsequent
Detroit tryout were encouraging to say the least – and raves to say the most.
Top of that, the Palace Theatre, which had alternated between screening movies and
being dormant for most of the previous six years, would now become a home strictly for
Broadway musicals, plays and revues.
So I got off the train at Penn Station and lugged my suitcase and garment bag which held
my rented tuxedo to the Hotel Manhattan (now the Row NYC) on Eighth Avenue and 44 th
Street. After getting settled, I started walking to 46 th Street where I’d buy a matinee ticket
for the new musical SKYSCRAPER.
But on the corner of 45th and Eighth, my eyes bugged out the way cartoon characters do
when they see something utterly unexpected. Aside from a few cars parked near each
curbside, the entire street right down to Broadway was chock-a-block with the covers of
Better still, they included every one of the long-playing original Broadway cast albums
and soundtracks that Columbia Records had released over the past eighteen years.
Yes: every one of them.
And imagine my delight in seeing that the album cover for the yet-to-be-released SWEET
CHARITY was already here! The joy that was surging through my veins was short-lived,
however, because the album had a single cover and not a gatefold “double cover.” And, I
could see from the KOS catalogue demarcation, it would be a $6.98-in-stereo record;
single jackets, until THE ZULU AND THE ZAYDA (which was also here) a few months
earlier, had been $5.98. Ah, well.
My happiness would return two weeks hence after SWEET CHARITY was officially
released. It ruled my turntable for a solid month, and not just out of sentiment and loyalty to my investment. Coleman and Fields had written a major score – one reason why
SWEET CHARITY has had not one but two Broadway revivals.
Over the years, many a doubting Thomas – and plenty of people with other names, too –
have shrieked “The whole street?!?!” when I’ve told them about this extraordinary winter
day (which was bitterly cold – not that the single-degree temperature stopped me from
standing there transfixed for many, many minutes).
“Yes, the whole street,” I’ve insisted many times.
“The whole street,” they’ve repeated sternly, giving me a chance to take it back without
being humiliated too much for having exaggerated.
“The ENTIRE whole street,” I’ve always maintained.
“You want us to believe,” they’ve said, with eyes half-closed and the sound of attack in
their voices, “that one of the busiest blocks in the city was blocked off from traffic and
cleared so that record covers could be put all over the street?”
“ALL over the street,” I’ve assured them.
“Let’s see a photograph,” they’ve snarled, zeroing in with the speed and skill of Jack
McCoy on LAW & ORDER.
“I don’t have one,” I’ve admitted.
“Ah-HA!” they’ve responded in a case-closed voice.
“But,” I’ve added quickly, “some years later, a friend told me that he saw a photo of it in
an advertising supplement in a copy of the Sunday Times.”
“Does he still have it?” they’d parry – before nodding rapidly with I-knew-I-was-right
assurance when I told them my friend hadn’t saved it, had since passed and thus couldn’t
corroborate my story.
When I started writing for Masterworks Broadway, I asked the powers-that-be if they
could find a copy of the photo. None could. Over the years, I’ve had friends who’ve
worked at the Times and have asked each of them to go on a hunt for said photo. No luck.
Sometimes there’s God so slowly. I don’t know where Maslon got a photo of that once-
in-a-lifetime day, but indeed he did, and there it is on his text’s penultimate page.
It can’t be the one used in that elusive Sunday ad, for, truth to tell, there’s a terrible sun
glare that whites out the middle of the street. But take a look, be it with your own eyes,
reading glasses, the bottom of your bifocals or a magnifying glass — and enjoy what you
A cast album didn’t have to be a hit on The Street to make the street that day. The picture
shows JUNO, which weighed in at sixteen performances despite a riveting Marc
Blitzstein score. Even CHRISTINE, the twelve-performance failure but the first musical
ever written by a Nobel Prize-winner (Pearl S. Buck), can be seen in the photo’s left-hand
corner. As for the supposed runt of the litter – the nine-performance ANYONE CAN
WHISTLE – it had been issued with a gatefold cover; there, on the street, it was spread
out flat and took the place of two standard-issue jackets. What a nice metaphor that
Sondheim’s initially unappreciated score was worth two of many other scores.
Studio cast albums were there, too. The nifty OKLAHOMA! with John Raitt, Florence
Henderson and Phyllis Newman, makes a center-photo appearance. A bit to its right is
ANNIE GET YOUR GUN with Doris Day and Robert Goulet. She was such a Big Name
then, and he was becoming one. Who knew that the eleven-years-older Day would
outlive Goulet by eleven years — and counting?
The first soundtrack you might notice is MY FAIR LADY’s with Rex Harrison and Audr
– whoops, Marni Nixon. Also in evidence is the TV soundtrack of WONDERFUL
TOWN in which Rosalind Russell repeated her Tony-winning role – this time in stereo.
Stereophonic sound, honored by a Cole Porter song NOT on a Columbia cast album, was
Such a Big Deal that companies tried to turn simple monaural recordings made before
this innovation into “electronic stereo” – a process that echoed as much as the Bell Caves
in Israel. Here you can see it represented by FINIAN’S RAINBOW, Columbia’s first-
ever long-playing cast album.
With the new technological process came a new cover, too – a scene from the show
rather than the original, which just had a photo of a smiling Ella Logan (who’d never
again smile on Broadway). FINIAN’s CD cover returned to the original photo, but if
you’d like to see the reissue cover – and the one in this photo is awfully small for any real
inspection – it’s reproduced on the inside back cover of the CD’s booklet.
THE MOST HAPPY FELLA modestly took its place with its one LP “selections” disc
rather than its three-disc recording of almost the complete show. Perhaps it didn’t want to
tower above the others in its thick box set.
Recordings of musicals weren’t the only ones welcomed. AGES OF MAN, which got
John Gielgud a Special Tony in 1959, offered many a Shakespearean soliloquy and
poem. SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY – a reading of many of Edgar Lee Masters’ free-
verse poems – was the most unexpected hit of the 1963-64 season.
As a bonus, you can see to the right that THE ODD COUPLE is playing at what was then
the Plymouth and LUV is at the Booth. Although the marquee for the Music Box is
visible, you can’t tell that ANY WEDNESDAY was there that Saturday.