The Best Musicals That the Tonys Missed
By Peter Filichia —
And now, the end is near, as we approach the final curtain on our five-part series on people involved with Broadway musicals who got skunked by the Tony nominators.
Just as every entertainment awards ceremony does, we first listed the supporting actors and actresses. Then we moved on to the leading actors and actresses.
And now, the biggest prize of all: Best Musical.
Four times before, I’ve said that coming to these conclusions isn’t always the result of seeing the performers live, on tape, DVD or YouTube. Often, our most convincing evidence is what we hear on the cast albums.
This, of course, isn’t as relevant with the Best Musical category. After all, many a musical has been sunk by a wretched book. And yet, the term of choice is “musical,” not “bookical,” isn’t it?
So, without further ado, in alphabetical order:
Camelot: 1960-1961. That’s right. Camelot wasn’t nominated for Best Musical. Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, whose previous musical had been My Fair Lady. experienced The Curse of Following the Mammoth Hit. And here was the real slap in the face: that year, the Tony nominators only picked three nominees from which voters could select: Do Re Mi, Irma La Douce and (the winner) Bye Bye Birdie. To think that the nominators preferred to have an empty slot rather than throw Camelot a bone! Does anyone really think that Camelot isn’t as good a musical as Do Re Mi or Irma La Douce?
Darling of the Day: 1967-1968. Mentioning my recent time on Ninth Avenue with Sean Penn in conjunction with this Jule Styne-E.Y. Harburg show may sound odd. But while I was walking between 51st and 52nd Streets, I noticed and locked eyes with Penn, whose expression said to me, “Please. I beg of you. I implore you. Please don’t say anything. I’m on overload. I’ve already spoken to or have acknowledged hundreds of people and I just don’t have it in me to deal with one more.” Understand, there was no arrogance in Penn at all; he was simply pleading for some private time while walking.
And this reminded me of Priam Farll, the world-famous painter who was “the darling of the day” and, like Penn, was overwhelmed by fame. So after a coroner mistakenly assumed that Farll had died when his valet actually had, Farll assumed the valet’s identity and was able “To Get out of This World” alive. This is one much underrated musical, and it certainly demands your attention. (And I haven’t even mentioned Patricia Routledge’s heavenly participation!)
Do I Hear a Waltz?: 1964-1965. Sondheim doesn’t like this show for which he wrote lyrics, but that’s because he and composer Richard Rodgers didn’t hit it off. A musical in which a heroine is seeking love and doesn’t get it – while all the while you expect her to – has a hard time scoring at the box-office. Still, this is a beautiful score with an intoxicating title song – the one and only waltz in the score. But you know how well Richard Rodgers always did in ¾ time. Now that it’s summertime (which is, interestingly enough, the name of the film that provided some inspiration for the musical), take a listen and a vicarious trip to Venice just as Leona Samish (Elizabeth Allen) did. You won’t be sorry to meet and become entranced with Renato Di Rossi (Sergio Franchi), either.
First Impressions: 1958-1959. Musicalizing a masterpiece is always difficult, and here three novice writers chose Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. (First Impressions was, in fact, Austen’s first title for the novel.) Hear Hermione Gingold rue the fact that she gave birth to five daughters when she wanted at least one son. “Five tries,” she says. “Five misses.” I’ll have more to say about this show come January 28, 2013 – which will be the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice’s publication. Can’t someone then do a revival of First Impressions to mark the occasion?
The Golden Apple: 1954-1955. In this update of The Iliad and The Odyssey (!) set in Washington state, Jerome Moross wrote some heavenly music, and John Latouche’s lyrics ranged from sparkling to hilarious. Granted, the cast album doesn’t give us every note from the through-sung score, but listeners are urged to spend a “Lazy Afternoon” listening to what there is.
I Can Get It for You Wholesale: 1961-1962. Tough as nails, even if Goddard Lieberson did censor Elliott Gould’s “sunuvabitch” to “kind of a heel.” Here was the ultimate upward mobility musical in which the leading man got the leading lady at the end because she had enough money to bail him out. The semitically-flavored score was one of Harold Rome’s best, and — oh, yes — Barbra Streisand was part of the cast.
Inner City: 1971-1972. One of the best rock-theater scores ever. Ever. But more to the point, it looked at New York during a dark time, when bankruptcy was around the corner and tourism was dangerously down – and nevertheless came to the conclusion that living in what could still be The Greatest City in the World was its own reward. Would that composer Helen Miller and lyricist Eve Merriam had written more musicals. Seeing this one close after a mere 97 performances had to discourage them. (It certainly discouraged me.)
“It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane … It’s Superman”: 1965-1966. Get a jump on the second production of next season’s Encores! by listening to this terrific Strouse-Adams score. Long before Spider-man, we had good songs spread among a superhero, his friends and colleagues. One great lyric among dozens: The romantically frustrated Lois Lane says that what she wants in a man is “a homey type who’ll stay around; a guy with both feet on the ground.” Is there anything in the current Spider-Man that can touch this?
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever: 1965-1966. Didn’t Lerner suffer enough by being spurned for Camelot? He had to endure the indignity of seeing his next musical be bumped from a nomination by the hardly-remembered-today Skyscraper? Once again: you write My Fair Lady, and they’ll never let you forget it. But what no one should really forget is that Burton Lane provided enchanting music to a remarkable set of lyrics. You’ve heard the term “charm song”? Can you think of a better one than “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here”?
110 in the Shade: 1963-1964. “Great God a mighty!” as the would-be rainmaker proclaims: this is a sensational musical. Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s first Broadway score centered on Lizzie, proclaimed as “plain” by one and by all. Even her brothers and father, with whom she lives and tends house, think so. Ah, but Lizzie has inner beauty, which is why the songwriters made her a soprano. Inga Swenson could hit the high notes, but go low (in more ways than one) when she had to be “Raunchy.” Her fears that she’d never be loved by any man turned out wildly incorrect by show’s end, when two men fought for her: File, the sheriff, who’d loved her for a while but had been dragging his heels, and “Rainmaker” Starbuck. (Maybe the water Starbuck eventually coaxed from the sky helped him to start a coffee franchise.)
The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd: 1965-1966. Sir (Cyril Ritchard) bullied Cocky into submission before realizing that teamwork is better. It was all done in a bare-bones, allegorical style, and was the first musical of the new Tony season, which made it easy to forget. But good Lord, what a score! Granted, you need more than great songs to make a good musical, but this was the last musical in the pre-theater-rock era that yielded five hits: “Feeling Good,” “The Joker,” “Nothing Can Stop Me Now,” “A Wonderful Day Like Today” and the blue-chipper “Who Can I Turn To?”
What Makes Sammy Run?: 1963-1964. Even with I Can Get It for You Wholesale paving the way, an anti-hero was still tough for audiences to take, although he was the appealing Steve Lawrence. Nevertheless, Ervin Drake’s score was more ambitious than we could have expected from a pop song first-timer (who’d written “Tico-Tico”). Of course, it was a season in which the nominees were Funny Girl, She Loves Me, High Spirits and – needless to say, Hello, Dolly! As one of the most beautiful songs in the show goes, “Maybe some other time, who knows?”
And who knows if maybe some other time, in some other way, some of these people and shows named in these five columns will get their due in some way or other. Here’s hoping!
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Friday at www.kritzerland.com.and www.mtishows.com. His books on musicals are available at Amazon.com.