Jerome Robbins’ Broadway – Original Cast 1989
Overture – The ensemble joins the orchestra in a mélange of songs with the common theme of dance: “Gotta Dance” (from Look Ma, I’m Dancin’, (music and lyrics by Hugh Martin), “Papa, Won’t You Dance with Me?” (from High Button Shoes, music and lyrics by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn), and “Shall We Dance” (from The King and I by Rodgers and Hammerstein). The curtain rises on the entire cast, clad in costumes from all the musicals that will be represented in the show, every one of them choreographed by Jerome Robbins. “The Setter” steps forward to act as a host, guide, and quick-change artist throughout the evening. On the Town At the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a tired workman sings of his desire to be elsewhere. But suddenly new, urgent music announces the arrival of Gabey, Chip, and Ozzie, three sailors about to start their twenty-four hour shore leave (“New York, New York”). When they reach Times Square, they are joined by more sailors in a romp around the district – the Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, a penny arcade, a dance hall – picking up girls as they go (“Sailors on the Town”). At a night club, Ozzie, Chip, and their dates, Claire and Hildy, sing “Ya Got Me” in an effort to cheer up Gabey, whose chosen girl Ivy (a pretty poster model for the Subway authority) has failed to show up. This is not so much a dance as a series of movements replicating the sort of goofy, good-natured things that friends do around friends. Billion Dollar Baby Most of the artistic team that worked on On the Town was reunited for Billion Dollar Baby – the composer Morton Gould, however, was a fresh face. Six months before BDB’s premiere, Jerome Robbins had created a new ballet, Interplay, to a classical composition by Gould called, at first, American Concertette (the piece is now known by the title of the ballet). Billion Dollar Baby was billed as “a musical play of the terrific ’20s.” Comden and Green’s book – part spoof, part moral tale – traced the rise and fall of a gold-digger, Maribelle Jones, during the last years of the roaring decade. Her entry into the Miss America contest ends in failure, and she meets a bootlegger on the Staten Island Ferry who introduces her to the world of speakeasies and gangsters (“Charleston”). She compulsively discards men, even the one she loves, until she snags what she really wants: a multimillionaire. Ironically, no sooner have they tied the matrimonial knot, but he goes bankrupt. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum This was the first show to feature music as well as lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and the prognosis for its success was not good. Robbins initially had been asked to direct it, but had turned it down as a bad prospect. It did so poorly in New Haven and D.C. that he was again begged to come and tweak the show. The problem, he judged, was with the sentimental opening number. Sondheim was sent off by himself over a weekend and came up with “Comedy Tonight”; Robbins staged it with sight gags, low comedy, high jinks and broad strokes. It transformed the show into a smash hit. High Button Shoes Jule Styne has collaborated with Robbins on five musicals, more than any other composer. High Button Shoes centers around Harrison Floy, an old-style con man in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1913. His scam is the oldest one in the book: selling swampland. The swamp in question is owned by “Papa” Longstreet. Floy persuades Papa to chop it into subdivisions – Floy, for his part, will make “Longstreetville” look upscale and exclusive on paper – and the partners sell deeds to Papa’s rich friends. Floy absconds to Atlantic City with all the money. In the second act, Floy, on the run from the police, returns to New Brunswick and convinces Mama Longstreet that he is innocent. Mama is charmed and flattered by Floy’s attentions; Papa is naturally annoyed. Mama’s and Papa’s duet “I Still Get Jealous” is followed by a simple old-fashioned vaudeville soft-shoe. West Side Story West Side Story was largely the brainchild of Jerome Robbins. In 1949 he became intrigued with the idea of updating and musicalizing the story of Romeo and Juliet, and got in touch with composer Leonard Bernstein and book-writer Arthur Laurents to start thinking about it, but nothing was actually done until 1955. By that time, street wars between gangs had become a serious urban plague, suggesting an obvious parallel to the fifteenth-century feuding between the Montagues and the Capulets. Robbins himself even witnessed a rumble or two. The underlying seriousness of the show’s premise was quite foreign to the world of American “musicals,” but the addition of lyricist Stephen Sondheim to the creative team was a perfect fit and an artistic coup. West Side Story won few awards (two Tonys®, one for Robbins’ choreography, one for Oliver Smith’s set designs) in its first run, but its music and lyrics have definitely secured a place in our nation’s culture since then. The Prologue establishes the