ClownAround – The Original Show Album 1972
ClownAround is a funny kind of musical for the entire family that is based on the subject of fools, jesters, and clowns. The delightful show is performed by a singing, dancing company of over seventy clowns and columbines.
Two years ago, Alvin Cooperman brought the concept for the show to his friend, composer Moose Charlap, whose musical talents were responsible for Peter Pan. He was fascinated by the material, and together they completed the music and lyrics for this new kind of arena musical.
ClownAround entertains everyone, young and old alike, with its freshness, its zaniness, and its total enjoyability. It is a musical adventure which takes you into the world of clowns – that magical, musical, laugh-filled, and slightly distorted mirror of the real world that moves on its bent axis around the first corner of the universe. Its light is a reflection of the sun bouncing off small handmirrors used by pretty ladies. Its moon is the light atop the Empire State Building. Its culture is madw of our dreams, our faults, and our wild oats, all of which we see so clearly in clowns but rarely ever see in ourselves. As you journey through this musical adventure into the world of clowns, you will feel and see and laugh and sing and occasionally taste the salt of a tear whild watching them perform in our motlied reflection.
When the show was completely written, Cooperman and Charlap played it for the one man whose personality, experience, and talent would take concept and music and lyrics and weave them into a tapestry of family entertainment to be enjoyed by one and all – and that man was Gene Kelly. He took the material and Sean Kenny’s clown machine and added his particular brand of genius to give us ClownAround.
– From the original liner notes for LSP-4741
Billed as “A Funny Kind of Musical for the Entire Family,” ClownAround came and went in the spring and summer of 1972 without ever reaching Broadway or New York. In fact, it never got past the San Francisco Bay Area, opening at the Oakland Coliseum on April 27, 1972 – starring “Ruth Buzzi, Dennis Allen and a Cast of 70” – and closing a few weeks later after a run at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. ClownAround was apparently more of a circus-themed spectacle – and an ambitious one – than it was a Broadway musical, but it was clearly an attempt to forge an entertainment that would appeal to musical theater audiences. With several Broadway names involved in its creation, ClownAround figures in the footnotes of Broadway lore.
ClownAround seems to have been the inspiration of Alvin Cooperman, a successful television executive and producer and all-around entrepreneur who had once been a booker for the Shubert theaters on Broadway. Since 1968, he had been Madison Square Garden’s executive vice-president in charge of booking and production. Cooperman thought big – he is credited with starting the MSG sports network in 1969 – and, of all things, a musical extravaganza about clowns seems to have been a dream of his. His bio in the souvenir program for ClownAround begins, “Long fascinated by the subject of Fools, Jesters and Clowns, Alvin Cooperman conceived of the idea of an entire musical based on them, their symbols in everyday life, their artistry and their effect on the spectator.” In addition to the show’s concept and script, he wrote the lyrics for the score, for which composer Mark “Moose” Charlap provided the music. Charlap and Cooperman had collaborated on the 1969 TV film Hans Brinker. Broadway fans know Charlap as the composer of part of the score for Peter Pan (1954) and the scores for two legendary flops, Whoop-Up (1958) and Kelly (1965) – also, because his son is the acclaimed jazz pianist Bill Charlap. Their score for ClownAround sounds more like a television extravaganza than a Broadway musical, a style that might have been dictated by the nature of the show itself and where it was to be performed.
Circus musicals were not unheard-of on Broadway, but they had never been big successes. At that point, the most famous was Rodgers and Hart’s (and Billy Rose’s) costly, sprawling Jumbo, which took over New York’s Hippodrome in 1935 but failed to become a box office hit. Cooperman’s big idea became a costly and sprawling one, as well. Film legend Gene Kelly was signed to direct ClownAround, billed (above the title) as “Gene Kelly’s production.” Kelly was coming off directing the monumental film version of Hello, Dolly! when Cooperman and Charlap approached him to stage and choreograph ClownAround. Kelly’s early enthusiasm was apparently shattered by his wife’s failing health; though he remained the show’s director, the choreography was credited to Howard Jeffrey, who had assisted Kelly on Hello, Dolly! and had been an assistant on Broadway to Jerome Robbins. A number of celebrated clown acts were signed for the show, which featured a daring set – dominated by something called the “Clown Machine” – by Tony® winner Sean Kenny (Oliver!).
The West Coast premiere and run of ClownAround did not generate good reviews or word-of-mouth. The high running costs alone probably doomed it. Still, expectations were high enough to interest RCA Records in recording a cast album. The work of Stephen Sondheim aside, musical theater was having a bit of an identity crisis in the early 1970s, and ClownAround promised a kind of mass-market family entertainment that – who knew? – might be profitable. But it was not to be. The LP was apparently sold at the venues where the show was performed but never released commercially. When ClownAround closed, the existing inventory of the LPs seems to have been scrapped. The master recording of Charlap and Cooperman’s score is all that is left of ClownAround – a real musical-theater curiosity, the ghost of a folly, now available for the first time in over forty years.
– David Foil
Directed by Gene Kelly Conceived and Written by Alvin Cooperman Lyrics by Alvin Cooperman Music by Moose Charlap Orchestrations by Jack Elliott and Allyn Ferguson Musical Supervision by Harper MacKay