Bravo Giovanni – Original Cast Recording 1962
Rome at noon. At the Trevi Fountain, Lombards in snappy Lancias and Sicilians on Vespas whiz by, while Rome’s famed cats nap in warm Italian sunshine. The bright Overture suggests all the color, all that is vital and volatile in the great city.
In one of the hundreds of little piazzas with their old-world charm, tan, handsome Giovanni Venturi in his waiter’s apron readies the sidewalk tables of his modest trattoria for his daily customers. He bursts into a happy tribute to “Rome,” “this wonderful, fabulous place,” while lovers arm-in-arm, titian-haired beauties, and bustling priests in black cassocks stroll through the piazza and a nun zips by on a bicycle.
Suddenly into the square comes a small brass band, led by the imposing, portly Bellardi. They stop before a store just down the street from Giovanni’s. The front of the building is hidden by bunting and flags. Alas, these are to prove a veil of tears for Giovanni. After a dedication speech by Bellardi, beginning “Friends, Romans, turisti,” the draperies are removed revealing a razzle-dazzle façade of plate glass and chrome. It is a new branch of Uriti, a mass-production restaurant chain, and Signor Bellardi is its proud manager. Waiters appear dressed as ancient Romans complete with leather thongs on their bare legs and gilded laurel wreaths on their heads. All join in singing “Uriti,” claiming such gustatory delights as instant minestrone, tortoni in twenty-nine flavors, Manischewitz ’59, and today’s special, chicken chow mein. The taste in food is matched only by the quiet taste of the décor – a wall-to-wall Norman Rockwell mural, a bust of Dante gushing café expresso from his mouth, and rest room booths which are perfect copies of the Arch of Constantine. Giovanni soon discovers that his pasta and formaggio are no match for formica and plastic; his customers desert him for his rival.
Within three weeks, Giovanni is ruined. By cutting prices, Uriti has put him out of business as it has its competitors all over Italy. In the shabby but charming interior of his trattoria, he haggles with a second-hand dealer for the furnishings.
In the midst of negotiations appears Amadeo, a grizzled but Puckish bookseller from next door. He has a brilliant plan to save his friend Giovanni. He has nearly ruined his digestion by eating regularly such “Italian” delicacies as egg foo young at Uriti while studying the layout of the restaurant. Food is prepared in a downstairs kitchen and sent up to the dining room on a dumbwaiter. All Giovanni has to do is dig a tunnel from his own basement, under Amadeo’s bookstore and the house of the elderly widow Pandolfi, to a point below the Uriti kitchen, and build a downward extension of Uriti’s dumbwaiter. The engineering project will be governed by that simple and undeservedly obscure principle, Breachy’s Law: “What goes up can also come down.” In thoughtful anticipation, Amadeo has got his cousin Carlo the job of operating the dumbwaiter and has sent to the country for his niece Miranda to bring the food through the tunnel to Giovanni’s. Imagine the saving in costs: no more food and wine for Giovanni to buy! All his dinner orders will be filled from Uriti’s kitchen! Giovanni’s misgivings concerning lasagna larceny are real – but brief. The two drink to “Breachy’s Law.”
The arrival of Miranda causes Giovanni to doubt the success of their plan. She is young, beautiful, and brimming with gioia di vivere. In fact, she has already drawn a retinue of three young swains whom Giovanni shoos away. The place, Giovanni observes, will be crawling with her suitors and their plan will be discovered. He angrily scolds her for her flirtatiousness. She replies with “I’m All I’ve Got,” reveling in her frankly sensual nature and sex appeal. She refuses to become a prim, dull young lady. Amadeo makes peace between them, but they remain quietly hostile.
In the street the next day, Bellardi, the branch manager of the new Uriti, reports his progress to his waspish superior, Moscolito. As soon as Giovanni is out of business, they can raise prices again. When Giovanni arrives and confidently states that he has no plans to go out of business, but on the contrary is remodeling “from the ground up,” he and Bellardi engage in an “Argument” in which Bellardi jeers: “After I’ve ruined you, I’ll give you a job at Uriti – as a dishwasher!”
The Instant Catacombs progress apace, but not everything goes smoothly. Miranda is restive at having to spend her nights digging, and cousin Carlo announces he has fallen in love with an Uriti prosciutto and salami slicer, Celestina, who, to make matters worse, is Bellardi’s niece. Finally, when a light goes on in the middle of the night in Signora Pandolfi’s house for the third time that week, Amadeo insists that they must suspend digging. Giovanni, however, conceives of an idea to get the dear old lady out of the house. He persuades the reluctant Amadeo to take her out to a concert, then to supper. Elderly as she is, she will come home dead tired and sleep through all their tunneling.
The following night at a nightclub, Amadeo, nearly collapsing from fatigue, is dragging himself through another dance with the frail, bird-like – and utterly insatiable Signora Pandolfi. It is nearly dawn and the orchestra is tired, the waiters are tired, the manager is tired, and Amadeo is limp. But the wild-eyed lady is still raring to go. In “Signora Pandolfi” he tries to persuade her to call it a night, but she launches into a wild Tango, followed by the Black Bottom, and finally “The Kangaroo,” a species of manic bedlam combining the Twist, the Tarantella, and a Conga line into which Signora Pandolfi, like the Pied Piper, lures the entire ensemble.
