If 1776 is accurate, 140 years ago this week John Adams and Benjamin Franklin took Maryland delegate Samuel Chase from Philadelphia to New Brunswick, New Jersey.
The goal of the sixty-mile journey was to convince Chase that the Continental Army did indeed have what it took to win the Revolutionary War.
And while they were absent from Congress, John Dickinson, the colonies’ ultimate royalist-loyalist, led his King George groupies in singing “Cool Cool Considerate Men” – just before the Courier came in and sang about the war losses in “Momma Look Sharp.”
Well, all right, it’s safe to say that those two songs didn’t happen on June 22, 1776, in the chamber of the Congressional Congress as Peter Stone’s book and Sherman Edwards’ score stated. Still, you can play both songs from the original cast album as you mark the event (and mark time until you can get tickets to another Tony®-winning musical that’s set in the same era).
Next week – specifically on June 28 — you can (re)acquaint yourself with “Molasses to Rum,” which Stone and Edwards liked to think took place on that date 140 years ago. It’s the musical scene that South Carolina delegate Edward Rutledge used to establish that the slave trade didn’t merely benefit the southern colonies but aided the northern ones, too.
It’s a song on a notorious subject, but one that deals with a still darker incident that took place on June 25, 1906, soon to be a solid 110 years ago. Harry K. Thaw, a violent man, killed Sanford White in what many people called “The Crime of the Century” (although Emma Goldman, aware that the century had ninety-four years to go, begged to differ).
If these names and facts don’t sound familiar, then you haven’t heard “The Crime of the Century,” sung by Lynnette Perry as Evelyn Nesbit, who was the object of both White and Thaw’s affection. It’s the fourth song in Ragtime, the 1998 masterpiece that should have won the Best Musical Tony® over The Lion King. (One of these days I’ll get over the snub.)
RCA Victor was so anxious to let the world hear this score by composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens that it released a one-disc concept album two years before Ragtime was to open at The Ford Center for the Performing Arts (which later became The Hilton Theatre, which later became The Foxwoods Theatre, which later still became The Lyric Theatre. The way things are going, the place may eventually be renamed The Kaopectate Theatre).
Once Ragtime opened to mostly rave reviews – and even before the Tony® committee gave the show fourteen nominations — RCA Victor then decided to give the show the two-disc treatment. The casts on both discs are pretty much the same, with Tony® nominees Peter Friedman as Tateh, the Jewish immigrant who assumes the name and title of Baron Ashkenazy when he becomes a movie mogul; Marin Mazzie, the WASP Mother who eventually marries him; and Brian Stokes Mitchell, as Coalhouse Walker, Jr., the unjustly treated musician who comes into her life. In the role of Sarah, Coalhouse’s beloved who was murdered (in a similar way that we’ve seen too many black people killed), was Audra McDonald, who wound up winning her third Tony®, unaware that she was only halfway to her six-pack of Antoinette Perry Awards.
Ragtime mixed real people with fictitious ones; to a lesser degree The Threepenny Opera did, too. It referenced June 28, 1838 – soon to be 176 years ago. This was the day when Queen Victoria was coroneted – and Mack the Knife was pardoned in the Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill classic. Although most recordings use the Marc Blitzstein translation which resulted in the longest off-Broadway run in history (2,611 performances, a record that lasted for more than five years until you-know-what surpassed it), Masterworks Broadway offers a much different take on the material: Ralph Manheim and John Willett’s new translation gives some fascinating alternative choices.
You can, of course, celebrate every day in June by playing “June Is Busting Out All Over,” the first rollicking song in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. Or play Gypsy, for the character named June – although never seen after Act One, Scene Nine – is a major one in the Laurents-Styne-Sondheim masterpiece. May Jacqueline Mayro entertain you as Baby June and Lane Bradbury do the same as Dainty June on the original 1959 cast album.
Sad to say, both of those actresses only made it to Broadway in two other shows. But Bradbury’s history is the more fascinating of the two, for she appeared in Marathon ’33, the play that June Havoc — the real Baby/Dainty June – wrote to tell of her adventures that occurred immediately following her leaving Rose and Louise in the lurch.
Or listen to Bonnie Langford, the Baby June in the 1973 London Gypsy that starred Angela Lansbury. She’s only done one other Broadway show: Chicago, as a replacement Roxie Hart in the never-ending revival. But she’s a much-acclaimed star in her native England where she’s appeared in plenty of TV series and films, not to mention the West End, where she originated Rumpleteaser in Cats, played the title role in a Sweet Charity revival and brought Muriel in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels to town.
Langford’s eventual success would have surprised Noël Coward, who was (to say the least) unimpressed when he saw her at the age of eight portraying Bonnie in the 1972 London musical version of Gone with the Wind. Coward attended the infamous opening night during which a horse relieved himself on stage. That prompted him to say, “If they had shoved the child’s head up the horse’s ass, they would have solved two problems at once.”
However, Langford sounds fine on the Gypsy album, as does Debbie Bowen as Dainty June. And yet, I fear what Coward would have thought of Bowen had he seen her far too overly and disgustingly cute performance as the budding actress who sang the title song of Applause in the 1973 TV version? If Coward has caught her sticky-sweet interpretation, he might well have asked that all of Bowen and not just her head be thrust into any animal that passed by.
Come to think of it, Applause aired on March 15, 1973, and Coward died a mere eleven days later. If it ever comes out that he saw the broadcast and Bowen’s performance is what killed him, I won’t be a bit surprised.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com. His book The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at www.amazon.com.