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Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd Added to Library of Congress Recordings Collection

Women’s History Month On Broadway

By Peter Filichia

Now that we’ve celebrated February and Black History Month, let’s move to March, which is Women’s History Month. Listen to the playlist I created to go along with your reading here.

Readers are encouraged to spend each day of the month playing a song or score that features a great female star or character appropriate to the day. Shall we begin?

March 1: Sweeney Todd opens in 1979. A show mentioning “the worst pies” becomes a Best Musical Tony-winner. Listen to Angela Lansbury’s fourth Tony-winning performance.

March 2: Lorelei Lee turns 34 – meaning Lorelei Lee the porn star who’s graced such films as Milk Nymphos. Although she says “I took my name from the character Marilyn Monroe played inGentlemen Prefer Blondes,” we know that Carol Channing portrayed her first. Play the original cast recording in tribute.

March 3: This has been dubbed “I Want You to Be Happy Day,” so play “I Want to Be Happy” from No, No, Nanette and hear Ruby Keeler’s toe-tapping return to Broadway after a four-decade absence. Let her make you happy, too!

March 4: Paris ’90 opens in 1952. Two great ladies of the American theatre collaborate: Cornelia Otis Skinner, the noted actress, and Kay Swift, one of our earliest female composers. Hear what sweet music and words they created.

March 5: In 1954, The Girl in Pink Tights opens, telling us how musical comedy came to be. This was the only time that Zizi Jeanmaire originated a role in a Broadway musical. Note her Gallic charm and spunk in “Up in the Elevated Railway.”

March 6: Over Here! opens in 1974. The ads proclaim “The Andrews Sisters” and although LaVerne had died in 1967, there’s still truth in advertising with Patty and Maxene on the scene. The title song is a particular delight; you may have trouble believing that its songwriting team penned Mary Poppins.

March 7: If Alexander Graham Bell hadn’t received a patent on the telephone in 1876, we’d never have had Judy Holliday’s Tony-winning performance as Ella Peterson. She was the devoted Susanswerphone employee who got one of musical theater’s best opening character songs (“It’s a Perfect Relationship”) and best closers (“I’m Goin’ Back”), too.

March 8: Eileen Herlie’s birthday. In Take Me Along (1959), set in 1910, her Lily was a veritable feminist model; she loved Sid (Jackie Gleason), but wouldn’t marry him until he proved himself worthy of her; if that meant being marked with the worst name a woman could be called then – “an old maid” – so be it. In All American in 1962, Herlie duetted with Ray Bolger in one of the most enduring pop hits of the ‘60s: “Once upon a Time.”

March 9: Juno opens in 1959, giving Shirley Booth the title role and one of her best ones, too. Hear her do battle with her husband Joxer (Melvyn Douglas) in “Old Sayin’s” and trump his every ace.

March 10: Candide finally finds critical success in 1974. Of course there’s Barbara Cook on the original cast album, but Maureen Brennan does just fine on the revival cast recording, too.

March 11: “I Got Love” goes into Purlie, only four days before opening. Would Melba Moore have won the Tony without it? Possibly, but this barnburner closed the case on that question.

March 12: Liza Minnelli’s birthday. In 1965, she was too busy to celebrate, because she was rehearsing for her Broadway debut inFlora, the Red Menace by newcomers John Kander and Fred Ebb. Minnelli would win the Best Musical Actress Tony, besting three other contenders with prior Broadway musical experience. Best cuts: “A Quiet Thing” and “Sing Happy.”

March 13: Tessie O’Shea’s birthday. Although she wasn’t the female lead of The Girl Who Came to Supper –  Florence Henderson was –Walter Kerr spent the first six of his twelveparagraphs dealing with no one else. As busker Ada Cockle, O’Shea was onstage for eleven minutes — the least stage time that any Best Featured Musical Actress Tony-winner had received. But O’Shea’s perfect English Music Hall delivery on Noel Coward’s songs got her the prize.

March 14: Yum-Yum, Pitti-Sing, Peep-Bo and Katisha were introduced to the world 130 years ago today. Mark the occasion by hearing Barbara Meister, Sharon Randall, Melinda Marx and Helen Traubel portray them in the 1960 TV adaptation of The Mikado.(Marx, incidentally, is the daughter of one Groucho, who portrayed The Lord High Executioner in this version.)

March 15: Never mind the Soothsayer in Julius Caesar: The Ides of March didn’t hurt the opening of My Fair Lady. Julie Andrews scored as Eliza Doolittle and was here to stay. Many prefer her on the Original London Cast album, although more heard her on the Original Broadway Cast album, because it was then the biggest-selling album of all time. You decide.