While digging the tunnel a few nights later, one whole wall collapses and reveals to the astonished diggers a magnificent Etruscan tomb over two thousand years old. Suddenly their skullduggery has turned to skull diggery. An additional rumble is heard, and Signora Pandolfi drops in – right through the ceiling. While warning them that it is a crime to withhold antiquities from the Italian government, she gleefully joins in their plot with Margaret Rutherford-like gusto. “We’ll need drills – and dynamite … this job’s taking too long. Chop, chop, dig, dig, you’ll be at it for weeks! Let’s give it a couple of good blasts and get it over with. Amateurs, all of you!”
Giovanni and his entourage have come to the Villa Giulia Museum to learn more about their antiquarian discoveries, but it is clear from the way Miranda looks at Giovanni what she digs. When she tells him she has fallen in love, he replies theoretically in “If I Were the Man,” not suspecting that it is himself that she is in love with. He leaves and she, smoldering with love, tries to restrain her emotions in the torchy “Steady, Steady.”
Back in the tunnel, Giovanni discovers that the tomb they have uncovered is that of none other than the great Etruscan king, Lars Porsena. Giovanni is thrilled, but Amadeo is frightened that they will be found out. When Giovanni idly asks how old Miranda is, Amadeo realizes that he is in love, though Giovanni denies it. “We Won’t Discuss It,” they agree. But later in Giovanni’s apartment, when he sees Miranda help Giovanni into his smoking jacket, get books and pencil and paper, coffee and a cigar for him as he basks in her attention, Amadeo smilingly concludes: “You’ll see, my friend, you’ll see.”
Giovanni has arranged a festa in the piazza with music and dancing in honor of nonexistent St. Vesuvius. First a strolling troubadour then Giovanni entertain the crowd with the beautiful ballad, “Ah! Camminare.” Then the assembled throng breaks into the Twist. Joyful cries and the music drown out the earth-shaking blasts from the tunnel below. The explosions seem only to be a part of the blast in honor of “St. Vesuvius.”
As the second act begins, Giovanni’s has re-opened and the new money-saving system delights our enterprising band. All is not so rosy at Uriti, however. The general manager has swooped down on the hapless Bellardi with the disquieting news that his is the only branch of Uriti that is losing money, although sales are soaring. A frantic inspection of the Uriti kitchen, with its ballet-like efficiency, nets the manager only a pizza wrapped around his head. The baffled Bellardi, accused of stealing the profits, bids “Virtue, Arrivederci” as he contemplated the unpretty pass to which honesty has brought him.
As time passes, Giovanni is faced with a curious dilemma. He has been too successful, and Uriti is about to give up the inexplicably unequal match. And if Uriti leaves, so will that wonderful kitchen from which all goodies flow. How then can they keep from having to cook their own goose, but continue to feather their nest with those golden eggs? Clearly, they must steal less. They must cut down on their clientele and raise their prices. They will decorate the restaurant with Etruscan relics, charge exorbitant prices, and serve only forty meals a day.
Six months later, Giovanni’s is the toast of Rome. Decorated with great oil lamps, Etruscan statuary, vases and treasures beyond measure, it is filled with film stars, Oriental potentates, mannequins in furs and jewels. With all the suavity and elegance of his famous operatic namesake, Giovanni serves his savory fare with savoir faire. In “Bravo, Giovanni,” his delighted patrons sing his praises. The bellicose Bellardi is near apoplexy when he finds that Giovanni gets such fantastic prices for exactly the same dishes as he serves. Giovanni is incensed that he should dare to compare Uriti’s mass-produced food with his own elegant cuisine. While Giovanni basks in adulation, poor Miranda slaves away in the tunnel and galley, bemoaning that she is still “One Little World Apart” from her beloved Giovanni.
Signora Pandolfi takes matters into her own all-too-capable hands when she badgers Amadeo into matrimony. He invokes the advice of “two old friends” – Strindberg and Schopenhauer. But sixty years of carefully protected bachelorhood are clearly not match for the determination of the Signora.
Success has gone to Giovanni’s handsome head. He plans to set up branches complete with tunnels wherever there are Uritis, with each of his partners, including Miranda, installed at a different branch. In addition, as a fashionable ristoratore, he is, of course, an authority on everything from real estate to investments to politics. Miranda realizes that Giovanni is growing further and further away from her, and it is only after she has run away that Giovanni realizes he loves her. In “Miranda,” he sees that without her all his success means niente.
A double-level stage showing both the piazza above and the tunnel below reveals a finale of Marx Brothers zaniness. The police, prompted by an antiques expert’s tip, arrive to confiscate the Etruscan treasures. In the ensuing pandemonium, Giovanni and Miranda are united and the conspirators escape, couple by couple, through the Uriti dumbwaiter to freedom as the curtain, in a final observance in honor of Breachy’s Law, comes down.
– from the original liner notes by Curtis Brown
Giovanni Venturi: Cesare Siepi
Bellardi: George S. Irving
Amadeo: David Opatoshu
Signora Pandolfi: Maria Karnilova
Carlo: Al Lanti
Miranda: Michelle Lee
Moscolito: Arnold Soboloff
Celestina: Lu Leonard
Troubadour: Gene Varrone
Night Club Manager: Buzz Miller