DROPPED ON THE TOWN By Peter Filichia
I was horrified that Saturday afternoon in the Majestic Theatre before CAMELOT was about to start.
I’d reached the page in the Playbill where the songs were listed and saw the terrible mistake.
This was late in the show’s original run, months after I’d bought the cast album. By then, I had listened incessantly and had memorized every note and line. (Who wouldn’t? It’s still one of the classiest recordings of one of Broadway’s best scores.)
So I knew “Then You May Take Me to the Fair” and “Fie on Goodness!” But they weren’t listed in that Playbill, making me fear that the person who put this page together might well be fired for the oversight.
Well! Imagine my astonishment when Act One proceeded without “Fair” and Act Two was bereft of “Fie!”
Eventually I learned what had happened. On Oct. 1, 1960, CAMELOT opened in Toronto where it ran three-and-a-half hours. This was enough to give bookwriter-lyricist Alan Jay Lerner a bleeding ulcer that sent him to the hospital. When he was released days later, Moss Hart, CAMELOT’s director, was being wheeled in after having suffered a heart attack.
So during that tryout and the Boston one, too, CAMELOT was without Hart’s savvy. (He’d directed MY FAIR LADY, remember.) When it opened at the Majestic on Dec. 3, 1960, the show was shorter, but the reviews were mixed.
Almost three months passed before Hart could leave Toronto. During that time, CAMELOT was floundering at the box office. So Hart suggested that Lerner and he try to improve the show.
Among the eliminations were “Fair” and “Fie!”
Lucky for us, the original cast album had already been recorded, for the two songs are terrific. Yet audiences at the Majestic after March, 1961 – including mine – were denied hearing them.
A couple of months earlier, Lucille Ball decided that she was weary of participating in eight songs eight times a week in WILDCAT. The star (who’d put up every dime of the capitalization) reduced her workload by twenty-five percent by dropping two songs.
Too bad, as the original cast album shows they were worthy Cy Coleman-Carolyn Leigh efforts. The brassy and earthy Wildcat Jackson – Ball’s character – was celebrated in a razz-ma-tazz title song that’s such an earworm that it deserves to be called an earsnake.
The character had a vulnerable side because she had a sister with a disability. “That’s What I Want for Janie” gave Wildcat the chance to be soft and sincere and make us like her more.
Audiences for the final five months of the run were denied that. At least we aren’t today.
The reason given for excisions is most often the one Ball gave: exhaustion. In SWEET CHARITY, Gwen Verdon partook of seven songs, five dances, was thrown into the orchestra pit and had to be pulled out from it as many times. Aside from a couple of two-week vacations, she did the entire 607-performance run, so she more than occasionally got tuckered and every now and then cut “You Should See Yourself.”
(This is probably the only jazz waltz that’s the first song in a score – mostly because Cy Coleman was good at that sort of thing).
At other performances, Verdon left it in but didn’t perform the show’s big ballad “Where Am I Going?” (How big a ballad? Let’s put it this way: Barbra Streisand covered it.)
There’s that marvelous story about the person who went to see SWEET CHARITY, had known the cast album in advance and was indignant that Verdon didn’t do every song in the score. A letter of complaint was soon in the mail. Not only did Verdon answer, but she also sent off a check for forty-two cents, which, she’d computed, was the pro-rated amount of the $9.90 ticket.
(Did this person actually cash the check? I don’t know about you, but if the four-time Tony-winner had sent me her personal check, it’d be framed and given a place of honor in my home.)
In at least one instance, management was furious with its star’s decision to drop a song. Joseph Cates (Phoebe’s father) had had a hard time getting WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN? to Broadway; when things looked bleak in Philadelphia, he fired director Arthur Storch and brought in Abe (GUYS AND DOLLS) Burrows to re-direct and do a little book-doctoring, too.
Doing a musical about an anti-hero is never easy, but Budd Schulberg’s Sammy Glick was the type of stinker who’d amputate the hand that fed him. After Cates saw the reviews that were split right down the middle (two favorable, two mixed, two negatives), he worked hard to nurse the show from its February 27, 1964 opening. By the end of the year, star Steve Lawrence decided to drop “I Feel Humble.”
The cast album reveals that Ervin Drake’s song is very good. Sammy believes that he can convince everyone that he’s a great guy by underplaying his achievements and giving credit to others (whom he’ll soon stab in the back, front and middle).
That SAMMY had made it through all these months when DOLLY and then FIDDLER were the hot tickets was often attributed to Lawrence’s popularity. He was the show’s only performer to get a Tony nomination (although Lehman Engel’s conducting also got a nod).
Nevertheless, Cates not-at-all humbly made a formal complaint to Actors Equity about “I Feel Humble.” Some have alleged that Lawrence’s calling in sick much of Christmas week – Broadway’s most lucrative time – was a retaliatory response. But he’s there in all his glory on the original cast album.
Then there was Madeline Kahn, who was giving on-again, off-again performances during the Boston tryout and Broadway previews of ON THE 20TH CENTURY. The famous story goes that she was sensational on opening night and director Hal Prince ran backstage to say “That’s it! That’s the performance!” to which she coolly replied “I hope you don’t think that I can do that every night.”
Soon after that, she didn’t drop a song – no – but she was cutting the high notes in “Veronique,” “Never” and “I Got It All.” However, those connected with the show have told me that she gave that opening-night performance once again when recording the album, which we all can still enjoy.
Was “Wait Till You See Her” from Rodgers and Hart’s BY JUPITER dropped during the Broadway run? According to Dorothy Hart and Robert Kimball in THE COMPLETE LYRICS OF LORENZ HART, yes, ten months after its 1942 opening. Ethan Mordden in BEAUTIFUL MORNIN’: THE BROADWAY MUSICAL IN THE 1940S, says it was lost in Boston. As for Rodgers himself? He says it was ejected after the Broadway opening, so for the purposes of this column, we’ll believe him.
Since then “Wait Till You See Her” has been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to – yes! – Nancy Sinatra. She of course made it “Wait Till You See HIM,” as did Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day and dozens of female vocalists.
Thus the song was well-established in the quarter-century before the 1967 revival was being readied. Now that it had become a standard, the producer was sure to put it in there. So if you missed this production, you won’t have to wait long to hear “Wait Till You See Her” on the cast album.
According to Ethan Morddern’s magnificent book RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN, Yul Brynner, during the original run of THE KING AND I (which he did from beginning to end), he cut “A Puzzlement” 116 times. But we’ll talk more about that next week, for good reason …
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com. He can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com.