Super Tuesday on Broadway By Peter Filichia
If you’re reading this on March 1, you’re undoubtedly well-aware that this is Super Tuesday. Fourteen states will make some serious decisions that could well determine who’ll be our next president. If you’re in any of these states – or even in American Samoa — make sure you vote. Your reading this column can certainly wait until you return from voting.
Cast your vote? Good. Now we can resume. In the meantime, I spent my day writing this column; I’m a New Yorker, and we’re not part of Super Tuesday, so I’m excused.
Not much time had to pass before I started wondering if Broadway had a Super Tuesday or two. Did any super hit open on the third day of the week?
1776 on March 16, 1969? No, that was a Sunday. 42nd Street on August 25, 1980? Uh-uh: Monday. Fiddler on the Roof on Sept. 22, 1964? Tuesday was its good news day. Crazy for You, Feb, 19, 1992? A Wednesday. My Fair Lady, March 15, 1956? That particular Ides of March was a Thursday.
In fact, Thursday is the day on which most shows with great expectations open – Annie, Avenue Q, the 1998 Cabaret revival, the 1996 Chicago revival, Hairspray, Hello, Dolly!, The Producers — because they want to be in the much-read weekend section of newspapers. On the other hand, A Chorus Line, opened on July 25, 1975, which was a Friday – and it didn’t seem to hurt its run.
But Ain’t Misbehavin’ opened on a Tuesday – on May 9, 1978 – and when it closed nearly four years later, it was then the third-longest-running revue in Broadway history. But other Tuesday openings include 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Buck White, Buttrio Square, Come Summer, I’m Solomon, Rockabye Hamlet, Via Galactica – well, you get the point.
Although Tuesday hasn’t been so super for openings, a half-dozen of our most beloved leading ladies were born on six different Tuesdays – and I don’t mean Tuesday Weld, who was born on a Friday and whose Broadway experience has been limited to covering two roles in the original 1957 Broadway production of The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. No, six more potent performers claim Tuesday as their birthdays which will give you enough reason to believe that Tuesday has indeed been super for Broadway.
All but one have won Tonys, and the only non-winner would have easily been winning and spinning her trophy in 1995-96 had she not exempted herself from the race. We’re talking, of course, about Julie Andrews (born Tuesday, Oct. 1, 1935). Alas, Our Fair Julie was so insulted that she was the only nominee from Victor/Victoria — and that everyone else connected with the show was “egregiously overlooked” — that she withdrew from the race. (By the way, Victor/Victoria, did open on a Tuesday, and while 734 performances is no longer considered that super a run, it’s not to be dismissed, either.)
Some would undoubtedly be surprised that Andrews, who represents musical theater to so many, has never won a Tony. Not for The Boy Friend? No, Carol Haney won that 1954-55 season for The Pajama Game in the Best Featured Actress category, in which Andrews would have been placed. In those days, anyone billed under the title, as Andrews was, was considered Featured even if she or he never left the stage.
(Why was The Emcee in Cabaret considered a Featured Role in 1966-67 and a Leading One in 1997-98? Why was Anna in The King and I a Leading Role in 1951-52, a Featured Role in 1984-85 and back to a Leading Role in 1995-96? Who can explain it? Who can tell you why? Never mind about Poor Jenny not being able to make up her mind – poor Tonys!)
Back to Andrews: Camelot in 1960-61? You’d assume so when listening to the original cast album and hear her lovely lilting soprano in “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood;” how saucy she comes across in “The Lusty Month of May;” how naughty in “Then You May Take Me to the Fair” and how tender in “I Loved You Once in Silence” and “Before I Gaze at You Again.”
No, Elizabeth Seal won that season for Irma La Douce. But surely Andrews won for My Fair Lady, for in musical theater, Eliza Doolittle is the equivalent of classical theater’s Saint Joan, for she travels quite a distance, from low-born (“Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”) to frustrated (“Just You Wait”) to successful (“The Rain in Spain”) to excited (“I Could Have Danced All Night”) to furious (“Show Me”) to dismissive (“Without You”), going from guttersnipe to fair lady. And with the show’s juggernaut success, you’d assume Andrews would be awarded along with Best Actor Rex Harrison, Best Director Moss Hart and Best Musical.
