SALLY, IRENE AND MARY By Peter Filichia
Shall we spend our September 4th celebrating the ninety-sixth anniversary of SALLY,
IRENE AND MARY?
The 1922 musical by Eddie Dowling – who’d have his biggest success twenty-two years
later with THE GLASS MENAGERIE – was inspired by three recent smash-hits:
SALLY (1920; 561 performances) IRENE (1919; 675 performances) and MARY (1920;
IRENE, then the longest-running Broadway musical of all time, is now in 174th place.
Despite its “Alice Blue Gown,” IRENE was pretty much forgotten until Harry Rigby, the
originator of the 1971 smash-hit revival of NO, NO, NANETTE, produced a revisal. It
used only four of the show’s original eleven songs while adding two old ditties and six
The 1973 production became a personal triumph for Debbie Reynolds and spawned a cast
album that is, for the record (!), one of my favorites.
SALLY, IRENE AND MARY lasted 313 performances, which made it the twelfth
longest-running Broadway show of the 204 that were produced that season. Yet when the
property was made into a 1938 film, it didn’t retain any song from the stage show. True,
moviemakers in those days routinely cut Broadway numbers, but they usually retained at
least a few from the musical.
Nor did the moguls retain a semblance of the plot, which was the stage show’s intriguing
aspect. Dowling put the three heroines of their respective smashes into one musical. Irene
even kept her surname (O’Dare) and Mary’s last line mentioned “The Little Church
around the Corner” which referenced a SALLY song.
Could we make a musical today with the Sallys, Irenes and Marys who’ve graced shows
that have since been written?
Sally Bowles has played 4,191 performances and 111 previews on Broadway. Natasha
Richardson in the second revival has been the only Sally of four to win the Best Actress
in a Musical Tony. One might argue that Richardson’s getting two extra songs (“Mein
Herr” and “Maybe This Time”) put her over the top, but I feel that she was the best Sally
(And, yes, I’ve seen the film.)
At least the profligate Sally is honest enough to be who she is. In CRAZY FOR YOU,
Irene Roth (Michelle Pawk) is this pent-up society woman until she meets the right man.
Then she roars out that she’s a “Naughty Baby.”
Sally Durant Plummer in FOLLIES isn’t upfront with Benjamin Stone, either. She claims
to be happily married in “In Buddy’s Eyes,” but by show’s end, she’ll admit – in one of
musical theater’s greatest torch songs – that she’s “losing her mind.” Barbara Cook’s
rendition in FOLLIES IN CONCERT has yet to be surpassed.
There’s Young Sally in that classic show, too. Despite that adjective, she’s not a child,
although a few of our Sally-Irene-Mary candidates are kids. In URINETOWN, Little
Sally (Spencer Kayden) has some tart comments that made the original cast album. Mary
Lennox is the spoiled brat who straightens out in THE SECRET GARDEN. A Broadway
revival has been promised, but until it lands, the 1993 cast album with Tony-winner
Daisy Eagan’s Mary will certainly suffice.
In 1998 – thirty-one years after the original YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE
BROWN opened off-Broadway, Sally had become an important addition to Charles
Schulz’s PEANUTS. Thus she made the revival, which allowed Andrew Lippa to give
her “My Personal Philosophy.” It put Kristin Chenoweth on the theatrical map as well as
on the list of Tony-winning performers.
Mrs. Sally Adams is street-smart in CALL ME MADAM – which isn’t the same as being
politically savvy. Sally has a lot to learn when she becomes Ambassador to Lichtenburg.
But she has something to teach both foreign minister Cosmo Constantine (“Marrying for
Love”) and attaché Kenneth Gibson (“You’re Just in Love”). Irving Berlin’s score was so
well-regarded at the time that it even beat out Frank Loesser’s GUYS AND DOLLS for
the 1950-51 Best Score Tony.
The best-known of all our Marys is Mary Magdalene in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.
Her two solos became standards: “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “Everything’s
Alright.” When the 1969 concept album morphed into a 1971 Broadway musical,
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice created a new song in which she had a part: “Could
We Start Again, Please?”
