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Broadway Time Capsule: 1975-1976 season

September 30, 2011

WHAT STUFF COST

Average Annual Income $4,818

Tickets cost: Balcony, $7.00 Orchestra $15.00

Gas $.57

Milk $1.40

President: Gerald Ford

This feature of the blog represents:

a) a way to get to know your Broadway history by plopping you down in a particular season and poking around there

b) an easy way to see video clips and audio clips of year-specific shows and

c) a hand guide for T.V.’s time traveling Scott Bakula to what shows to see when he visits New York.

All the great historians of Musical Theatre at some point heave a great sigh, and say something like, “… and here’s where it all went down the tubes.” This era is when Gerald Bordman does that. Bordman told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1978: “I was a tired businessman myself for 20 years. I want to see pretty girls dancing and listen to someone singing a Jerome Kern song.” “I’ve stopped going to the theater. I don’t like profanity, which is used gratuitously in the theater now, or the working-class slum settings and radical sentiments,” he told the Philadelphia Daily News in 1982. “Where are the zany, delightful musicals, the airy farces, the lovely operettas?” Bordman was one of our finest chroniclers of theatre, with a perceptive mind, but the things that drew him to the theatre were on the way out in the 1970s. He died this year, but others had carried on his work in his later life. Ethan Mordden waits another 10 or 15 years to start getting cranky about things, and if I think hard enough, I can find somebody who says the early 2000s are when Broadway died. It seems to hit right about when the author turns 40, which means I’m really going to hate the shows in the season 3 or 4 years from now.

The thing is, there are always a few streams running on Broadway at the same time. In this season for example, there are shows which use the frame of American musical theatre conventions to comment on American culture, (Chicago and A Chorus Line) there are shows trying hard to catch the rock sound more or less badly (Rockabye Hamlet), there are pieces that push the very edges of what a musical can be about (Pacific Overtures, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) There are also shows celebrating the African American experience, and celebrating it well (Me and Bessie, Treemonisha, Bubbling Brown Sugar)

If you are a partisan of one of those streams of theatre which is just coming into flower, it will be the beginning of a golden age for you. If you like one of the things which is being done badly, it will seem like the nadir of the theatre. At some point, Broadway actually WILL die, but for a long time yet I think it will more likely keep shifting, finding delighted new audiences and turning fans of the stile antico into sad, misty eyed dreamers, longing for a bygone day.

THE HOT TICKET

Chicago

Chicago is a Bob Fosse show with music by Kander and Ebb, and a book by Ebb and Fosse. It is based on the 1926 play Chicago, by Maurine Watkins, which was in turn based on an actual murder in 1924. Fosse’s take is a sardonic, dark view of the world, where everybody’s in show business, egos are large, and all the presentation is sensational/sensationalistic. The story is told through vaudeville tropes, which at once evokes, sends up, and comments on the era it takes place in. It’s a concept musical, because the story isn’t told in a traditional way, the vaudeville tropes are the story delivery mechanism, not the book scenes. Notice that Fosse is continually refining his dark, bawdy vision. The story, the actors, the music, lyrics all are only pieces in his game. A step further from Sweet Charity and Pippin, perhaps Chicago is the perfect distillation of Fosse’s way of theatre.

Want to hear more?

Want to read more?

Deconstructing Harold Hill pp.24-36, One More Kiss, pp. 128-131

A Chorus Line

One of the reasons I brought up Gerald Bordman in the intro to this session is that he wrote something really incredible about A Chorus Line in the 1978 edition of his seminal American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle. He wrote: “… the show seemed to many theatergoers taxing in its demand to listen to other people’s problems and disappointing in its lack of memorable music…” I think most people today would disagree with both those assessments of this show; the way the show portrays the humanity of its characters is generally considered quite moving, and the numbers ‘One’ and ‘What I did for Love’ are considered some of the most memorable music in the 1970s, if not in the entire modern era of Broadway. For almost every person on the creative team, it represented a high water mark. Marvin Hamlisch, Michael Bennett, Ed Kleban, and the members of the cast would not ever create any better theatre than they did in this love letter to the experience of being a Broadway performer. It captured the imagination of an entire generation of theatergoers.

Want to hear more?

Want to read more?

One More Kiss, pp. 217-222, Broadway Babies Say Goodnight pp.191-195

THE SMART TICKET

Pacific Overtures

It’s interesting to note that Chicago is covering a tawdry story using deconstructed Vaudeville methods, which Sondheim had explored in both Gypsy and Follies, and that in A Chorus Line, Michael Bennett was exploring the lives of performers fighting for relevance in a continuation of his work on Follies using methods he pioneered with Sondheim and Prince in Company, but Sondheim and Prince have moved on. They wouldn’t deconstruct show biz or explore performers until Merrily, which would scuttle their collaboration. Here they are again asking the question, “What can be made into a musical?” and finding the most unlikely and interesting answers of anyone around. Pacific Overtures is nothing short of a telescopic history of Japan, told through Kabuki theatrical conventions, with some Japanese musical and poetic forms, and with a cast of mostly unknown Asian men..

Someone in A Tree, one of Sondheim’s favorite songs.

Want to hear more?

Want to read more?

