Dear World – 1969
The action takes place in Paris during an early spring. The story, simple to the point of being childlike, is a modern-day clash of good and evil. Perhaps each of us has secretly believed that our grandmothers were good witches who could save us from the devil. The devil here has been incarnated, collectively, as the largest corporation in the world, whose board of directors learns, from a sleazy prospector, that it can turn millions into billions by drilling for oil under the streets of Paris. Bistros, boulevards, Arc de Triomphe, Jerry Lewis film festivals – tear them all down and bring in the derricks, and by The Spring Of Next Year, the “Establishment” joyously sings, money and pollution will reign. Their only clue to the source of the oil, however, is the water from a café, the Café Francis, in the Chaillot district. The café is not for sale. An accident is arranged. Dispatched as saboteur is the unlikely Julian (Kurt Peterson), a nice young man who has had some legal troubles, been bailed out by the Chairman of The Board and is now in no position to refuse the dirty job. He will plant a bomb, to explode at noon. But the Café Francis, we now see, is infinitely worth saving. Its intimates include Nina (Pamela Hall), a pretty waitress; a Deaf Mute who mimes and dances; a handsome waiter; a skillful juggler; an endearing prostitute . . . and, as resident Good Witch, an ancient madwoman who calls herself the Countess Aurelia (Angela Lansbury). Her mission in life is to feed the stray cats of Paris, which she does with scraps, bones and chicken parts collected daily at the café. She is also in perpetual search of a missing, nine-foot feather boa, a gift from a vanished (imaginary?) lover. Noon arrives, suspensefully, and passes, with no explosion. Enter the Deaf Mute with Julian, whom he has prevented from jumping off a bridge. In the process, Julian has knocked himself out cold. Nina comforts him, brings him around; he sees her and thinks he is in paradise; the Countess knows love when she sees it. Julian now confesses his mission. Having failed to carry it out, he sees himself as doomed and again wants to end it all, but the Countess will not hear of it. Despair is a creature of the darkness, she says; hope springs again – Each Tomorrow Morning. Reassured, Julian decides to stay, but is immediately caught by the corporation, only to be rescued by the Countess, who runs the Chairman off the premises. He goes, swearing to destroy her and the café. The Countess’s friends see the seriousness of the situation, but the Countess’s tenuous grip on reality will not permit her to see the evil in the world. If what they say is true, she says, I Don’t Want To Know. She retreats into the sewers of Paris, leaving Julian to hide out in her tiny apartment under the café. Nina, left alone, now admits to us that she has been with many men before, but has never given her heart – I Never Said I Love You. The Countess, meanwhile, has sought out her own guru manqué, a Sewerman (Milo O’Shea) who poles a barge full of refuse through the underground canals. Has the world indeed become an evil place, she asks him, and he must admit it: the proof is right there on his boat – Garbage. They are joined for a luncheon al . . . fresco? by two other dowager loonies: Constance, the Madwoman of the Flea Market (Carmen Mathews), who is deaf except on Wednesdays; and Gabrielle, the Madwoman of Montmartre (Jane Connell), who has an invisible dog and the long blonde curls of the little girl she hasn’t been for half a century. The world, all now agree, is truly sick, the evidence multiplying all around us – and only the mad can clearly see it. Dear World, sings the Countess, wake up. Get well. Curtain. Act II opens in the Countess’s apartment, where Julian is still hiding. Nina brings him a veal chop, but the Countess believes more than food is needed – Kiss Her Now. As they go off together, the Sewerman returns. Long ago, the Countess saved his life, and in return he has promised to show her, when needed, the great secret of the Moving Stone. Now he demonstrates: turn the head of a particular stone gargoyle, and a secret trap door opens. Beneath is a series of steps that go down and down. Only down. Forever. He goes, and the Countess ponders: if you could gather all the bad people in the world and just dispose of them . . . would it be legal? This becomes the topic of a singular tea party consisting of the three madwomen and their various attendant spirits, but with this group it is hard to stay on the subject. Constance wanders off into the land of old lovers – Memory. Gabrielle and the Countess decide that memories are like fake jewelry: the longer you wear them, the realer they become – Pearls. Gabrielle is distracted by her imaginary dog Dickie, then informs them she didn’t bring him today. Constance wishes for the guidance of her household Voices – teapot, vacuum cleaner, hot water bottle – but the Countess tells her that everything, past and present, is available to them right there, unseen in the air – Thoughts. The party concludes in mad counterpoint. The evil people are guilty, the madwomen decide, so there must be a trial. They will meet at midnight at the Flea Market. The Countess has Julian dictate a letter to the Chairman that she will do as he wishes if he and all his group will come to the Flea Market at fifteen minutes past. As the Countess naps, her plans in place, Julian busies himself around the apartment . . . and finds the missing feather boa. As he presents it to the half-awake Countess, she imagines he is her lover, Adolphe, she is 25 again . . . And I Was Beautiful. (“I don’t think I’ve ever written a song I’m more fond of,” Herman says. “It has a simplicity that I really strive for in my work. Everything is exactly where it should be, and it gives me great pleasure to hear it.”) Julian, on his way to deliver the letter, is caught in the rain, and reflects on the changes in his life – Each Tomorrow Morning (Reprise). That night, at the Flea Market, the trials held with the Sewerman and his friends in place of the Establishment. They plead their case but are found guilty, and the Countess must put her plan into action, all alone – One Person. The members of the Establishment arrive, with what seems to be a deal to save the café and make its habitués rich. The Countess is not fooled. She leads them all to her cellar, pulls on the gargoyle, opens the secret trap door, and down they all go. The world has been saved, at least for the moment. Dawn breaks, birds sing, and the Countess goes on about her business, feeding the strays – Finale/Reprises. And that is – was – that.
(in order of appearance) Chairman of The Board: William Larsen Board Members: Clifford Fearl, Charles Karel, Zale Kessler, Charles Welch Prospector: Joe Masiell Julian: Kurt Peterson Nina: Pamela Hall Waiter: Gene Varrone Busboy: Ty McConnell Doorman: Michael Davis Juggler: Ted Agress Peddler: John Taliaferro Deaf-Mute: Miguel Godreau Countess Aurelia, the Madwoman of Chaillot: Angela Lansbury Sewerman: Milo O’Shea Gabrielle, the Madwoman of Montmartre: Jane Connell Constance, the Madwoman of the Flea Market: Carmen Mathews People of Paris: Nicole Barth, Bruce Becker, Toney Brealond, Jane Coleman, Jack Davison, Jacque Dean, Richard Dodd, John Grigas, Marian Haraldson, Tony Juliano, Gene Kelton, Carolyn Kirsch, Urylee Leonardos, Larry Merritt, Ruth Ramsey, Orrin Reiley, Patsy Sabline, Connie Simmons, Margot Travers, Mary Zahn