Bajour – 1964 Original Cast Recording
The highest of all arts, to gypsies, is the bajour – a confidence game in which they swindle lonely and unhappy women out of their life savings. Among gypsies, a talented bajour woman is the most precious possession of her husband’s tribe. ACT I Cockeye Johnny Dembo, King of the Dembeschti gypsy tribe, rents a deserted, dilapidated store in a New York slum. He then unloads his “inventory” – the entire Dembeschti tribe – from a converted hearse. Dozens of women with gold-coin necklaces and men in garish silk shirts quickly transform the dingy store into a maze of fringed shawls, beaded curtains and astrological and phrenological charts. “Move Over, New York,” the gypsies are in town! Soon the neighborhood hums with business: laundry disappearing from clotheslines, wallets vanishing from pockets, shoplifting, illicit tea-leaf readings at Schrafft’s. At the police station, Lt. Lou MacNiall of the Pickpocket and Confidence Squad realizes that such petty crimes must be the work of his long-time headache and friend Johnny Dembo. The lieutenant’s work is further complicated by Emily Kirsten, a lovely, disarming college girl and a distant cousin of the Seventh Deputy Police Commissioner. Emily explains that she is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at NYU, but, unfortunately, most primitive tribes have been either spoiled by Planned Parenthood or monopolized by Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. “Where Is the Tribe for Me?” Why, right here in New York – the gypsies! If she must study them first hand, Lou decides, Dembo’s tribe is certainly the safest. At the store (now transformed into a fully equipped ofisa – fortune-teller parlor), Dembo explains to Lou why he has brought the Dembeschti to town: to buy a wife from the wealthy Moyva King of Newark for his handsome young son, Steve. Lou, a gajo (outsider), leaves as the Moyva gypsies, contemptuous of the lowly Dembeschti, arrive. In “The Haggle” each tribe tries to outdo the other in feats of agility, while each king disparages the other’s marriage candidate. The King of Newark produces his daughter, Anyanka, a girl of pantherlike, sinuous beauty, who performs a wild and seductive gypsy dance. Slowly she and Steve begin to circle, then dance faster and faster in a swirling blend of personal challenge and courtship. Even more persuasive to Dembo than her physical charms is Newark’s insistence that his daughter can maneuver a great bajour: “shrewd, crooked, mean, heartless, greedy –a perfect bride.” Dembo agrees to pay the final price, $9,000, eight hundred dollars down, the balance due in three weeks, if Anyanka will give a sample of her vaunted powers as a swindler and pickpocket. While reading the “Loveline” in Emily’s and Lou’s hands, Anyanka plants the idea of love in their minds; at the same time, she steals Lou’s wristwatch, wallet and police pistol, which the now-convinced Dembo good-naturedly returns. Emily quickly experiences the colorful folkways of the gypsies: her purse is snatched, her shoes disappear, she is conned out of ten dollars for a combination palm-reading and anti-backache charm. More cooperative, Dembo lets her give him a word-association test to help her understand gypsy psychology: in “Words, Words, Words” Dembo eventually reverses roles with Emily, as she associates the word “love” with “Lou.” At first, Anyanka resents being sold in marriage and Steve dislikes being saddled with a “hard-nosed witch.” But soon, each begins to sympathize with the other’s plight, and insults give way to an embrace. Afraid that she may lose Steve, Anyanka reveals that her father, on four other occasions, has sold her to tribes who cannot pay for her, kept the down-payment and then offered her for sale again. This time, however, she will outsmart her father; she will raise the money to buy herself. When the Dembeschti women challenge Anyanka’s attempts to organize them, she asserts her qualifications: they’re too soft, while she is “Mean.” In order to get the bride-money quickly, they must pull off a big bajour. “Now all we need is some dame with life savings. A sweet, silly, middle-aged woman with….” And enter Mrs. Kirsten, Emily’s mother, looking for her daughter. Under Anyanka’s insinuating charm, she confides the loneliness of her widowhood, which not even