One More Kiss, pp. 131-134 Sondheim & Company, pp. 209-227, Sondheim and Lloyd-Webber, pp. 213-220 Stephen Sondheim, pp. 279-284 Art Isn’t Easy, pp. 174-206 Sondheim’s Broadway Musicals, pp. 249-280 Finishing The Hat, pp. 303-329

THE FLOPS

Rockabye Hamlet

A rock Hamlet? Most people asked ‘why?’ And the second question was, “why would Gower Champion have anything to do with it?” This clip is very revealing:

P.S. I hear Meatloaf was in this show.

Want to hear more? There’s one track on this album.

Want to read more?

Not Since Carrie, 40-41, One more Kiss, p. 178

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Bernstein must have known his music was great, and that it would never work in the context of this particular show, because he insisted it not be recorded. (a shame for us, but a good choice for him, because it allowed him to reuse the material elsewhere) Ken Mandelbaum says “1600 contains the greatest score in post-war Broadway history that ever went unrecorded” Fortunately for us, there is a cantata version which was handsomely recorded in 2000.

I’m so glad these clips are on the web. You can hear 1) How stilted and crummy the dialogue is and 2) How magnificent the music is. What a waste.

The President Jefferson March

Take Care Of This House music starts 6:48 real tune starts around 8:00

Want to hear more?

Want to read more?

Not Since Carrie 323-327, One More Kiss, pp.127-128, 134-137

Rex

Richard Rodgers and Sheldon Harnick tell the story of Henry VIII badly. Debut of Glenn Close in a musical, and the shortest run of Rodgers career. Ken Mandelbaum tells a story in Not Since Carrie about Nicol Williamson, at a curtain call. Dancer Jim Litten said, “That’s a wrap” but Williamson thought he said “That was crap” and slapped him right in front of the audience. Sounds like trouble, but then if you read the wikipedia article, you’ll see that Williamson is a slapper.

Want to Hear more?

Want to Read more?

Not Since Carrie, pp. 100-102, One More Kiss, p. 98-99

Treemonisha

Ragtime King Scott Joplin’s 1910 opera was lovingly restored by Gunther Schuller, and played at Houston Grand Opera, afterward transferring to Broadway with Willard White and Carmen Balthrop among others. (Kathleen Battle was Carmen Balthrop’s alternate) A beautiful piece to be sure, but it’s better when you know that Joplin was creating an entire genre himself, there being no successful American Opera to act as a model.

Want to hear more?

Want to read more?

One More Kiss, pp. 158-159

A Musical Jubilee

What a cast! Lilian Gish, Tammy Grimes, Larry Kert, John Raitt, Patrice Munsel, Dick Shawn. Wanted to show development of the American Musical, but some of the songs sung were not even from a show. Closed after 92 showings.

Boccaccio

Can somebody help me? I can’t find out ANYTHING about this show, except that it starred Armand Assante, was based on the naughty bits in the Decameron, and closed after 48 previews and 7 performances.

Home Sweet Homer

Yul Brynner attempting a big comeback as Odysseus, with the Man Of La Mancha team writing. The show ran into trouble the entire process, with people suing restaurants for food poisoning, choreographers getting fired, Brynner threatening to quit, and the backers threatening to close the show. Evidently on the road for the pre-broadway tryout, Brynner demanded all his hotel rooms be painted a specific shade of tan, and that the kitchens in the hotel suites be stocked with a dozen brown eggs, and no white ones! Lasted one performance.

Want to read more? One More Kiss, pp. 121-122

So Long 174th Street

Robert Morse, who was too old to play the part, in an overblown version of Joseph Stein’s play version of Carl Reiner’s novel Enter Laughing, which was based on Reiner’s life. Lasted 16 performances. Morse’s star power couldn’t pull this one out of obscurity, but the songs, particularly the one in this video, are still getting some play.

Want to hear more?

Want to read more? One More Kiss, pp. 187-188 Not Since Carrie, pp. 195-196

Something’s Afoot

A play on Agatha Christie Mysteries that never quite got off the ground. Seems to have a life in community and regional theatre.

Want to read more?

One More Kiss, pp. 180-181

NERD POINTS

Bubbling Brown Sugar

BBS was a tour through black music, and a fantastic tour at that. It ran for two years, and started a movement of tributes to African American songs that would include Eubie!, Ain’t Misbehavin’, and Jelly’s Last Jam.

Want to hear more?

Want to read more?

One More Kiss, pp. 172-173

Me and Bessie

A tribute to Bessie Smith by Linda Hopkins, I get the impression it was more a cabaret than a musical.

Want to hear more?

Want to read more?

One More Kiss, p. 170

NEW FACE:

Patrice Munsel, the youngest singer ever to debut at the Metropolitan Opera, first singing there in 1943 at the age of 17, and making her debut the following year in Mignon. She had her own television show, The Patrice Munsel Show, from 1956-1957. Here she is on What’s my Line in 1958.

Glenn Close had already been in 3 Broadway plays, but Rex was her first musical. She has since appeared in Barnum, Sunset Boulevard, and an Off-Broadway benefit concert of Busker Alley.

Here’s a picture of her from Rex. She’s the one on the left, looking just a little like Joan Sutherland.

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