Me and Juliet – Original Cast Recording 1953
It is a couple of hours before a performance, backstage at the Broadway theatre where Me and Juliet is in the midst of a long run. Jeanie, one of the chorus girls, idles away at the piano, reflecting on her courtship with Bob, the show’s loud and tough master electrician (“A Very Special Day”), and on how she and Bob met (“That’s the Way It Happens”). Larry, the assistant stage manager, is fond of Jeanie also, but admits to himself that he didn’t take a chance when he should have, and that Bob has beaten him to it (“That’s the Way It Happens” – reprise). In a performance of Me and Juliet, which appears to be a stylized, expressionistic musical, the Everyman protagonist, “Me” (played by leading man Charlie), grapples with the hard-to-get “Juliet” (played by Lily) (“Marriage Type Love”). The action shifts to the light bridge above the stage where Bob and his sidekick Sidney comment on the action. Bob, not surprisingly, identifies with the “Don Juan” character in Me and Juliet (“Keep It Gay”). A few weeks later, during an audition for cast replacements, Charlie’s protégée Betty, a dancer from the show across the street, wins the part of “Carmen,” much to the annoyance of Mac, the stage manager who had been dating her while remaining true to his credo, “never with a girl in your own company.” Mac wishes that Larry had taken some of this advice himself, since he notices that Larry is spending a lot of time with Jeanie, ostensibly coaching her for future auditions but falling in love with her in the process. A talented aspiring director, Larry helps her to lose her fear of the audience (“The Big Black Giant”), then leads her into a confident rendition of the musical’s love theme, “No Other Love.” Jeanie’s confidence is shattered, however, when Bob swaggers in and mocks the rehearsal. Jeanie runs off, and Bob threatens Larry, demanding that he keep away from Jeanie. Several months pass, and Larry and Jeanie have kept up a surreptitious romance despite Bob’s threats. The mischievous Betty is also stirring up trouble; now working in the same show as Mac, she’s determined to break his hands-off policy. In their dressing room, Betty and Jeanie put aside talk of men long enough to revel in their first love—the theatre (“It’s Me”). Larry stops by before the show starts and, when Betty leaves, we learn that he and Jeanie have got married. Obviously they will have to tell Bob, but how? Up on the light bridge, Sidney solves that problem. Tired of Bob’s sneering and bullying about his own love life, Sidney strikes back: he tells Bob about Jeanie and Larry and invites him to his side of the light bridge to see Jeanie’s exit in Act One. The action returns to the stage, and as Jeanie comes off she and Larry share a kiss, evidently a nightly ritual. From overhead, Bob trains his follow spot on the lovers, terrifying them and, as Jeanie returns to the stage, he drops a sandbag that narrowly misses her and shatters her prop tray to the ground. The company panics and Mac hurriedly rings down the curtain. Act Two begins with the intermission. In the lobby the Me and Juliet audience chatters about everything from fashion to politics to business – and even the show itself (“Intermission Talk”), unaware that the real drama of Me and Juliet is happening offstage that night. As the audience returns to their seats, Larry is hustled into the office of Ruby, the company manager, who tells him that Bob has gone on a rampage. Bob heads for the bar across the street, where he finds that liquor has the desired effect (“It Feels Good”). Juxtaposed against this tense situation, the action shifts back to Me and Juliet and a coy duet by “Carmen” and “Don Juan” (“We Deserve Each Other”). Back in Ruby’s office, Larry is disconsolate at his inability to protect Jeanie from Bob, but she tells him that she loves him for who he is and for what he does give her (“I’m Your Girl”). Coming through the stage door alley, the drunken Bob hears their conversation and breaks through the office window, wielding a wrench. Ruby and Mac join in the violent melee, in which Bob falls and knocks himself out on the radiator. When he awakens to see only Mac and Ruby, he assumes in a panic that he has killed Larry. Mac lets him stew for a moment before informing him that Larry is still alive – and married to Jeanie. Backstage after the show, Mac learns from the producer that he is being transferred to a new show – a change of scene and, he happily informs Betty, a solution to his dating dilemma. Mac has authorized Larry to start taking over this show and, as the first test of his authority, Larry gives Bob a list of instructions for the next morning’s work call. Bob humbly complies and heads off as the company, led by Jeanie, rehearses a finale (“No Other Love”). Commentary: Me and Juliet is the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical most people don’t know at all. It opened in the spring of 1953 and ran for almost a year – a remarkable achievement, by most standards – but it was a troubled show that never quite satisfied the people who created it, and never caught on with the audience. Like Allegro, Me and Juliet was completely original, based on an idea Rodgers had been thinking about for some time. The idea was a musical about making a musical, a backstage story that would avoid all the clichés of most show-biz stories – actually an innovative premise in 1952. Hammerstein had misgivings. The disappointment of Allegro had shown him how difficult it was to turn an original, innovative idea