Did you know that April is National Leftovers Month? I would have mentioned it sometime during the actual month, but, as faithful readers can attest, I spent all of April by commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of FOLLIES.
Still, I have some leftover thoughts from April that I’ll tell as we segue into May.
Did you watch The Poor Man’s Tonys? Well, isn’t that what the Oscars should be called? After all, movies cost around 15 bucks, which wouldn’t even get you into a 2019 off-off Broadway show.
Do you know that dancing to “The Star-Spangled Banner” has literally been against the law in Massachusetts since 1917? That’s really something, considering that the British melody to which Francis Scott Key set lyrics didn’t become our National Anthem until 1931.
Dancing to the anthem carries a fine of $100, which makes one wonder: HAIR and 1776 have played Boston many times; every time each has, have their managements budgeted an extra $800 a week to pay up?
After all, the conservatives in 1776 enact a few dance steps at the end of “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” when the first six notes of the anthem are played. The hippies in HAIR do much more dancing during the title song which includes the lyric “O-ho say can you see my-y eyes? If you can,” set to the song’s first twelve notes.
What an irony that two such different musicals from the same Tony season – 1968-69, that is – both reference the anthem? On the other hand, maybe they’re not so different; each advocates revolution, although the one in 1776 was far more successful than the ones in the late sixties.
Have you ever heard of Eddie Conrad? I don’t suspect you have or that you should. After all, he only appeared in four Broadway shows and those were nearly a hundred years ago. Yet he is of interest because he married a woman named Birdie.
That’s right: Birdie Conrad was her name.
Alas, the marriage did not last, for Eddie found himself a younger woman. Do you think that the not honestly sincere Eddie, before leaving his wife, gave her one last kiss and said “Bye bye, Birdie”?
While listening to HELLO, DOLLY! – the Mary Martin one, which is my favorite recording – I once again had a thought when hearing Jerry Herman’s lyric in “Dancing”: “Things look almost twice as well when they’re slightly blurry.” Do you think that years later, when Herman was watching the first rushes from the film version of his MAME, that he uttered this line to himself when he saw Lucille Ball through the slathering of Vaseline on the camera lens?
I rewatched the 1965 film THE GREAT RACE. The movie, set in the ‘20s, isn’t very good, but oh, was I amused when Tony Curtis brought Natalie Wood back to his boudoir to seduce her. To get her in the perfect romantic mood, what record did he play on his phonograph? The title tune from THE DESERT SONG. Yes, times have changed …
While playing the studio cast album of RAGS (with its extraordinary music by Charles Strouse and exemplary lyrics by Stephen Schwartz), I recalled that a videotape of a performance was at Theatre on Tape and Film Archive at Lincoln Center.
It didn’t happen easily; the day before the sudden closing in 1986, Betty Corwin who ran the division, took a call from RAGS’ associate producer Madeline Gilford. She begged Corwin to tape the show before it shuttered.
Although the call came in on a Friday afternoon in August when many bigwigs had already headed to the Hamptons, Corwin got the four unions to agree to tape it.
But Corwin viewed it as a debt she had to repay. “Thirty-nine years earlier,” she told me, “on August 15th, 1947, the day after my first child was born, Madeline came to see me. When I said that if I didn’t urinate by two o’clock, I’d be catheterized, Madeline exclaimed, ‘I won’t let them!’
“She got me out of bed in an era when a new mother wasn’t supposed to get out of bed for two or three days. But a determined Madeline got me into the bathroom, where she turned on the water full force in the sink and the shower. Then she sat on a stool opposite me and commenced to sing every ‘water song’ she could think of: ‘Rain, rain, go away,’ ‘When April showers may come your way,’ ‘I’m singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the rain’ and so on, until SUCCESS! I said, ‘Madeline, I owe you one!’ — and that’s one reason why I had to do RAGS.”
April was the month 156 years ago when John Wilkes Booth sauntered into Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC. Have you ever wondered in what play he would have next starred had he not taken his shot on that unlucky Friday the 14th?
William Martin, the estimable writer of historical fiction, in his novel THE LINCOLN LETTER lets us know that it was ROMEO AND JULIET in Boston. The letter in the title mentions a journal that Lincoln had lost; Martin’s book is so compelling that you’ll be checking every minute to make sure you haven’t lost this book.
Searching for both the letter and the book is rare-book dealer Peter Fallon, whom Martin has made a theaterphile; when one character tells him that “The Smithsonian is neutral territory,” Fallon responds, “like the gym in WEST SIDE STORY.”
Playing the original cast album of THE FULL MONTY reminded me of the time I saw it in Paris. Although the production was in French, the English title was used. Now I don’t speak French, but know the show well enough that I didn’t need any translation. But two words leapt out at me: “Merde,” which was used in place of “Scrap” and the French title for the song “Man.”
You’re thinking the equally one-syllable word “Homme,” and so was I – but it was actually “Mec.” Now that’s the first time I’ve heard that word employed since I encountered the cast album of IRMA LA DOUCE. In fact, I thought that “mec” was a word made up by IRMA’s creators. Now I know that it wasn’t – either that, or Jerry Lukowski is a big fan of IRMA LA DOUCE and refers to it when frustrated.
Then taking the 1966 revival cast album of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN made me notice something that had escaped me after decades of having it on my shelf. The drawing of Ethel Merman looks more like one of Rosalind Russell.
Once Merman saw it, did she notice? Care? Make a stink? After all, Russell had assumed her greatest role – Rose in GYPSY, of course – for the 1962 film version.
And speaking of Rose, I reread Carolyn Quinn’s MAMA ROSE’S TURN. Some of us will be turned off by the title; after all, June and Louise’s mother is never called “Mama” in GYPSY. Ah, but Quinn has acknowledged that her editor thought that this would be the best title for the book.
In her impressive page-turner, Quinn offers much documentation and plenty of quotations from newspaper clippings and court records. (Rose was litigious.)
We learn that the act was actually called “Dainty June and her Pals” and that it was once quite successful, raking in $1,250 a week at a time when a Coke cost (as “Standing on the Corner” tells us) a nickel.
Rose actually took her girls’ birth certificates and changed their birthdays to make them older, not younger, so that they could circumvent child labor laws. Mr. T.T. Grantziger, who offered to take June (but no one else from the act), was actually mogul Roxy Rothafel for whom the famed Roxy Music Hall was named.
Herbie was actually named Gordon and was already married when he first hooked up with Rose. Similarly speaking, Tulsa was really known as Buddy. When he and June didn’t show up at the train station, the real Rose inferred much quicker than the stage and screen Rose that her daughter had eloped.
Finally, getting Louise into burlesque wasn’t Rose’s idea at all, and, for that matter, Gypsy didn’t get her name in the way that Arthur Laurents’ (extraordinary) libretto states.
Celebrate the musical’s sixty-second anniversary this month by reading MAMA ROSE’S TURN if you have any leftover time.
Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com. He’s a contributor to the new magazine Encore Monthly.