70, Girls, 70
The action takes place at the present time in New York City. Act I 70, Girls, 70 is a musical unlike any musical you’ve ever seen. On the outside, it’s about all these veteran stage and vaudeville performers having a ball returning to Broadway. Given the options – either dying young or getting old – the folks in this musical chose to stick around and celebrate. And that’s what it’s about – the celebration of their mutual triumph – Old Folks. But 70, Girls, 70 is a show within a show, and, on the inside, 70, Girls, 70 is about a bunch of equally venerable ladies and a few gentlemen living at The Sussex Arms, a senior citizens’ hotel in New York City, as run-down and dispirited as most. While there is no lack of humor or courage or willingness, there is a lack of money. And it shows. The favorite lady of The Sussex Arms, Ida Dodd (Mildred Natwick), had been turned away from hospitals for lack of funds and had moved into the Waldorf for a last fling at living. But she was running a fever and had no thermometer. Treated rudely by the drugstore clerk when trying to make her purchase, she suddenly found herself out on the street with a “hot” thermometer. And feeling so much better from the excitement of her little crime, she decided to try it again – for more valuable “loot” each time. Now – three months after her sudden departure – Ida returns to The Sussex Arms for dinner. Her closest friends – Gert (Lillian Roth), Harry (Hans Conried), Eunice (Lucie Lancaster) and Walter (Gil Lamb) – expect to see her in the same all-purpose frock they knew so well. But when Ida enters, she’s dressed to the nines, and her homecoming is a sensation – Home. Switching away from the plot and into the Broadhurst Theatre where 70, Girls, 70 opened, the veteran performers celebrate their return to Broadway – Broadway, My Street. The next day, in the story, Ida discovers that Eunice, following her example, has stolen a coat from Sadie’s Fur Salon and left her own cloth coat in its place – with her name sewed in the lining. So – the first operation of the future gang is to return the fur to the shop and to get the old coat back without getting caught. To do the job correctly requires a battle plan, and Harry proposes his strategy – The Caper. The job is brought off, but only by virtue of some great on-the-spot fainting by Ida, pretending to shop in Sadie’s store. The emergency has to be prolonged to cover the gang’s inexperienced maneuvering. As a last gambit, Ida says the coffee must not be in a cardboard cup – doctor’s orders! Finally the coats get exchanged. Then the performers who are Melba (Lillian Hayman) and Fritzi (Goldye Shaw) in the story take a crossover turn with an explanation of what the trouble is with the world today – Coffee In A Cardboard Cup. While the group is out pulling off their reverse burglary, the old folks back at The Sussex Arms sit around watching a television set without a picture and pretend they can see their favorite shows – You And I, Love. After their first sensational “caper,” the willpower of the usually law abiding group begins to wilt, and one by one they decide to join Ida in future heists – all but Walter. He and Eunice are to be married in June. They have a tender moment alone – until they become aware of the quizzical looks coming at them from the audience, looks obviously meant to ask the same old question that is in the minds of everyone who knows they are in love – Do We? After Walter leaves, the Sussex Arms gang is ready to apply their new trade. 70, Girls, 70’s fabulous composer of its dance music, Dorothea Freitag, has been playing the piano at one side of the stage. Known in the play as Lorraine, she and her piano are wheeled center stage for a rousing number – Hit It, Lorraine. The first big “job” is in Bloomingdales’s fur department. Gert used to be a store detective there and is now, appropriately, given the job of “lookout.” The male security staff welcome her back and stand around gabbing with her near the very spot where the “snatch” is supposed to take place. To distract them, Gert goes into a long routine about having seen the notorious Emma Finch, who started off lifting furs and went on to men – See The Light. Act II The Bloomingdales job is a grand success, and The Sussex Arms is redecorated, revitalized and glorious with dripping chandeliers and TV sets in every corner. Old folks are welcomed off the street and given first-class accommodations and treatment. And the excitement of the heist is doing wonders for the community’s heart action – Boom Ditty Boom. Even Walter begins to weaken. He had been reluctant to join the gang because he used to be a safecracker. This revelation doesn’t faze his fiancée Eunice; in fact, it is a handy talent, especially for their new caper at the Arctic Cold Storage Vault. But Walter, out of practice, has trouble with the safe door. It won’t open. The group is in danger of freezing to death until Melba strikes up a rousing spiritual that sees them through – Believe. To get out of the cold storage safe – after Harry has inadvertently locked them in – they have to use dynamite. On the Broadhurst stage, the young man playing the role of the bellhop (Tommy Breslin) and his grandmother (Henrietta Jacobson) perform a little duet and jazz dance about how to treat your grandmother – Go Visit. Eddie enters the lobby with the unsettling news that the cops are about to come in to question them. When Detective Callahan (Joey Faye) and Officer Kowalski (Coley Worth) enter they are confronted with two dozen old people “playing” old people – purposely misunderstanding words, showing their operation scars and pretending deafness. The cops are lucky to escape with their sanity. All the police had wanted, actually, was to ask the old folks’ cooperation in watching the neighborhood for signs of an illegal street gang. But Ida and her friends are scared enough to decide to call a halt to their operations. They will, however, make just one more big caper – enough to buy their hotel building and then quit while they’re ahead – 70, Girls, 70. “So they agreed to one more,” says the actress playing Ida, gracefully edging the audience toward the denouement. But first she sings a death song – The Elephant Song. The last job – at the International Fur Show in the New York Coliseum – is a disaster. The whole gang is almost caught, but at the last minute Ida gets them to run while she stays behind to take the rap. But before they can lock her up, she does what the script calls for – she goes offstage and dies. The last we see of her is overhead, sitting daintily on her own moon, attending the marriage ceremony of Eunice and Walter. Even from that perch, she manages to make contact with Lorraine and to sing one more song, a reaffirmation of life – Yes. – Charles Burr
Ida: Mildred Natwick Harry: Hans Conried Gert: Lillian Roth Walter: Gil Lamb Melba: Lillian Hayman Eunice: Lucie Lancaster Fritzi: Goldye Shaw Lorraine: Dorothea Freitag Detective Callahan: Joey Faye Grandmother: Henrietta Jacobson Officer Kowalski: Coley Worth Eddie: Tommy Breslin and Nancy Andrews, Ruth Gillette, Steve Mills, Bobbi Tremain, Abby Lewis, Thomas Anderson, Robert G. Dare, Sally De May, Lloyd Harris, Marjorie Leach, Naomi Price, Beau Tilden, Jay Velie.