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Seven Come Eleven Comes Alive Again

Seven Come Eleven Comes Alive Again

Decades ago, I vowed to obtain each and every original cast album. That meant searching second-hand dives and thrift shops and making many clandestine trips downstairs to dingy basements in record stores. As a result, I was able to get most everything from The Athenian Touch to the bootleg Zenda.

But there was one long-playing record I was never able to find: Seven Come Eleven.

One reason was that the disc was almost exclusively sold at the theater where the show played. Oh, a few copies got out to the city’s record stores, but not many. If you weren’t an attendee of Seven Come Eleven (and I wasn’t) or lived in New York (and I didn’t) your chances of getting this recording were mighty small.

Now, thanks to a Manufacture-on-Demand CD or digital downloads, you and I can hear what it was.

And what indeed was Seven Come Eleven, you ask? It doesn’t show up on ibdb.com, so it wasn’t a Broadway musical. Any attempt to find it on iobdb.com proves that it wasn’t an off-Broadway entry, either.

No, Seven Come Eleven was a 1961 topical revue that played a nightclub. The show was sponsored by impresario Julius Monk – a trim, dapper and mustachioed man who looked as if he’d wear a tuxedo to a picnic lunch. If you’d met him circa 1964, “Elegance” from Hello, Dolly! would have invaded your brain.

This was the seventh revue that Monk had produced; by now he was so well-established that, as the recording opens, he refers to himself simply as “Monk.” Yes, after five years of mounting witty, sophisticated entertainments, his audience knew him from their frequent trips to the West 56th Street venue known as “Upstairs at the Downstairs.”

Now you get the joke that George Furth and/or Stephen Sondheim devised for Merrily We Roll Along when they had Frank, Charley and Beth perform at the “Upstairs Room at the Downtown Club.” Better still, Seven Come Eleven proves that Sondheim knew what he was doing (doesn’t he always?) when writing “Who Wants to Live in New York?” These revues always sported songs about the city. Seven Come Eleven offers “This Is New York,” which cites many of the same issues as the Sondheim song. Later comes “New York Has a New Hotel” by Michael Brown (who wrote “Lizzie Borden” for New Faces of 1952). It laments how the city’s impressive architecture is giving way to expedient and soulless-looking buildings. See if you can guess which ones he means.

That Sondheim wrote “Bobby and Jackie and Jack” was not arbitrary, either. Seven Come Eleven songwriter Lesley Davison also had the then-omnipotent and seemingly invulnerable Kennedys on her mind when she wrote “The Jackie Look.” She chose a calypso melody, for Monk revues loved matching current musical styles with topical humor.

At song’s end, Davison quoted a then-familiar song: “How you gonna keep down on the farm after they’ve seen Jack-ee?” Bringing in snippets of other songs (especially show tunes) was a very familiar practice in Monk revues. Listen carefully to Seven Come Eleven’s opening song and you’ll hear snatches of On the Town, Guys and Dolls and even George White’s Scandals of 1926. A bit later on the disc you’ll hear a quotation from Sheldon Harnick’s “Boston Beguine,” another goodie from New Faces of 1952.

Quoting bits and pieces of music helped the sketches, too. When audiences heard two bars of the song that began “School days, school days,” they immediately knew that a classroom would be the setting for the scene. Four measures of “Someday I’ll Find You” telegraphed that the upcoming sketch would be a Noel Coward parody. (“I have a triple triple sec.”)

One performer in Seven Come Eleven is quite familiar to us: Mary Louise Wilson, whom many met through the cast album of Flora, the Red Menace. Here Wilson’s distinctively dry voice is used to good advantage in “Forbidden Tropics,” about Henry Miller’s books (Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn) which were considered porn at the time. Wilson tells the audiences not to confuse him with other Millers, and listed Arthur and Ann as well as Gilbert.

Need help on Gilbert Miller? He was a distinguished Broadway producer from 1923 through 1965, responsible for such blue-chip titles as The Petrified Forest, Journey’s End and Witness for the Prosecution. Just the mention of his name shows how Monk’s audiences were expected to know a great deal about the theater scene.

Wilson appears in a sketch called “Don’t You Feel Naked Not Drinking?” She plays a partygoer who’s staunch about having no need for liquor, despite being harassed by a man who probably wants her to imbibe for his own nefarious reasons. Wait for the terrific surprise ending.

Paired with Wilson is Rex Robbins, who would be reunited with her thirteen years later when he played Herbie and she was Tessie Tura in the revival of Gypsy in which Angela Lansbury played Rose. Alas, you won’t find them on the Lansbury recording; it was made in 1973 with the London cast; when it opened at our Winter Garden in 1974, Equity required Americans in the roles and Robbins and Wilson got the jobs.

We’d have had a nice irony if Wilson had sung “The Jackie Look,” for she would later have a theatrical affinity with the former First Lady. Not only did Wilson win a Tony for playing one of Jackie’s relatives in Grey Gardens, but she had also previously snagged a Drama Desk Award for portraying Diana Vreeland, Jackie’s most valuable fashion guru and confidante, in Full Gallop.

But Ceil Cabot, a longtime Monk performer, got “The Jackie Look.” She doesn’t show up on ibdb.com or iobdb.com, either, for soon after Seven Come Eleven closed, she and her husband Carl Ballantine left New York to try their luck in Los Angeles. Although Cabot appeared in dozens of TV shows and films, he fared better than she, even if you only count McHale’s Navy.

Philip Bruns shines on “Sick,” about the then-new penchant for stand-up comedians to try darker humor than ever before. Steve Roland and Donna Sanders (a real married couple) share “Christmas Long Ago” that has a lovely Marshall (Once upon a Mattress) Barer lyric. It has a couple getting nostalgic about what this holiday used to mean. (Yes – every now and then, a Monk show would get sincere.)

Sanders also sings “I Found Him,” which is no more than its title suggests: a woman is excited that she has happened upon Mr. Right. Don’t look for a political commentary or ironic slant; the song is simply a declaration of love. Every Monk revue had a song that he included because he simply liked it. It didn’t have to make a political or social commentary; it only had to entertain.

This performance of “I Found Him” was actually a pre-off-Broadway tryout for the song. For while Seven Come Eleven officially opened on Oct, 5, 1961, only thirty-six days later “I Found Him” appeared in All in Love, a musical version of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals that opened off-Broadway. It’s a fetching song with a melody by Jacques Urbont and lyrics by Bruce Geller, who went on to create Mission: Impossible. (In fact, songs from All in Love occasionally were played as background music on the TV show.)

All in Love DID get an original cast album (on now-defunct Mercury Records), but it’s never been reissued on CD. So this recording of “I Found Him” is the closest to having that score (an excellent one, by the way) available in this format.

But for the most part, Seven Come Eleven is a trip on a time machine set for 1961. Return to those thrilling days of yesteryear (or visit them for the first time), and hear about the Peppermint Lounge, flights to Havana, the Peace Corps, Mayor Wagner, civil rights, the hungry i, mononucleosis, the planned opening of Lincoln Center and The John Birch Society.

In a way, Seven Come Eleven and all the other Monk shows were the great-grandfathers of Forbidden Broadway – except here you got original melodies, too. Listen to not seven, not eleven but all seventeen tasty ones.

Peter Filichia also writes a column each Friday at www.kritzerland.com.and www.mtishows.com. His books on musicals are available at Amazon.com.