bitter enmity between the gangs, the Jets (who Bernstein identified as “self-styled Americans”) and the Sharks (Puerto Ricans), who are trying to move in on the Jets’ turf. This free-for-all stops at the shriek of a police whistle. Meeting in “neutral territory” at the school gym, the gang members and their girls resume their rivalry in a dance contest (“The Dance at the Gym”). Tony, a Jet, and Maria, the sister of the Sharks’ leader, spot each other from opposite sides of the room. They move together in a languorous, dreamy duet, echoed by the other dancers. The music heats up again as Bernardo, the head Shark, sees his sister kissing Tony and moves to break them up. A rumble is planned. The Jets try to suppress their excitement, hatred, and anger in a number (“Cool”) made up of finger-snapping, fist-thrusting, and staccato outbursts in which their frustrations are only too apparent. By contrast, “America,” sung and danced by the Puerto Rican women, is high-spirited, sizzling Latin fun. In a desolate space under the West Side Highway, “The Rumble” begins. Choreographed down to the smallest detail, it nonetheless appears on stage to be unfolding spontaneously. Bernardo and Riff (the Jets’ leader) pull knives, Bernardo kills Riff, and Bernardo is killed in turn by the agonized Tony. Another shriek from a police whistle scatters the combatants, and Tony is left alone on stage with the two dead bodies. The gloom gives way to a dream, the “Somewhere” ballet, in which Tony and Maria find themselves in a peaceful landscape. Jets and Sharks wander on, no longer feuding warriors but carefree teenagers intermingling in a joyous dance. Thus ends Act I of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. Robbins had his curmudgeonly side. In the musicals of the ‘40s and ‘50s “dream ballets” were ubiquitous, even de rigeur. The choreographer surely scored a signal success with the touching “Somewhere,” although once early in his career he had revealed, “I don’t want to smell a dream ballet ever again.” The King and I In the theatre pavilion of the palace of the King of Siam, the royal singers and dancers are performing a ballet based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Anna Leonowens has come from England to Siam to teach the King’s many children, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel is part of their curriculum. Tuptim, the beautiful young slave sent as a present to the King from Burma, is the narrator of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” – the plot as an allegory of Tuptim’s own plight (it was Oscar Hammerstein II who came up with this idea) would surely not be lost upon the King and his Western guests. In the scene where Eliza is pursued by bloodhounds, Robbins had his dancers wear Siamese dog masks. Gypsy The musical, based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, is more concerned with the character of her mother, Mama Rose, than with the stripper herself. Mama Rose has two daughters, June and Louise, and devotes all her life and effort to making June a star. Only when June runs off with a dancer does Rose turn her attention to Louise – soon to be Gypsy. In a joint in Wichita, Louise shares a dressing room with three “stars”, Mazeppa (who “does it with a horn”), Electra (whose costume lights up when she does the bump and grind), and Tessie Tura. The three give Gypsy her first lesson in stripping (“You Gotta Have a Gimmick”). The original Mazeppa was a real stripper named Faith Dane who used a trumpet in her act. When she auditioned for Robbins, she brought the horn along, and Robbins incorporated it into the act. Peter Pan Peter Pan first flew in 1904, when J.M. Barrie’s straight play premiered in London. He landed in New York a year later and the play was revived from time to time until 1928, but then disappeared from Broadway until 1950, when Jean Arthur and Boris Karloff led the cast, with songs by Leonard Bernstein. But the best-known stage version of the story of the boy who wouldn’t grow up opened on Broadway in October of 1954 with Mary Martin in the title role, Cyril Ritchard as the Tony®-winning Captain Hook, songs by Mark Charlap and Carolyn Leigh, supplemented with lyrics by Comden and Green and more music by Jule Styne, Elmer Bernstein, and Trude Rittman. Jerome Robbins did both the choreography and the stage direction. The delightful “I’m Flying,” sung in the air by Peter Pan and the three Darling children on their way to Never Never Land, was written by Charlap and Leigh. High Button Shoes “Wonderful!” “Ingenious!” “Brilliant!” “A masterpiece of controlled pandemonium!” Many a critic and fan would maintain that Jerome Robbins’ comic ballet “On a Sunday by the Sea” (sometimes referred to as the Mack Sennett, or Bathing Beauty, ballet) is the funniest choreography ever devised. The original script of High Button Shoes suggested that something would happen in Atlantic City – where con man Harrison Floy and his sidekick have fled with the money stolen from Papa Longstreet – at a certain point in the show, but exactly what was never specified. Robbins decided that a Keystone Cops