That wasn’t the case, for it went to another of our Tuesday legends: Judy Holliday (Tuesday, June 21, 1921) for Bells Are Ringing. Ella Peterson, a switchboard operator who dabbles in helping, encouraging and matchmaking over the phone, is a terrific role, too – with one of the best opening songs ever: “It’s a Perfect Relationship,” in which she tries to convince herself that she really doesn’t want to meet playwright Jeffrey Moss (but we know she does). Bookending this is one of the best eleven o’clock numbers, too: “I’m Goin’ Back,” in which she decides she’s not worthy of him and that she’ll return to her place of previous employment. In between, she gets in some counterpoint in “Just in Time,” one of the show’s two hit songs and gets the other standard all to herself: “The Party’s Over,” in which she must face reality that the alter ego she’s been showing Jeffrey really isn’t she. (Actually, the party wasn’t over for Holliday but for Julie Andrews on Sunday, April 21, 1957 when the Tonys were dispensed.)
Although the Oscar-winning Holliday had already had an extensive resume in doing musical revues with Bells’ bookwriters and lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green, this was her first Broadway musical. But three of our other Tuesday births also won Tonys as a result of their Broadway musical debuts. First came Gwen Verdon (Tuesday, January 13, 1925), who got her one and only Featured Actress Tony for Can-Can; after that, it was all Best Actress Tonys for Damn Yankees, New Girl in Town and Redhead. To be sure, Verdon was primarily known as a dancer, but her one-of-a-kind voice added a great deal to songs that were seductive (“Whatever Lola Wants”), confident (“A Little Brains, A Little Talent”), defiant (“On the Farm”) and plaintive (“The Right Finger of My Left Hand”). True, Verdon didn’t win for her final two Broadway musicals, Sweet Charity and Chicago, but she did get nominations, and she’s fine on a jazz waltz (“You Should See Yourself”) in the former show and all-knowing (“Roxie”) in the latter.
Liza Minnelli (Tuesday, March 12, 1946) won her first time out for Flora the Red Menace, having more success than her songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb, who saw their first effort fail after only eighty-seven performances. You’d never know it from the cast album, which showed the brand-new team could write an exquisite ballad (“A Quiet Thing”), a powerful want-song (“All I Need Is One Good Break”), a charm song (“Not Every Day of the Week” and a great eleven o’clocker (“Sing Happy,” which in fact they wrote on the road).
Twenty-nine years and six days after Ms. Minnelli joined us, Sutton Foster came into the world (March 18, 1975). To think that when Thoroughly Modern Millie was rehearsing for its pre-Broadway run at the La Jolla Playhouse, she was relegated to Millie’s understudy. But in the best 42nd Street tradition, the leading lady became indisposed – and when she recovered, she found that management was too thrilled with Foster to abandon her. Seeing what she could do inspired composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist Dick Scanlan to write “Gimme, Gimme” just for her.
Barbara Cook (Tuesday, Oct. 25, 1925) had to go through five musicals to get her Tony (as Best Featured Actress for her Marian the Librarian in The Music Man). You’d think, however, she would have won just for her previous show – Candide – just for getting through the extraordinarily difficult six-minute coloratura showcase “Glitter and Be Gay.” But no, Cook didn’t even get a nomination, while castmate Irra Petina, who appeared in three songs to Cook’s seven, did.
Cook, however, would have the better career. On May 14th, she’ll celebrate the sixtieth anniversary her first appearing on Broadway, which led to one of the great concert careers. Petina had only one Broadway show left – Anya – which left in 1965 after fifteen previews and just as many performances. But that’s what Petina gets for being born on a Saturday.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Friday at www.mtishows.com and www.kritzerland.com and each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com. His book The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at www.amazon.com.