into a successful musical. But he wanted to do the show his partner envisioned, just as Rodgers had wanted collaborate with him on Allegro. After The King and I had settled into its long Broadway run at the St. James Theatre – with South Pacific still playing across 44th Street at the Majestic, and companies of Oklahoma! and Carousel still touring – Rodgers and Hammerstein had taken a bit of a breather. Rodgers was busy with a commission to write music for the television documentary series “Victory at Sea.” He also became involved in a Broadway revival of Pal Joey, one of the finest musicals of his partnership with lyricist Lorenz Hart – a razor-sharp, sophisticated show with a sublime score, set on the fringes of show business, that had troubled critics and audiences at its premiere in 1940. The success of the Pal Joey revival sparked Rodgers’ desire to write a contemporary musical comedy, something bright and light-hearted, about a world he knew. As Hammerstein said, it would be “the first of our plays in which nobody dies.” As their conception of the new show took shape, Rodgers and Hammerstein became fixed on the idea of a magical set– one that would instantly, seamlessly take the audience onstage, backstage, and everywhere else in the theater, to tell their story of a musical in rehearsal. They consulted scenic designer Jo Mielziner about the feasibility of such a set. Mielziner said he could do it, but that it would be expensive. Such scenic conceptions are common today in the theater, but Rodgers and Hammerstein were really pushing the envelope in 1952. Mielziner began working on a stage environment that would involve 85 tons of scenery and a lighting plot more intricate than anything Broadway had seen at the time. To direct the show they titled Me and Juliet, Rodgers and Hammerstein called on George Abbott, the wizard of Broadway entertainment with whom Rodgers and Hart had collaborated so successfully in the 1930s. The appealing, 70-member cast, once again, would be filled with new talent (the young Shirley MacLaine was one of the dancers), with the exception of Isabel Bigley, who had just won a Tony Award® for her performance as Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls. As usual, Rodgers and Hammerstein put the production on a tight schedule, arranging to move South Pacific a few blocks north, to the Broadway Theatre, so Me and Juliet could open in the spring of 1953 at the Majestic. Because of the show’s technical demands, Me and Juliet began its pre-Broadway tryout tour in Cleveland rather than New Haven. Even in Cleveland, where the critics were kinder, the show’s problems were evident, Rodgers later wrote, “when we heard people raving about the sets, without a word being said about the rest of the show.” Sadly, the score was given short shrift, though it had a full measure of R&H magic. The only hit it produced was the infectious tango “No Other Love,” using a melody Rodgers wrote for “Victory at Sea.” Yet throughout Me and Juliet the tunes are brisk and charming, and Hammerstein’s lyrics match them with skill, cleverness, and a touch of Hart—as well as the signature Hammerstein heart. The New York critics were not unkind to Me and Juliet when it opened, but they made it clear that the show disappointed. The audience agreed. Dwindling ticket sales and high weekly running costs (again, the complex production) crippled any hope of profits for Me and Juliet – a problem that would become a fact of life for Broadway musicals in the future. Though Me and Juliet moved to Chicago for a brief run (with Shirley Jones in its cast) after ending its 368-performance Broadway run, it did not tour and has rarely been revived. The original cast recording speaks for it now, preserving a playful, charming score that offers a bit of serendipity even for fans of Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Isabel Bigley: Jeanie, Chorus Singer Bill Hayes: Larry, Assistant Stage Manager Joan McCracken: Betty, successor to Susie as Principal Dancer Mark Dawson: Bob, Electrician Ray Walston: Mac, Stage Manager Joe Lautner: Ruby, Company Manager Arthur Maxwell: Charlie (Me), Featured Lead Bob Fortier: Jim (Don Juan), Principal Dancer Barbara Carroll: Chris, Rehearsal Piano Player George S. Irving: Dario, Conductor Buzz Miller: Buzz, Principal Dancer Helena Scott: Lily (Juliet), Singing Principal Svetlana McLee: Susie (Carmen), Principal Dancer Randy Hall: George, 2nd Assistant Stage Manager Gwen Harmon: Miss Oxford, a Bit Player Patty Ann Jackson: Monica, Chorus Dancer Michael King: Michael, a Chorus Boy Ralph Linn: Ralph, Alley Dancer Francine Bond: Sadie, an Usher Lorraine Havercroft: Mildred, another Usher Barbara Lee Smith: a Theatre Patron Susan Lovell: another Theatre Patron Edwin Philips: Sidney, Electrician Henry Hamilton: Voice of Mr. Harrison, Producer Deborah Remsen: Voice of Miss Davenport, Choreographer Norma Thornton: Hilda, an aspirant for a dancing part Thelma Tadlock: Marcia, another aspirant for a dancing part Jackie Kelk: Herbie, Candy Counter Boy Joe Schulman: Stu, Bass Fiddle Player Herbert Wasserman: Milton, Drummer Singing Ensemble: Adele Castle, Jack Drummond, John Ford, Henry Hamilton, Gwen Harmon, Richard Hermany, Warren Kemmerling, Michael King, Larry Laurence, Susan Lovell, Therese Mari, Jack Rains, Georgia Reed, Deborah Remsen, Thelma Scott, Barbara Lee Smith Music by Richard Rodgers Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II Directed by George Abbott Vocal and Orchestral Arrangements by Don Walker Musical Director Salvatore Dell’Isola