the $75,000 worth of insurance her husband left has made bearable. Returning to the ofisa, Momma is further ensnared in the swindle. Anyanka convinces her that the insurance money is tainted with a curse laid on it by her late husband. If she will bring her $10,000 – all Momma has in cash – Anyanka will remove the evil spell. After the gajo leaves, all the Dembeschti burst into song and dance celebrating the big “Bajour.” When Dembo casually mentions the impending bajour to Emily, she begs to be allowed to watch. Lou guesses what is going on, but Emily, a true scientist, refuses to help him prevent what to her is a folk ritual. Emily, meanwhile, goes native, dressing as a gypsy, even studying shoplifting techniques. Lou begins to worry about her, and Emily is touched by his growing affection. After he impulsively kisses her, she wonders, “Must It Be Love?” ACT II On the telephone, Momma Kirsten leaves word for Dembo to tell Anyanka not to worry about the cursed money; she has decided to give it to the Gray Ladies’ Guild at a fund-raising tea that afternoon at the Guggenheim Museum. Anyanka, Steve and the Dembeschti extol the mysteries of palmistry in “Soon.” Dembo whispers to Anyanka about Momma’s plans to give away the money, and Anyanka realizes she must somehow get to Momma quickly. She tells a disappointed Emily that her powers have failed her; there will be no bajour. Emily reassures her: “You must keep telling yourself ‘I Can.’’’ “Maybe I’d feel better if I could go to a party,” prompts Anyanka. Thus Emily offers to take her to the benefit tea. At the police station, Lou warns Emily that if the bajour succeeds, she will be criminally involved. She should give up her romantic notions about these gypsies and begin “Living Simply.” Later, the King of Newark, afraid that he will lose his money-making daughter, informs Lou of the impending swindle and that the victim is to be Emily’s mother. In the midst of the elegant tea party, just as Momma is about to pledge her $10,000, the Dembeschti crash the party and escort her right out of the museum. Anyanka then tells her that she nearly passed the curse on to the Gray Ladies. The only way to rid the money of the curse is to bring it to the ofisa – in small bills to break the curse into little pieces. Later on, Newark reminds Dembo that the balance of the bride-money is soon due, but Dembo confidently promises he will have the money. Clearly, neither trusts the other, as each compliments the other on being an “Honest Man.” When Emily tells her mother that gypsies sometimes swindle women, Momma insists, rightly, that the gypsies have asked for no money at all. On the other hand, Momma worries that Emily is still unmarried and tells her that life has to be taken on faith: it offers no “Guarantees.” Emily agrees that “Love Is a Chance.” At the ofisa, now decked out as an Egyptian temple, Anyanka presides in an air of eerie and unassailable authority. When Momma places the money in an embroidered purse, Anyanka begins a mysterious incantation, enters into a dervishlike trance, switches the purse holding the money with a decoy, and sends Momma off with the admonition that, if she opens the sack within seven days, the money will change to blank paper. The bajour has succeeded! Later, when Lou and Emily rush into the now empty store, he explains to a disillusioned Emily that the swindle is just part of the gypsy way of life. The King of Newark bursts in, infuriated. His own daughter has pulled a bajour on him and has presented him with another purse – also filled with worthless paper. And so the Dembeschti at least have money and a first-class bajour woman. They start off across New Jersey in the happy anticipation of fifty states to choose from, every one a prospect for a great bajour (“Finale: Move Over, America”).
– Curtis F. Brown
Anyanka: Chita Rivera Emily Kirsten: Nancy Dussault Cockeye Johnny Dembo: Herschel Bernardi Lou MacNiall: Robert Burr Mrs. Helene Kirsten: Mae Questel Steve: Gus Trikonis The King of Newark: Herbert Edelman Loopa: Antonia Rey Chairlady: Lucie Lancaster Renting Agent: Dick Ensslen Vanno: Sal Lombardo Waiter: Harry Danner Patrolmen: Paul Sorvino, Robert Kirsten Plainclothesman: Harry Goz Rosa: Asya Mitya: Vito Durante Frankie: Terry Violino Marfa: Jeanne Tanzy Olga: Carmen Morales J. Arnold Foster: Ralph Farnsworth