Has this ever happened before?
Go to the August Wilson Theatre, and you’ll see the words “The Kit Kat Club” on all three sides of the marquee.
Above it is a two-sided sign that says the same thing.
Some signs sport the letter “C” with a circle in the space that keeps a “C” from being an “O.” But six other relevant letters that have established the real name of the attraction are nowhere to be found:
Yes, in the spring, CABARET is returning to Broadway for the fourth time since the original 1966 production closed in 1969. The management apparently thinks, “Hey, by now, CABARET has made The Kit Kat Club so famous that we don’t even need the name of the actual musical.”
This is amazing, considering that nothing much was expected from CABARET when it was first announced as WELCOME TO BERLIN. After all, it would at best be a theatergoer’s fourth choice among the three other surefire-hit, must-see musicals that were debuting around the same time.
Why go see Jill Haworth and Bert Convy (whoever they may be) when you could spend that same $9.90 and be in a front row orchestra seat savoring Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Chamberlain? Their two wildly successful TV stints, respectively from The Dick Van Dyke Show and Dr. Kildare, have made them slam-dunk, box-office draws.
Besides, the score for this HOLLY GOLIGHTLY — as the adaptation of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S was called — was by Bob Merrill, whose four previous Broadway shows had run at least a year.
Compare that to BERLIN’s John Kander and Fred Ebb, whose previous effort FLORA THE RED MENACE had lasted a fifth of a year. Their score included a song about knock-knock jokes and a silly parody of a cowboy song. Both had been much ridiculed.
The new team did have its fans, though, thanks to two great FLORA songs – “A Quiet Thing” and “Sing Happy.” But two songs do not a score make.
Looking at bookwriters, HOLLY could boast of Abe Burrows, who’d provided the libretti for GUYS AND DOLLS and HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, the latter of which he’d directed, too.
He wouldn’t stage HOLLY; Joseph Anthony would. Anthony had done the same for THE MOST HAPPY FELLA, which would have won a peck of Tonys had it not opened the same season as MY FAIR LADY. More recently, Anthony had staged 110 IN THE SHADE, which was a modest moneymaker, but brought in enough to genuinely earn the word “hit.”
BERLIN, meanwhile, has as librettist and director two creators from the money-losing SHE LOVES ME. The 1963 musical had a book by Joe Masteroff, who’d endured a flop play some years earlier.
(Only some years later did SHE LOVES ME attain masterpiece status.)
In addition, SHE LOVES ME’s director had had three other directorial flops. Sure, this Harold S. Prince could produce — FIDDLER IN THE ROOF was still selling out two years into its run — but his directing resume was not enhanced by A FAMILY AFFAIR, BAKER STREET or that SUPERMAN show.
In between those, Prince was offered the chance to direct HELLO, DOLLY! but turned it down because he thought the title song was a ridiculous idea. What does that tell you about his judgment?
And the BERLIN choreographer? Ronald Field had done two musicals that had averaged 6.5 performances.
(Not 65, mind you; don’t miss that decimal point.)
In comparison, HOLLY’s choreographer was five-time Tony-winner Michael Kidd.
And if you wanted the best director-choreographer, you’d get Gower Champion, fresh from HELLO, DOLLY!, who’ll spend his autumn with two legendary stars: Mary Martin and Robert Preston, who’ll do I DO! I DO!
With them as the only performers in the show, theatergoers know that they’ll get at least one great entertainer every second.
I DO! has pedigree, too. It’s based on a Tony-winning play and has a score by those writers whose THE FANTASTICKS has been running for more than six years now. Six years! Who’d have ever believed that THE FANTASTICKS would be around that long?
What’s more, both HOLLY and I DO! will be produced by the already legendary David Merrick. Money in the bank!
As for the third musical, COME BACK! GO AWAY! I LOVE YOU! would be by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, Tony-winners for FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and for FIORELLO! which also won them a Pulitzer Prize. Not only that, Barbara Harris, so great in the previous year’s ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER, will star.
And who’s directing? Only Mike Nichols, that’s all — the wizard who’d staged three plays on Broadway – BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, LUV, and THE ODD COUPLE — and won a Tony for each and every one.
Yes: each and every one. What’s more, his direction of the film version of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? had recently opened to raves.
But there wasn’t much singing in those plays, was there? Usually, many Broadway observers would say that dramas and comedies are very different from musicals and that there was no guarantee that a first-time director of a musical could deliver the goods.
Yes, that’s what was usually said. And yet, when Nichols was announced, these caveats weren’t showing up. The feeling was, in this one special case, Nichols would have yet another triumph with the newly renamed THE APPLE TREE.
HOLLY GOLIGHTLY changed its title, too, to BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S. It also changed its director and bookwriter and made Merrick change his mind about opening the show. He shuttered it after four Broadway previews.
I DO! I DO! was a hot ticket as long as Martin and Preston were on the premises; once they left, it meandered along to finish at a healthy if unexceptional 560 performances.
THE APPLE TREE couldn’t even match that and closed at 463. During the Boston tryout, Mike Nichols fully admitted that he was in over his head and allowed Jerome Robbins to come in and doctor.
And that also-ran poor relation that had been renamed CABARET? Rave reviews resulted in 1,165 performances — more than all three of those supposed juggernauts combined.
At Tony time, if you’re scoring with us, CABARET won eight with one each going to I DO! I DO! and THE APPLE TREE.
(BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S was not in the running.)
Some years later, CABARET became a film; none of the others could say this. It won eight Oscars to match its eight Tonys. It would have won Best Picture, too, had it not been in contention with THE GODFATHER.
Three CABARET cast albums make for terrific listening. The original has Joel Grey in his breakout role. The London has — surprise! — Judi Dench, a future Oscar-winner, and Lila Kedrova, already an Oscar-winner for ZORBA THE GREEK and a future Tony winner for ZORBA.
And then in 1998 came Alan Cumming redefining the Emcee in an album that is unique: the songs in The Kit Kat Club were recorded live, complete with audience applause; the book songs were recorded in the studio.
Maybe we’ll get a new recording of this upcoming production. And if it does, will you alphabetically file it under “C” or “K”?
Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com. His new book – BRAINTEASERS FOR BROADWAY GENIUSES – is now available on Amazon and at The Drama Book Shop.