Mary Boyle in JUNO gets one of the great “want-songs” – “I Wish It So” – and makes an
equally fine impression in “One Kind Word,” but in a very different way. Mary is loved
by Jerry, whose feelings she just can’t return. Anyone who’s having the same problem
with an ardent admirer should hear how deftly and not-at-all cruelly that Mary handles it.
She’ll make your next encounter with your non-love much easier for you.
Mary Morgan is a chorus girl from Milwaukee and THE GIRL WHO CAME TO
SUPPER in Noel Coward’s 1963 musical. “I’ve Been Invited to a Party,” she sings,
thrilled that Prince Regent of Carpathia would be interested in her. Her trills would not be
out of place in an operetta.
Once she gets to The Prince Regent’s digs, she condenses her current hit THE
COCONUT GIRL for the Prince Regent all in seven minutes and fifty-six seconds. Talk about a tour de force! Florence Henderson shows there was more to her than taking care of six kids and a husband.
Mary Rogers is not to be confused with Mary Rodgers who wrote the music for ONCE
UPON A MATTRESS. (Note the missing “d.”) Ms. Rogers (Dee Hoty) was the wife of
the title character of THE WILL ROGERS FOLLIES and deemed it “My Big Mistake” in
one of Cy Coleman, Comden and Green’s soaring ballads. We know, though, that she
didn’t mean it.
Tender-hearted reporter Mary Sunshine shows up in CHICAGO, subtitled “A Musical
Vaudeville.” Female impersonators were a part of that art form, so bookwriters Bob
Fosse and Fred Ebb decided to have Mary played by a man. To keep that secret from
theatergoers, the actor’s first initial rather than his name (M. O’Haughey) was used to
mask his gender. When the ruse was revealed in the second act, the 1975 audience
squealed in surprise.
That was then, when drag was infrequent. In 1996, when D. Sabella entered as Mary
Sunshine, audience members had seen so many female impersonators that they were
heard to whisper to their companions, “That’s a man.”
One Mary has two different surnames in a pair of Gershwin musicals. She’s Mary Turner
when we meet her in OF THEE I SING, but Mary Wintergreen by Act One, Scene Five
and for all of the show’s sequel LET ‘EM EAT CAKE. These two musicals were
mounted too soon for original cast albums, so Michael Tilson Thomas did a concert in
1987 that was recorded. In each, Mary (Maureen McGovern) got a hit song: “Who
Cares?” in the earlier show; “Mine” in the later one.
Mary Flynn gets easier to like in MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, for the show travels
backwards and takes her from an aging alcoholic to a youthful lass who believes she’ll
succeed as a writer. Stephen Sondheim gave Mary two feet-on-the-ground full-of-truth
numbers. “Now You Know” has her tell a just-divorced friend to be aware that life isn’t
peaches even if cream is atop them. “Like It Was” has her mourning how much the world
had changed in the previous twenty-five years.
(Imagine what Mary would think now, what with all that’s happened in the thirty-seven
years since MERRILY opened.)
Irene Molloy has been seen in five different Broadway productions of HELLO, DOLLY!
But Kate Baldwin was the only one of the quintet Tony-nominated. Her plaintive
rendition of “Ribbons down My Back” is so impressive that we believe she could have
even done wonders with the wordy song that Jerry Herman had originally written for that
spot: “I Still Love the Love I Loved When First in Love I Fell.”
This brings us to a story about Estelle Parsons. The Oscar-winner and multiple Tony-
nominee started her career in the early ‘50s as an on-screen reporter on NBC’s THE
TODAY SHOW. However, soon after she had given birth to twins, her bosses asked her to go to Monaco and cover Grace Kelly’s wedding. Parsons refused because she didn’t want to leave her twins — and was summarily fired. She then auditioned for many a Broadway show, including HAPPY HUNTING, where she got the role of Mary Mills — a reporter who goes to Monaco to cover Grace Kelly’s wedding.
Actually, Mary Mills could meet Sally Adams and Irene Lovell of SAY, DARLING in
our new musical, for they were all contemporaries. Alas, few other Sallys, Irenes and
Marys could be linked in a single show because they lived in so many different eras and
No, Mary Magdalene, Irene Molloy and especially Bloody Mary never intersected by
even a minute. Guess we’ll just have to enjoy them in the musicals they’re in.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and each
Friday at www.mtishows.com . He can be heard most weeks of the year on