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Museum of Broadway

SARDI’S: OUR INFORMAL BROADWAY MUSEUM By Peter Filichia

We heard last month that some time in 2020 there’ll be a Museum of Broadway in Times Square.

Good! Wonderful! Terrific! But in the meantime, let’s not overlook the Broadway Museum that’s been around for almost a hundred years.

Sardi’s.

Well, the number of caricatures on its walls probably does outnumber the artifacts in many museums.

This occurred to me when I attended the recent unveiling of the caricature of THE PROM’S Brooks Ashmanskas.

Before and after the event, I took a stroll around the fourth floor function room where Ashmanskas’ likeness would be revealed. There I saw only a fraction of the drawings that deck the walls of the venerable restaurant that’s been mentioned in THE PRODUCERS and plenty of other shows, too.

Here are Richard Baratz’ caricatures of Liza Minnelli and Myrna Loy. Note that in the finale of FLORA, THE RED MENACE, Flora – the role that got Minnelli the first of two Tonys – is told “You are not Myrna Loy; Myrna Loy is Myrna Loy.” Perhaps that’s why, despite their being in the same room, they’re on different walls.

But hold on! Interesting enough, in the 1991 book OFF THE WALL AT SARDI’S, did co-authors Vincent Sardi, Jr. and Thomas Edward West KNOW this lyric? Take a look at page 113, and there’s Liza Minnelli pictured right next to Loy.

Baratz also drew Richard Burton during the run of CAMELOT. Looking at the drawing somehow reminded me of a trivial tidbit. When Columbia Records originally released CAMELOT, Burton and Julie Andrews were (rightfully) positioned above the title. Years later, when the film was released, Columbia decided to reissue it with a new cover – but this time Burton and Andrews were joined by Robert Goulet, who’d received no better than fifth billing on the original artwork. In the intervening years, however, he’d become enough of a name that Columbia felt it could justify a little revisionist history. Besides, he got “If Ever I Would Leave You,” the show’s biggest hit song, didn’t he?

Many others were drawn by Don Bevan. The one he did of Robert Preston shows the star with a mustache, which he didn’t have when he did I DO! I DO!

Is this the only musical in history when half the cast went home with a Tony? (Mary Martin, the only other performer in the show, lost to Barbara Harris of THE APPLE TREE.)

No question that Preston deserved it for his distinctively bright and breezy performance. As a long-term husband, he went from joyous (“I Love My Wife”) to sentimental (“My Cup Runneth Over”) to cantankerous (“Nobody’s Perfect”) to smug (“A Well-Known Fact”) to furious (“The Honeymoon Is Over”) to resolved (“Where Are the Snows?”) to resigned (“The Father of the Bride”) en route to a well-deserved retirement. No wonder he got a Tony – his second – for his tour de force.

Although Charles Nelson Reilly’s caricature is undated, we can infer that it came as a result of his either playing Bud Frump in HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING or his Cornelius Hackl in HELLO, DOLLY!

We don’t hear much of Reilly in the former show; he’s really only heard in the reprise of “The Company Way,” although he did participate in six other numbers. What a shame that he didn’t get to record the reprise of “Been a Long Day” in which Frump catches his uncle J.B Biggley in what seems to be a compromising conversation with va-va-va-voom secretary Hedy La Rue. At least we can hear Jeff Blumenkrantz’ rendition on the 1995 revival cast album.

Reilly got to start one of the greatest show songs of all time: “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” from DOLLY! Hey, I’m not the only one who likes it; you may recall in the 2008 film WALL-E – meaning the Waste Allocator Load-Lifter – had a deep and abiding love for the song. Reilly’s rendition is the first thing heard in the movie.

Many drawings are unsigned, such as Glynis Johns’. Let’s never forget that she was the first person to sing and record “Send in the Clowns” which she introduced in her Tony-winning performance in the Tony-winning A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. Since then – seriously – nearly a thousand others have recorded it.

