THE BEST LAID PLANS By Peter Filichia
God bless Richard Norton.
Since his parents took him to see JENNIE during its 1963 tryout at the Colonial Theatre in Boston, Richard has been an avid musical theatre enthusiast.
Not only did he start seeing every musical that he could both in Boston and on Broadway, but he also bought any recording whose cover sported the words “Original Cast.” But to really understand how deep was his Broadway love, you’d have to see the hundreds of clippings about upcoming Broadway musicals that he meticulously collected from newspapers.
Those long-yellowed shards of paper – mostly from The New York Times and almost always written by Lewis Funke – were what he most recently shared with me.
Alas, many involved musicals that never happened. Maybe the writers were stymied and didn’t finish. Perhaps the producers couldn’t raise the money. As a result, we never got to see:
THE PERILS OF PAULINE: the story of silent film star Pearl White. Jay Livingston and Ray Evans were to do the score, but we’ll just have to settle for recordings of their two musicals that did reach Broadway: OH CAPTAIN! and LET IT RIDE!
This musical was to be called WHO’S THAT WOMAN? Surely we’ll all agree that any title song that Livingston and Evans could have written wouldn’t have been as magnificent as the one Stephen Sondheim wrote for FOLLIES.
FULL CIRCLE: an original musical about three generations of wealthy liberals whose lives change from the twenties to the seventies. It was announced in 1972 that Bert Shevelove and Donald Saddler, who’d respectively directed and choreographed the smash hit revival of NO, NO, NANETTE, would do the same for the book and lyrics by Alfred Uhry and music by Robert Waldman.
Did those writers drop the project when one said to the other “Wouldn’t Eudora Welty’s THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM make a great musical?” Indeed it did, as their funky bluegrass score shows on the cast album.
TATTERED TOM: Horatio Alger’s story about a nineteenth century lass who dresses as a man to get ahead had a score by Hugh Martin, whose music and lyrics we can at least hear in the delightful MAKE A WISH.
Debbie Reynolds, Robert Alda and Margaret Hamilton were to star in this 1968 offering. That was before Reynolds would do IRENE – one of the great unsung cast albums – and after Alda had done WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN? where he sang “Maybe Some Other Time,” one of the sixties’ most beautiful ballads. As for Hamilton, you need no additional information to recognize her name.
TRAFALGAR: Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick were writing this musical with then-hot British playwright John Arden – for a while, anyway. “We simply had a wholesome difference of opinion on the character, the style and the approach,” Bock said of Arden. Yeah, that’s enough to scuttle any project. The team then did THE ROTHSCHILDS, which from its stunning overture to its final moments is worth its weight in the Rothschilds’ fortune.
Continuing with Bock and Harnick: CAPER and HEAVEN HELP US. Note that the “and” between CAPER and HEAVEN is in lowercase; that’s because we’re talking about two different musicals. CAPER was to have music AND lyrics by Bock while HEAVEN would have lyrics by Harnick to Burton Lane’s music.
Funke’s column of May 6, 1973 said “Bock would like it recorded that this does not mean the end of his relationship with Harnick.” Ah, if only that had been true!
ALICE: as in Wonderland, was to be a 1971 musical with a book by N. Richard Nash (of 110 IN THE SHADE and WILDCAT), and score by Danny Apolinar and Hal Hester. The pair had recently won a New York Drama Critics Circle Best Musical prize for YOUR OWN THING.
Sure, by now, that fifty-two-year-old show is a period piece, but it still has its fine melodies and lyrics and an appealing performance from Leland Palmer. (She, by the way, was announced for TATTERED TOM after Reynolds had dropped out.)
ALICE was to be directed by Gerald Freedman, who’d done the Off-Broadway HAIR (whose cast album shows how little and how far the show had to go to become a smash).
“Our Alice,” he said, “is a student activist caught between the world of culture and counter-culture.”
So they intended to make the story their own – just as Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy did when they wrote the 2011 musical WONDERLAND.
