Inner City – 1971
Inner City has been described as a non-stop musical lift, the fastest moving show ever to hit Broadway. Well, when you have nine beautifully loving and lunatic people under Tom O’Horgan’s demonic direction, plus fifty-five musical numbers plus high-speed costume and scenery changes – !
It started out simply enough with a book: The Inner City Mother Goose, a collection not of nursery rhymes for tiny tots, but satire for unadulterated adults, thereby following in the tradition of the original Mother Goose rhymes back in the eighteenth century when “Little Jack Horner,” “Mary Mary Quite Contrary,” “Who Killed Cock Robin” and other characters were invented as sophisticated political and social commentary on the times. I wanted to say something about the urgent concerns of our own age, and so I set my book in the heart of where the liveliest action is – inside the Inner City, for this, as the opening number sings, “This is the Nub of the Nation.”
Next Helen Miller managed miraculously to set the poems to music, every one of them, the light and the heavy, the long and the short (sample of the shortest: “There was a crooked man/And he did very well”). Then I wrote more words and Helen wrote more music until at one point we counted up seventy-three songs: the only way we could keep them straight was by buying a big file and alphabetizing them! (Weak joke from those beginning days: All the songs from “As I Went Over the Precinct” to “Zity Life.”) We presented the whole crazy caboodle to Tom O’Horgan and somehow his head put it all together, and we wound up with our show about the perils and pleasures of being alive today and not giving up hope that we can all survive and make our cities safe for living and loving and neighborliness and regreening.
“Nub of the Nation” opens the show, with Linda Hopkins rocking and reminiscing about the neighborhood’s changing ways, and local residents chanting “Now I lay me down to sleep/I pray the double lock will keep;/May no brick through the window break/And no one rob me till I wake.” We meet Paulette Ellen Jones who tells a young girl’s pregnant story in song, “My Mother Said.” And on to ripoffs by slumlords, and Fluffer Hirsch putting down schlock merchants, winding up with “Fee Fi Fo Fum.”
The second scene introduces Florence Tarlow as “Urban Mary”: “Mary, Mary, Urban Mary, how does your sidewalk grow? With chewing gum wads and cigarette butts, with popsicle sticks and potato chip bags,” and so on and so excrementa. Into a subway scene that’s funny, but it hurts a little when you laugh. And then from the dank lower depths to a gloriously soaring blue sky high as Delores Hall elaborates on “If Wishes Were Horses.”
Next comes a very private kind of scene as Linda Hopkins recalls the loves of her life and ponders, “If you had to have one man, just one man in the house for the rest of your life, who would it be?” Her soulful response takes place “Deep in the Night.”
Change of scene as a public official enters to give a cynical explanation of how our taxes are spent, and after a quick visit to a welfare center, a poverty program storefront that’s closing down and an overcrowded school, he tries to persuade the people to fall for his silver bag full of – what? Listen to the “Riddle Song.” And then the bright shiny stuff is taken away and people are left with the reality of just a “Shadow of the Sun.”
Act Two opens with a sequence ironically titled “Wisdom.” “Summer Nights” in the Inner City: “Too much heat, junk on the street, fire alarms, patrol cars and payoffs and pickups in bars.”* Followed by “Winter Nights”: “Not enough heat, junk on the street, fire alarms, patrol cars and pickups and payoffs in bars.” The wise old Judge sits in his court and lets the john go free, while The Hooker is brought in and she sings her own brand of street smarts: Joy Garrett, with “You Make It Your Way, I’ll Make It Mine, and That’s Fine.” Larry Marshall intones “The cow jumped over the moon/On the street in the afternoon./The junkie laughed to see such sport/With his bag and his needle and spoon.” Allan Nicholls as The Dealer then ticks off Madison Avenue with “You Push It Your Way, I’ll Push It Mine, and That’s Fine.” And The Pickpocket, Carl Hall, gives it to Big Business as he explains why “You Steal It Your Way, I’ll Steal It Mine, and That’s Fine.” Delores Hall then takes over “Law and Order.”
In another ironically titled sequence, “Kindness,” the cop on the beat takes care of the local pusher and versa-vice. “Then There Was a Little Man” and “it’s so easy to get a gun and shoot anyone, anyone, anyone…” into a climaxing question: “Who Killed Nobody?”
Out of her grief, Linda Hopkins summons up the strength to go on with “It’s My Belief.” She’s followed by Carl Hall, in a “Street Sermon” that’s an Inner City State of the Union message: his “Do I Be God” plans to make the city “good enough for my grand and heavenly self” and to “open an annex to the post office and sell dope like stamps. Eight cents a lick. Price a fix so you can afford to buy it instead of ripping me off, mugging and messing me. Then I’d take care of the bitey rats and bitty roaches, and build a high-rising high rise where there’s room enough for people! Lay your head down on a cloud pillow, it get too bumpy, sprinkle a little moon water on it and iron it all out. Really get fresh atmosphere up there!” Carl then sings his melodic message of hope: “The Great If.” And finally the cast, all together, in front of the vision of a new city built not upon dreams and lies but upon the solid foundation of what we now have: “On This Rock.” “I am a city woman, I am a city man, On This Rock I make my stand. No lock, no gate, no fear, no hate can drive me away/Here I stay where I feel the most alive … in this crazy crowded greatest show on earth, in this manic, magic, mad menagerie. I am a stubborn woman, I am a stubborn man/On This Rock I Make My Stand!”
Dear friends, may you be encouraged to make your own stand, and may we all help one another to make “The Great If” The Great Reality.
With Inner City love and stubbornness,
Taken from the original liner notes for LSO 1171
Linda Hopkins Delores Hall Carl Hall Allan Nichols Paulette Ellen Jones Florence Tarlow Larry Marshall Fluffer Hirsch Joy Garrett Music by Helen Miller Lyrics by Eve Merriam Conceived and directed by Tom O’Horgan Conducted by Gordon Harrell