Broadway Time Capsule: 1985-1986 Season

May 30, 2017



Average Annual Income: $17,321

Tickets cost: About $30

Gas $.93 a gallon

Milk $2.22 a gallon

President: Ronald Reagan

This long dormant 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.

I’m only covering shows that opened this season. You could still have seen older shows in their original runs. 42nd Street was still running. So was Cats, A Chorus Line, and La Cage Aux Folles. But this season was pretty dull for new shows. Normally I have a ‘nerd points’ selection, but I had some trouble selecting one this season. The previous season had given us Big River (which was also still running).The next season would bring Les Miz and Starlight Express. But in 1985-86, you really would have been better off reading Calvin and Hobbes, or watching Elmo, both of which made their first named appearance on November 18, 1985. For comparison, check out my list from 1975-1976. An embarrassment of riches.


Song And Dance

An Andrew Lloyd Webber confection starring Bernadette Peters, Song and Dance is remembered primarily for Tell Me On A Sunday and Unexpected Song. Critics and history have remembered Song & Dance as being beautiful and unusual and somewhat pointless. The audience, however, liked it enough to let it run for 474 performances.

I have to get something off my chest here. Unexpected Song has such a gorgeous melody. And unlike a lot of people I don’t really like Lloyd Webber’s melodies. But not many singers can really pull off a convincing F# below the staff, and several Gs 2 octaves higher in the same song. It’s just poor writing for the voice. And then am I supposed to take the lyric “take me to a zoo that’s got chimpanzees” seriously in a poignant love song? Ugh.

But Bernadette Peters! Here’s a snapshot from the 1986 Tony Awards.

Want to hear more? Original Cast Recording

The Mystery Of Edwin Drood

Drood is famous for a couple of things: the beautiful song Moonfall, which was the go-to song for a generation of legit sopranos who wanted to sing showtunes in a particularly dry time for sopranos, and the choose-your-own-adventure style ending. Dickens never completed the original story, so the ending chosen by the audience was a clever work around. In 1986 the show’s title was changed from The Mystery of Edwin Drood to Drood, apparently in an attempt to draw a new audience. I’ve never really understood that. Were they hoping people would think it was a different show? Betty Buckley played Drood, leaving in 1987 to replace Bernadette Peters in Song and Dance. Peters had left Song and Dance to create the Witch in Into The Woods.

The show won the Tony for Best Musical and Rupert Holmes became the first person to receive by himself the Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Music and Lyrics. He had also written the orchestrations. The show had a nice revival in 2013.

Here’s the 1986 Tony Awards presentation:

Want to hear more?


You know, if you’re time traveling, you really should just see Follies, actually. The one at Lincoln Center on September 15. It’s a one time concert, though, so it doesn’t count for this format. It had literally everybody in it. Barbara Cook, George Hearn, Mandy Patinkin, Lee Remick, Carol Burnett, Comden and Green, Elaine Stritch, Liz Callaway, Licia Albanese… Like, everybody.

Singin’ In the Rain

I’m pretty curious about Singin’ In The Rain. This was one of the most endearing film musicals of all time, and in the famous title song sequence, the producers of the Broadway version actually rigged rain to fall on a 20 by 40 foot section of the stage. But as impressive as that was, and even thought it was choreographed by Twyla Tharp, the production was still missing something. It ran for a year, and the poor reception dulled the sheen of Tharp’s reputation and threw her into a depression.

Here’s that famous scene:

Here’s Good Mornin, with a little interview afterward:

There’s no Original Broadway Cast recording, but there is a recording of the West End production that preceded it here and a recording of the 2012 revival.


The News

Frank Rich’s review in the Times didn’t mince words: “Every minute of The News, as it happens, is agony.” Variety said: “They don’t come much worse.” The Associated Press said: “Journalism will survive ‘The News‘, a ludicrous and distasteful rock musical that blasted its way Thursday into Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theater. Eardrums and confidence about the future of American musical theater may not.”

It was a rock show about a serial killer and the tabloid using his murders to boost circulation. Eventually the editor’s daughter connects with the serial killer via the personals in the tabloid. The cast held mics. Poor Anthony Crivello played the Killer. It ran 4 performances.

I looked for a long time to try and find more about this piece, but it seems to have dropped off the face of the earth.

The Wind In The Willows

Ken Mandelbaum’s book informs us that this adaptation of the beloved book made Mole a woman and added a near romance between her and Rat. The songs were, evidently good, and Toad was played by Nathan Lane, in one of his first major turns in a musical. The critics were not kind, and like The News, it closed after 4 performances.

Here’s a number from the show:

Big Deal

Okay, Big Deal is Fosse’s last show, a show he’d been wanting to write for a long time, and it featured an almost entirely African American cast. How bad could it have been? Well, the score was all recycled older songs, which you might say was the natural end of Fosse’s manhandling of composers over the course of his career. A lot of money was spent on an expensive set that most people seemed not to like. It was in trouble out of town, and wasn’t fixed by the time it limped into New York. Beat Me Daddy, Eight to The Bar was the number that showed the old Fosse magic, as Wayne Cilento and Bruce Anthony Davis made his signature moves pop one last time.

But hey, if you’re a time traveling Fosse fan, you should really go see the revival of Sweet Charity instead.

Here’s the 1986 Tony Presentation of Beat Me Daddy:

Uptown… It’s Hot!

A retrospective of Black Showbiz, from early jazz through rap, created by and starring Maurice Hines, Gregory Hines‘ brother. The Hines brothers started their career doing routines patterned on the Nicholas Brothers, who were probably the greatest dancers ever to appear on film. He was nominated for a Tony for his performance in this show, but it only ran 24 performances. Critics were particularly unimpressed with the framing device. Show biz angels have to pass a test on the history of African Americans in showbiz in order to earn their wings, so they watch a retrospective on a VCR.  Still, I kinda wish I’d seen it!


Eddie Korbich made his Broadway debut in 1986 as a replacement in Singin’ in the Rain. He would later play Zangara in the original Assassins.

Nora Mae Lyng, famous for her work in “Forbidden Broadway” made her Broadway debut in Wind In The Willows. Sadly, she passed away just this month. Here she is as Patti:

I’ve undoubtedly gotten some things wrong. Please feel free to comment below!



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