Seventeen – Original Broadway Cast 1951

Seventeen – Original Broadway Cast 1951



The first question you probably ask when you find a cast recording for an old musical you don’t know is, “Who was the star?” Then you want to know who wrote the score, followed by who directed and/or choreographed it. Going deeper, you might wonder about the other big names – book writer, designers, producers, supporting cast – associated with the production. The answers you get for the 1951 musical Seventeen will probably leave you saying, “Who?” This genial coming-of-age story managed a Broadway run of 182 performances in the summer and fall of 1951 – not bad, considering that Guys and Dolls, Call Me Madam and The King and I were the new shows everyone wanted to see. Perhaps the biggest name you find in the credits for Seventeen is one of its producers, Milton Berle. The score is by a pair of songwriters – composer Walter Kent and lyricist Kim Gannon – whose work, primarily for big bands and Hollywood, had yielded one real blockbuster, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” They came up with a thoroughly professional score for Seventeen, but neither ever wrote for Broadway again. The show’s book is by Sally Benson, a popular writer in the 1940s whose work inspired the film Meet Me in St. Louis and was known to theater audiences for the hit comedy Junior Miss. Seventeen was “staged” by Broadway veteran Hassard Short, whose Broadway career had begun in 1901. Short must have been more of a supervisor, since Richard Whorf directed the book scenes, and Dania Krupska staged the dances and musical numbers. And stars? In the leading role of the naïve Indiana lad Willie Baxter, you have the newly discovered Kenneth Nelson, who would find fame a decade later when he created the role of Matt in The Fantasticks (and, even more memorably, as Michael in The Boys in the Band in 1968). But the rest of the Seventeen cast is populated by solid Broadway veterans of the day and young performers whose lives and careers would take most of them in other directions. The real star of Seventeen may have been Booth Tarkington, the Indiana writer whose best-selling 1916 novel is the show’s source. People who believe in “the good old days” imagine them to be something like the cheerful, chaste, gee-whiz world so deftly evoked in Seventeen – a pre-World War I never-neverland of polite, unhurried WASPs who court and spark as wide-eyed naifs, raise big, high-spirited families, and live happily ever after, by the rules, in friendly places full of picturesque Victorian houses, modest farms and the best of intentions. It is a world located – to quote the hero’s mother in a song from Seventeen – “somewhere between a headache and a heartache and a laugh.” Hollywood musicals throughout the 1940s had made this fantasy world seem like a real part of the common American experience. But Seventeen got there first with the bittersweet comedy of growing up, ahead of Henry Aldrich, the Andy Hardy movies and even Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! Booth Tarkington’s work (The Magnificent Ambersons, Alice Adams, the Penrod stories) was once at the very heart of American culture, and hugely popular. You can imagine Seventeen looking, to someone, like a sure thing for a Broadway musical in 1951. And, by all means, it seems to have made a sweet and skillful show – the recording tells you that. Consider, though, that it opened the same year J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was published. The new coming-of-age was … well, “gee whiz” did not exactly cover it anymore. Seventeen was a show out of time, a bit of nostalgia in a world that had begun to discard rose-colored glasses. Happily, the recording is here to remind us of its very gentle charms. In the true sense of the word, “enjoy.”

– David Foil


Dick Kallman: Joe Bullitt Bob Bakanic: Don Richard France: Lester Jim Moore: Charlie Darrell Notara: Darrell Bill Reilly: Dave John Sharpe: Johnnie Watson Ann Crowley: Lola Pratt Kenneth Nelson: Willie Baxter Ellen McCown: May Parcher Helen Wood: Emmie Bonnie Brae: Madge Joan Bowman: Nan Carol Cole: Ida Sherry McCutcheon: Jenny Elizabeth Pacetti: Sue Doris Dalton: Mrs. Baxter Frank Alberton: Mr. Baxter Harrison Muller: George Crooper Alonzo Bosan: Mr. Genesis Maurice Ellis: Genesis Friends and Neighbors: Penny Bancroft, King Calder, Joseph James, Greg O’Brien Chorus: Margaret Baxter, Stan Grover, Henry Lawrence, Dorothy Manko, Bill Nuss, Jeanne Shea, Paula Stewart, Ray Thomas All music composed by Walter Kent; lyrics by Kim Gannon Book by Sally Benson Chorus and Orchestra under the direction of Vincent Travers