Juno – Original Cast Album 1959
The story of Juno unfolds in 1921 Dublin, during the final months of the Irish Republican Army’s guerrilla battles against the British before independence. In the street, crowds of Irish cheer the rebels and jeer the British with a song of defiance (“We’re Alive”) filled with the ominous rolling of drums and a bagpipe-like vocal accompaniment. But even as they sing, yet another Irish lad is cut down. The scene shifts to the home of the Boyle family, led by the layabout “Captain” Jack Boyle (Melvyn Douglas), a strutting peacock (“paycock” in the brogue) full of blarney, blather, and unkept promises. His long-suffering wife Juno (Shirley Booth) is strong, patient, and sharp-tongued. She draws her nickname from the fact that she was born in June, married in June, and gave birth to their son Johnny in June. Johnny Boyle (Tommy Rall), now a bitter grown man, was a fighter with the rebels until he lost his hand in battle. He sits at home brooding on a terrible secret. However, his sweet sister Mary (Monte Amundsen) still clings to dreams of finding love and a family. In “I Wish It So” she sings of how she lies awake at night, listening to the thumping of her own full heart “till I think I’ll go mad.” Her mother Juno has a family, all right, and it’s sometimes more of a burden than she can bear. In “Song of the Ma” she expresses the mixed feelings she gets when her husband and children call her name all day long to do this and that – and how empty life would be if the sound stopped. The main cross she bears in life is her husband, Captain Boyle, who refuses all work, complaining of phantom pains in his knees – which magically seem to disappear when it’s time to amble down to the local pub. His preferred company on these jaunts is his equally shiftless old “butty” Joxer Daly (Jack MacGowran), whose all-purpose epithet of approval is “daarlin’.” At Foley’s Bar, the Boyle is in his element, able to strut and preen and fan out his colorful stories about himself, which are ninety-nine percent blarney. After taking a moment to salute Ireland (“We Can Be Proud”) and bemoan the terrible state the world is in, Joxer pays Boyle the ultimate compliment in “Daarlin’ Man,” to which all assembled roar approval. Boyle invites Joxer home for a cup of “tay,” but the waiting Juno pounces on him and gives Joxer the boot. In the midst of this domestic strife, Mary’s suitor Jerry Devine (Loren Driscoll) arrives. He senses he’s losing her, and employs both his silver tongue and a soaring Irish tenor to coax her back into his arms. But Mary lets him down gently but firmly, explaining that she’s “just not as fond of you as you’d like me to be.” She refuses him the “One Kind Word” he craves. It’s a poignant parting, because in reaching for something more, Mary may be turning down the one beautiful thing life has put in her path. Meanwhile, Juno has not yet let up on Boyle. He justifies his good-for-nothing behavior with a series of folk aphorisms (“Old Sayin’s”), each of which Juno promptly punctures with a tart comeback, as the captain objects, “That’s not a sayin’!” Having had the last word, Juno departs to comfort her neighbor, Mrs. Tancred, whose son was killed in the opening scene. Joxer sneaks back for his “tay” and soon is being regaled with Boyle’s fictional memories of his days upon the sea (“What Is the Stars”), when he felt the spray from the Antarctic Ocean (Joxer enthuses, “It’s a daarlin’ ocean!”) and when the closest thing he had to female company he had to endure was the sight of Venus in the sky. The local gossips are left to shake their heads at the woes of the Boyles, the world in general, and especially themselves in “You Poor Thing,” a waltz of comic self-pity sung by Jean Stapleton, Nancy Andrews, Sada Thompson, and Beulah Garrick. The departure of Mary’s suitor Jerry leaves a gap in her life that is quickly filled by the arrival of a spiffy young lawyer Charlie Bentham (Earl Hammond) with a thunderbolt message: Boyle’s cousin has died, leaving him a fortune. The news causes a sensation, not only in the Boyle household, but in the entire neighborhood, which converges on the Boyles to offer congratulations – and loans against the arrival of the bequest. Seeing Bentham as a link to a better world and a better life, Mary finds herself falling in love with the newcomer (“My True Heart”). In the show’s big ballad, filled with soaring, transcendent chords, she expresses the belief that he loves her, too. The Boyles soon begin living large – new clothes, new furniture, and plans for a huge celebration, all on borrowed cash. They allow themselves to dream of better things in “On a Day Like This,” a song that functions as a mini-opera within Juno. It opens with a quiet soliloquy in which Juno marvels at the light of good fortune shining on her for the first time in her life – or so she thinks. The number develops into a joyous choral section, in which all of Dublin seems to catch the Boyles’ high spirits. Then Boyle himself weighs in, relishing his opportunity to play the great man, but also revealing a wisp of nobility. Juno is heard again in the fourth section with a patter about her own plans for the future. This leads to a dance featuring fragments of actual Irish folk songs. The whole sequence offers virtuoso variations on a theme by Blitzstein. The jubilee is capped by a huge block party at which Juno expresses shock at her husband’s profligacy. He soothes her by encouraging her to join with daughter Mary in singing the traditional “Bird Upon the Tree,” an allegory about a little bird unable to leave the nest until helped by the winds of a terrible storm. It’s a foreshadowing of what’s to come for the two women. Boyle now unveils a rare luxury: a phonograph! He explains that he wishes to hear “Music in the House” and proceeds to demonstrate it by playing a record (“It’s Not Irish”). Another record is “The Liffey Waltz, which prompts all the partiers to twirl along in a dance that overflows into the Boyles’ yard. The happy mood is shattered by the arrival of an honor guard of I.R.A. fighters escorting Mrs. Tancred to her son’s funeral (“Hymn”). This seems especially to upset Johnny Boyle, who expresses his bottled emotions in an anguished dance (“Johnny”). And, sure enough, it’s not the Boyles’ fate to tarry long in this fool’s paradise. At the height of their folly comes word: the language of the will was vague; it’s being contested, and the chance that the Boyles will actually wind up with a penny has vanished. They’ve put their greatest faith and hope in a mirage. Neighbors and creditors converge on the household again, but this time to demand repayment of their loans. Also vanished is Bentham, leaving Mary to admit that she is pregnant (“For Love”). To add to her distress, her father flies into a rage at her, and bars her from the house. Love hasn’t cured all or found a way (a remarkable assertion for a 1950s musical). Doom accelerates as Johnny’s secret is revealed: he has been serving as an informer to the British. His ex-compatriots in the I.R.A. haul him out and execute him, leaving Juno distraught – and determined. Her mother’s lament (“Where?”) turns into an accusation against God, then finally an accusation against herself. Like the bird in her earlier song, the winds of disaster finally give Juno the nerve to leave the worthless Boyle, who is now content to spend all his time drinking and boasting with Joxer and the denizens of the pub. With daughter at her side, Juno heads out for what she hopes will be a better life. The chorus reprises “We’re Alive,” but the lyric now sounds ironic, and the bagpipe-like vocal accompaniment now sounds funerary. They may be alive, but a bit of their hope has died.
Captain Jack Boyle: Melvyn Douglas Juno: Shirley Booth Johnny Boyle: Tommy Rall Mary: Monte Amundsen Joxer Daly: Jack MacGowran Jerry Devine: Loren Driscoll Neighbors: Jean Stapleton, Nancy Andrews, Sada Thompson, Beulah Garrick Charlie Bentham: Earl Hammond Book by Joseph Stein, based on Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock Music and lyrics by Marc Blitzstein Dances and musical numbers staged by Agnes de Mille Directed by José Ferrer Orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett, Marc Blitzstein, and Hershey Kay Musical direction by Robert Emmett Dolan