OUT OF THE EGG: Leland Hayward, who’d co-produced SOUTH PACIFIC, GYPSY and THE SOUND OF MUSIC, had on his slate this musical about group therapy. The music was by Thomas Z. Shepard and the book and lyrics by Charles Burr – names well-known to cast album devotees; Shepard produced many recordings, and half of his dozen Grammys are for cast albums. The first was Columbia’s COMPANY, for which Burr wrote the liner notes, as he did for many of the company’s cast albums. May we assume that he and Shepard met on the job?
GATSBY: as in THE GREAT. In 1969, Artie Shaw, who made his fame as a bandleader, planned to produce the musical of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. The music would be by Lee Pockriss, who, while writing the most entertaining off-Broadway musical ERNEST IN LOVE, penned the melody for “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini,” a 1961 song that reached Number One in Belgium, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, South Africa and, need we add, the United States.
GATSBY’S lyrics would be by Carolyn Leigh, whose four cast albums – PETER PAN, WILDCAT, LITTLE ME and HOW NOW, DOW JONES show a unique wit. The book was assigned to Hugh Wheeler, who at this point in time had written three Broadway plays that had averaged only a thirty-eight performance run. Who knew that in the next decade Wheeler would write two of the greatest books in Broadway history: A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC and SWEENEY TODD.
NEW FACES OF 1972: Leonard Sillman produced eight revues from 1934 to 1968 which featured new writing and performing talent. The only real hit was the 1952 edition, which offered Robert Clary, Alice Ghostley, Ronny Graham, Eartha Kitt and Carol Lawrence. They still shine on the original cast album.
Sheldon Harnick and Melvin (sic) Brooks were among the contributors, so no wonder that the clipping said “The songs and sketches of the original production will be retained.” But I love the line that follows: “But a new cast will be recruited.” Yeah, it wouldn’t be NEW FACES if Sillman reunited the ’52 crew.
The composer-writer of the show’s “Lizzie Borden” was Michael Brown, who was also announced as the songwriter for a musical based of J. Edgar Day’s memoir MY APPOINTED ROUND: 929 DAYS AS POSTMASTER GENERAL. Um, doesn’t this remind you of ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY’S train conductor who tells Broadway producer-director Oscar Jaffee “I Have Written a Play” that’s called LIFE ON A TRAIN?
At least this musical was to be called POST OFFICE. Today it might be a big hit, what with teen-centric musicals so popular. High-schoolers still do play Post Office, don’t they?
SISTER: Angela Lansbury in a musical produced by her brother Edgar Lansbury. Paul (THE EFFECTS OF GAMMA RAYS) Zindel would write the book about Hollywood in the thirties while off-Broadway stalwart Al Carmines would provide the score.
However, the Lansburys decided to do a revival of GYPSY instead, first in London, then on Broadway. Ms. Lansbury might have won a Best Actress in a Musical Tony for SISTER, but we DO know that she won one in 1975 for her Madame Rose.
I recently listened to her GYPSY revival cast album, which of course begins with that phenomenal overture. It sounds louder, clearer and brasher than on the original 1959 pressing – that is, until we get to those burlesque trumpet licks. No one can touch what original trumpeter Dick Perry accomplished. (But isn’t Lansbury sensational?!?)
The clipping reveal that many familiar titles were optioned for musicals, often with writers assigned: LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING. NATIONAL VELVET. THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY. THE MALE ANIMAL. And oh, yes – Paul Gallico would adapt his novel MRS. ‘ARRIS GOES TO PARIS, about a Cockney charwoman, to a score by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. That show never happened, so the composer and lyricist put one of one of Mrs. Harris’ songs – the enchanting “Before I Kiss the World Goodbye” – into JENNIE.
Thus it was one of the first musical theater songs that Richard Norton ever heard. It may well be what started him on the road to clipping items from newspapers in anticipation of the next Broadway musical that he’d see and hear.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com. He can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com.