sequence would be just the thing. The plot is simple but the execution is intricate: blissfully happy beach denizens are extolling the delights of the sunshine and sea, when Papa and Mama Longstreet and the police descend upon the town in pursuit of the bad guys. The chase is on, and pretty soon everybody, including bathing beauties, a lifeguard, two sets of twins, innocent strollers, black-masked crooks, and a gorilla, is mixed up in it. Policemen and felons encounter suddenly and throw their hands up in alarm, silent-movie style, leap into the air with legs out wide, land and scurry off in opposite directions. Doors of the beach cabanas open and slam shut as everyone chases everybody in, out, and through them. Before it’s over, the Keystone Cops are doing Russian knee drops to Liszt’s Second Rhapsody and the bathing beauties are doing high kicks to Offenbach’s “Can-Can”. Miss Liberty and Call Me Madam Irving Berlin’s “Mr. Monotony” has a long, unusual, and unlucky history. Originally sung by Judy Garland in the film Easter Parade but cut from the final print, Berlin tried to use it again in Miss Liberty, but as it had nothing to do with the plot, it was dropped again. A year later he made another recycling attempt in Call Me Madam, and again “Mr. Monotony” got the hook. Robbins was the choreographer for both Broadway shows and had planned to use the same moves in both. So after nearly sixty years, “Mr. Monotony” has made it to Broadway. The song is self-explanatory: a woman marries a monotonous trombonist, but leaves him for a more colorful clarinetist; the dance that follows is a hot dramatization of the scenario. Fiddler on the Roof “Tradition,” the opening number of Fiddler on the Roof, lays out the time-honored role of each member of a Jewish family. Tevye has arranged for his daughter Tzeitel to marry the richest man in their shtetl, but is moved by his daughter’s pleas to give her permission to marry the man she loves, Motel. To Tevye the idea of marrying for love is absurd, unheard of, but he sets Tzeitel’s happiness above his own outworn attitudes. To convince his wife Golde, he comes up with “The Dream.” He has dreamed, he tells her, of Grandma Tzeitel and Fruma-Sarah; both the departed relatives visit their bedroom, along with musicians and villagers, singing and dancing and going about the same busybody business they would normally. On the testimony of these spirits, Golde is convinced. The wedding of Tzeitel and Motel begins with a candle-lit procession to the canopy and is enacted without words, while Golde and Tevye sing “Sunrise, Sunset.” There is no mixed dancing, but circle dances of women around Tzeitel and men around Motel. Four of the men balance bottles on their heads, and Robbins brings the passionate euphoria of the dancing to an ecstatic close. Finale: On the Town Back at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Gabey, Chip, and Ozzie are boarding their ship after their twenty-four hour leave; with them are their girls Ivy, Claire, and Hildy. They sing of all the things they haven’t had time to do together (“Some Other Time”). Three new sailors disembark for their own day On the Town (“New York, New York”). The Navy Yard backdrop flies off, and we find ourselves in the middle of a Broadway of lighted marquees, displaying the names of all the theatres and shows with which Robbins has been associated. Cast members take their bows in small groups until all 62 performers are on stage, and the newest marquee lights up: “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway”!!
THE COMPANY Jason Alexander (Disc 1, Tracks 5, 6; Disc 2, Tracks 7, 8, 9 ) Richard Amaro Dorothy Benham (Disc 1, Track 12 ) Jeffrey Lee Broadhurst Christophe Caballero (Disc 1, Track 12; Disc 2, Track 10 ) Mindy Cartwright Irene Cho Jamie Cohen Charlotte d’Amboise (Disc 1, Track 10; Disc 2, Track 3 ) Camille de Gannon Donna Di Meo (Disc 2, Track 3 ) Donna Marie Elio Mark Esposito Susann Fletcher (Disc 2, Tracks 2, 8, 9 ) Scott Fowler Angelo H. Fraboni Ramon Galindo Nicholas Garr Gregorey Garrison Carolyn Goor Michael Scott Gregory (Disc 2, Track 10 ) Andrew Grose Alexia Hess (Disc 2, Track 10 ) Nancy Hess (Disc 2, Track 8 ) Louise Hickey Eric A. Hoisington Barbara Hoon (Disc 2, Track 8 ) JoAnn M. Hunter Scott Jovovich Pamela Khoury Susan Kikuchi Michael Kubala (Disc 1, Tracks 2, 3, 5; Disc 2, Track 10 ) Robert La Fosse (Disc 1, Track 2; Disc 2, Track 10 ) Mary Ann Lamb Jane Lanier David Lowenstein (Disc 1, Track 2 ) Michael Lynch (Disc 1, Track 1 ) Greta Martin Joey McKneely (Disc 1, Track 5 ) Julio Monge Troy Myers (Disc 2, Track 8 ) Maria Neenan Jack Noseworthy Steve Ochoa (Disc 2, Track 3 ) Kelly Patterson (Disc 2, Track 10 ) Luis Perez Faith Prince (Disc 1, Track 6; Disc 2, Track 2 ) James Rivera Tom Robbins George Russell Greg Schanuel Debbie Shapiro (Disc 1, Tracks 1, 3, 10; Disc 2, Tracks 2, 5, 10 ) Renée Stork Mary Ellen Stuart (Disc 1, Tracks 3; Disc 2, Track 10 ) Linda Talcott (Disc 2, Track 3 ) Leslie Trayer Ellen Troy Andi Tyler Scott Wise (Disc 1, Tracks 2, 3, 5 ) Elaine Wright Barbara Yeager (Disc 2, Track 1 ) Alice Yearsley