March 16: 1776 opens as one of Broadway’s greatest surprise hits. And while its intention was to show John Adams’ indispensable role in American Independence, bookwriter Peter Stone and songwriter Sherman Edwards took care to show us how important Abigail Adams was to his life. Hear Virginia Vestoff make the future first lady come to life in two lovely cuts.

March 17: For St. Patrick’s Day, let’s honor that famous Irish colleen Maureen O’Hara. She played Lady Christine FitzSimons, who comes to India to visit her daughter, only to get some devastating news. Listen to Christine and hear how she rallies as any good musical heroine does after suffering great stress.

March 18: Sutton Foster’s birthday. In Thoroughly Modern Millie,her eleven o’clocker was “Gimme, Gimme,” and the Tony voters have obviously listened; Foster has been given six Tony nominations in thirteen years – including wins for Millie andAnything Goes.

March 19: Phyllis Newman’s birthday. In Follies in Concert, she played Stella Deems, the showgirl of thirty years ago who spurs her fellow veterans to replicate “Who’s That Woman?” — their big number from way-back-when. Actually, when Newman performed it in 1985, she was more than thirty years from her first Broadway appearance in Wish You Were Here. (See if you can pick out her voice on that cast album.)

March 20: Someone named this “Proposal Day.” Miss Adelaide should take the opportunity to remind bad ol’ unreliable Nathan that he popped the question many moons ago. Of course, had he married her, we wouldn’t have had “Adelaide’s Lament,” and then where woud we be? Faith Prince’s Tony-winning performance makes Adelaide’s anguish quite funny.

March 21: “It Might as Well Be Spring” – or after the winter many of us are enduring, it better be. Andrea (Annie) McArdle sings Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oscar-winning song in plaintive fashion in State Fair. (Other companies have released recordings of State Fair, but our State Fair is the best State Fair.)

March 22: Barbra Streisand makes her Broadway debut (and penultimate Broadway appearance) in I Can Get It for You Wholesale. Although she’s billed sixth, she gets to sing first, setting up “I’m Not a Well Man.” But that’s just a tune-up for “Miss Marmelstein.”

March 23: Among A Little Night Music’s six Tony Awards are wins for Patricia Elliott, whose “Every Day a Little Death” is to die for, as is Johns’ “Send in the” you-know-whats.

March 24: Noted choreographer Onna White’s birthday. Okay, you won’t be able to see what she did with such numbers as “Volunteer Firemen Picnic” (Take Me Along), “She’s Got the Lot” (Irma La Douce), “Flash, Bang, Wallop!” (Half a Sixpence), “He Plays the Violin” (1776) and the titles songs of Let It Ride! and (her crowning glory) Mame. But you can at least listen to them.

March 25: In 1976, Christine Andreas plays Eliza Doolittle in the first Broadway revival of My Fair Lady. She’s worth hearing.

March 26: Seriously, this is a day known as “Make Up Your Own Holiday Day.” So let’s commemorate the great star who otherwise has no March connection: Mary Martin, courtesy of South Pacific, Peter Pan, The Sound of Music, Jennie, I Do! I Do! and Hello, Dolly!

March 27: Gwen Verdon wins the first of her Best Musical Actress Tonys for Damn Yankees. As Lola, she made one of the tardiest star entrances, so you can start on Track Five and not miss a second of her. However, those first four tracks are pretty great, too.

March 28: At the age of 68, Dorothy Fields leaves us far too early – especially considering that she seems to have found an ideal new collaborator in Cy Coleman. Their Sweet Charity is Exhibit A.

March 29: Wonderful Town wins the 1952-53 Tony as Best Musical, and Rosalind Russell wins for Best Musical Actress. Yes, another film star whom the Oscar voters had shunned comes to town and is immediately appreciated by Broadway.

March 30: We purchase Alaska in 1867, allowing Jane Connell to experience “April in Fairbanks” in New Faces of ’56. For those who only know her as Gooch in Mame, here’s a chance to hear her a decade earlier.

March 31: Cinderella debuts on national television, and people who haven’t been able to secure seats to My Fair Lady now become acquainted with Julie Andrews, and become immediately accustomed to her face, grace and voice. Playing Cinderellamakes for “A Lovely Night” and a perfect way to end Women’s History Month.

Peter Filichia also writes a column each Friday and His upcoming bookThe Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available for pre-order