Shirley Jones is here with a caricature probably drawn in the 1968-69 season when she starred in MAGGIE FLYNN with her husband Jack Cassidy.

If you like the type of songs that Jones can be heard singing in the film versions of CAROUSEL and OKLAHOMA! you should like the way she handles the melodious “I Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way” and the spirited “Nice Cold Morning” in the Hugo Peretti-Luigi Creatore-George David Weiss score.

Margaret Hamilton, who’ll always be known as The Wicked Witch of the West, apparently preferred to be known as Maggie Hamilton, for that’s how she’s identified. (“After sixty years, it’s about time,” she inscribed.) Although she played Madame Armfeldt in the national tour of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, no official recording of hers exists. However, listening to Hermione Gingold on the original and London casts as well as the soundtrack provides much pleasure.

Although Bette Davis had a total of three quick flops in 1929 and 1930, she didn’t become a star until she went to Hollywood. Thus her undated caricature probably was drawn in the 1952-53 season when she starred in the musical revue TWO’S COMPANY.

Some of you who haven’t heard this original cast album have a bizarre treat in store. To say the least, Davis was not an accomplished singer or even an adequate one. But she sure sounds like Bette Davis when she sings “Turn Me Loose on Broadway” where, she insists in an Ogden Nash lyric, “a coveted Oscar is Hammerstein.” Does she flatten a few notes? You be the judge.

(By the way, if you collect recordings of Tony-winning performances, TWO’S COMPANY is a must, for Hiram Sherman got the first of his two Antoinette Perrys for this show. His dry and droll demeanor is perfect for “A Man’s Home,” in which he admits he was initially thrilled by his new house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The legendary architect took pride in making his buildings fit into the environment; trouble is, Sherman’s new house fits so well in the forest in which it was built that he can now no longer find the place.)

Sam Levene is up there, too, on paper so yellowed that he might have been among the first to be caricatured; both the drawings and Levene’s Broadway career began in 1927. It may have been for GUYS AND DOLLS, but don’t rule out LET IT RIDE! “I’ll Learn Ya,” the nice soft-shoe he does with George Gobel on the original cast album, is quintessential Levene.

And here’s Kurt Kasznar who was perhaps immortalized when originating the role of Max Detweiler in THE SOUND OF MUSIC. If you’ve only heard the soundtrack of the 1965 film, do yourself a favor and hear the original cast album where Kasznar gets to sing two songs that weren’t included in the movie. Both “How Can Love Survive?” and “No Way to Stop It” are top-notch Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Carol Channing’s caricature suggests that it was already up when she started her thirty-plus-year career as Dolly Levi in HELLO, DOLLY! She probably made the wall when she had her first big role: Lorelei Lee in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES.

Although Channing could never come to terms with losing her most famous role to Barbra Streisand, she told me more than once that she understood Hollywood’s decision to go with Marilyn Monroe in the BLONDES film. What was particularly meaningful to her was that after Monroe had witnessed one of Channing’s performances, she made a post-show dressing room visit and told the star how wonderful she’d been.

By the way, at the Ashmanskas induction, I experienced something that I hadn’t in my three glorious trips to THE PROM. Although Ashmanskas’ voice had never cracked in any of the seven songs in which he participated or in any line of dialogue, it did in his acceptance speech.

As he explained, “Sardi’s was the second place I visited when my family came to New York in the summer of 1975.” He then paused and amended that statement with “well, Clifton, New Jersey, really, where we had relatives.

“First we went across the street to see A CHORUS LINE, which was amazing that my father got tickets when it had only been open a few months. And then we came across the street here to Sardi’s. My dad said ‘Look at all these pictures’ and somehow as I looked at them, I heard a click in my head that told me I had to work in the theater. To say that this caricature makes everything full circle is an understatement.”

And to say that Sardi’s is our unofficial Broadway museum would not be an overstatement.

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 www.broadwayradio.com.