Say, Darling – Original Broadway Cast Recording 1958
Richard Bissell (1913–1977) was probably the only author since Mark Twain to hold both a mate’s and a pilot’s license, all tonnage, for the Upper Mississippi and Upper Monongahela Rivers. Born and raised in Dubuque, Iowa, he served as a deckhand and mate on steamboats working the Mississippi, Illinois, Tennessee and Monongahela Rivers. In 1945 he left the rivers to go to work in the family pajama plant, and there begins this story. In 1951 he began to write a book called 7 ½ Cents, a hilarious account of his adventures in a Midwest pajama factory, specifically labor strikes and blooming romances. Published in 1953, the novel was written with such an acute ear for everyday speech, and with such affection for his overworked factory workers, that the book was a huge success and became a selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. Thus it came to the attention of Broadway producers Frederick Brisson, Robert E. Griffith, and Harold Prince, who were looking for likely material for a musical. Given their go-ahead, Mr. Bissell and George Abbott adapted it for the stage and re-named it The Pajama Game. With a swift-moving plot, tuneful musical numbers, memorable casting, and bounding gaiety, The Pajama Game was guaranteed a long, long, run. Filmed and revived many times, it became an American classic and remains hugely appealing to current-day audiences, as a recent hit Broadway revival attests. Bissell’s behind-the-scenes experience of the mad ordeal of writing and staging a Broadway musical comedy prompted him to write yet another novel, this time about show business. The new “autobiographical” book, Say, Darling, reflected upon all the nerve-wracking, farcical complications of getting The Pajama Game on to the stage. Its 1957 dust-jacket read: “Not since Ring Lardner has there been a writer to match Richard Bissell for originality, irreverent wit, and the unerring ability to transcribe the American language in all its garbled, nonconnected, cliché-studded, fragrant, graphic glory. Unquestionably his finest, funniest book, the author has crammed all of the wisecracking, big-money, gaudy and glamorous world of Broadway into a book that hardly slows down for laughs.” The story focuses on Jack Jordan, fresh from Indiana, brought to Broadway to help develop his best-seller into a musical, collaborating with Broadway’s awesome writer/director Richard Hackett. What happens to Jordan is the roller-coaster ride called show business, from auditions to rehearsals to rewrites in hotel rooms to feuds between cast members. Producer Jule Styne read Say, Darling and sought out the novelist, enlisting him and his wife Marian along with veteran Broadway writer and director Abe Burrows, to dramatize the book. To enliven the comedy with songs, Styne, himself a composer, engaged Betty Comden and Adolph Green as lyricists. The result was Say, Darling – A Comedy about a Musical. The story tells of how a successful novel, Paddlewheel, goes through the Broadway meat grinder and emerges as a formula musical comedy called The Girl from Indiana. When it opens in New Haven it looks like a disaster, but somehow the greenhorn author and the impossible composer discover the fatal flaw in the show’s narrative, come up with new material to save it, and wind up with a smash. Despite all the trappings – a brassy leading lady, a megalomaniac composer, a saturnine director, a sophomoric producer, a growling press agent, a pompous backer, a fatuous Hollywood star, and all of these offset only by the author and his realistic wife – Say, Darling was never meant to be a conventional musical. The songs sprinkled liberally throughout the play illustrate points made in the book: some tunes are part of the score for the musical show-within-a-show, and are performed on stage as they would be for auditions or rehearsals; some songs are meant to be good and some not so good. They represent a wide variety of musical moods, from the nostalgic waltz “Dance Only with Me” to 1950s-type love ballads “Say, Darling” and “Try To Love Me,” to even a couple of rock’n’roll specialties. The song that solves the problem of The Girl from Indiana’s second act and turns out to be Say, Darling’s eleven-o’clock showstopper is the rousing finale, “Something’s Always Happening on the River.” Heading the cast as Mr. Bissell’s Middle Western author Jack Jordan is David Wayne, who at this point in his career has long been etching unforgettable characterizations on Broadway: Og the leprechaun in Finian’s Rainbow, Ensign Pulver in Mr. Roberts, and the philosophical Sakini in The Teahouse of the August Moon. The leading lady of The Girl from Indiana, Irene Lovelle, is irresistibly portrayed by Vivian Blaine. Shortly before Say, Darling, she went dramatic with resounding success as the unhappy wife in A Hatful of Rain. Broadwayites saw Johnny Desmond for the first time in Say, Darling, but he had long been one of the nation’s most popular recording, night club, and TV singers. His debut as the narcissistic composer Rudy Lorraine was most auspicious. Seventh on the Playbill was Robert Morse as Ted Snow, a character closely based on Harold Prince. Morse probably got the most out of being in Say, Darling: he was nominated for the Tony Award® for Best Featured Actor in a Play and won a Theatre World Award for his performance. Two years later Abe Burrows gave him the lead in How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying. Looking back at Say, Darling, Jule Styne remembered: “I think mostly about Robert Morse. The day he came in to audition for the part of Ted Snow, the eager young producer, I was in the rehearsal hall and watched him. Abe Burrows, who was also directing, turned him down flat. Bobby looked ratty and seedy, and was. The man was absolutely broke; didn’t even have sufficient food money. But I felt he was so right for the part that I stopped him on the way out and said, “Come with me.” I took him over to Brooks Brothers, bought him a new suit, a shirt, tie, and overcoat, and had him return the next day. Burrows hired him on the spot and be damned if Abe didn’t say he’d never seen Morse before. Anyhow, he was sensational in the part, and I put his name over the title; raised his salary from $350 a week to $750.” Say, Darling opened on April 3, 1958, at the ANTA Theater and closed January 17, 1959, running 332 performances. This despite an opening night thumbs-down from The New York Times’s Brooks Atkinson. The New York City Center revived Say, Darling with Robert Morse in his original role and a new cast for a 16-performance run commencing February 25, 1959. Since then, Say, Darling has not been heard from. On the stage, two pianos served as the show’s only musical accompaniment. For the show’s Original Cast Recording (RCA’s first new show to be issued in stereo), this was augmented by a full orchestra.
– Notes compiled by Jim Kelly, 2008, revised by Lucy E. Cross, 2011
Jack Jordan: David Wayne Irene Lovelle: Vivian Blaine Rudy Lorraine: Johnny Desmond Ted Snow: Robert Morse Songs by Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jule Styne By Richard Bissell, Abe Burrows, and Marian Bissell Based on the novel by Richard Bissell Directed by Abe Burrows Orchestrations and Musical Direction by Sid Ramin.