New Faces of ’56 – Original Cast
History is made at night in the theater. When the lightning strikes, all the magic, excitement and sheer wonder reverberate through an audience like quicksilver. Such a night was March 15, 1934, when a musical revue featuring twenty-two unknown performers opened at the Fulton Theater in Leonard Sillman’s New Faces. The band of resolute troupers had done more than 138 auditions in the year it took to raise the $15,000 necessary to bring it to Broadway. Finally under the auspices of the famous producer Charles Dillingham and with Mary Pickford and the late Elsie Janis as guardian angels, the curtain went up on a fresh, bright musical that sent the critics tossing their hats in the air. Theatergoers remember Imogene Coca’s delightful striptease in a large polar coat; Henry Fonda singing (yes!) and performing in sketches; Nancy Hamilton rendering James Shelton’s acid ditty, “I Hate Spring,” and the lithe dancing of Dorothy Fox and Charles Walters. This revue set the standard which Mr. Sillman has maintained in subsequent editions of New Faces in ’36, ’38, ’43, ’52 and ’56. It was the late Lee Shubert who gave the impetus to Mr. Sillman to embark on a career as a producer. His career in show business started at an early age as a singer and dancer in vaudeville, from which he progressed to Broadway where he became known as the youngest leading juvenile in the theater. He took over Fred Astaire’s role in the Gershwin musical Lady Be Good, and was featured in John Murray Anderson’s Greenwich Village Follies and Merry-Go-Round, and in Oscar Hammerstein’s Polly. From Broadway he traveled to Hollywood where musicals were then becoming the big rage with the advent of talking pictures. There he coached and directed such stars as Laura La Plante and Ruby Keeler. But being a performer himself, he could not stay away from the stage. So he produced, directed, wrote and appeared in a musical revue, Lo and Behold, which was put on at the Pasadena Community Playhouse. The cast included Eunice Quedens (Eve Arden), Tyrone Power, Jr. and Betzi Beaton. It proved highly successful and attracted the attention of Mr. Shubert who promptly signed Eve Arden and Betzi Beaton for Ziegfeld Follies and offered to help Mr. Sillman if he cared to bring the revue to New York. It was this offer that started the 138 auditions to bring New Faces to Broadway. Famous faces have emerged from all the previous editions of New Faces. “Talent is not enough,” says Mr. Sillman. “I look for personality that must come through in a performer.” He persuaded Gypsy Rose Lee to abandon burlesque for Broadway in his New Faces of ’36, which also included such “legit” actors Jack Smart (The Fat Man) and Helen Craig, a singing juvenile named Ralph Blane (lyricist of Best Foot Forward and Meet Me in St. Louis), and a hoofer named Van Johnson. New Faces of ’38 introduced a would-be opera singer named Sonny Tufts, Richard Carlson and a burlesque comic, the late Rags Ragland. New Faces of ’43 brought forth Alice Pearce, Irwin Corey, Doris Dowling and John Lund (an ex-stevedore and merchant seaman turned actor) who also wrote sketches for the revue. New Faces of ’52 came at a time when the wiseacres in Shubert Alley were loudly proclaiming that the revue form was dead and dated. In the sprightly musical, Ronny Graham did a devastating take-off on Truman Capote and a lampoon of a Menotti opera. The revue included such show-stopping performers as Alice Ghostley (Boston Beguine), Eartha Kitt (Monotonous), Paul Lynde (African adventure monologue), Robert Clary (Miss Logan) and June Carroll, who both wrote and performed in the musical. After a year’s run on Broadway, the show toured for a year with the complete original cast. The resounding success of the musical on tour proved the road was not dead! Twentieth Century-Fox released the film version in CinemaScope and Technicolor. Mr. Sillman spent four years auditioning, selecting, and grooming the twenty new personalities introduced in New Faces of ’56. He saw Amru Sani in Michael’s Pub one evening and was so taken with her striking appearance he signed her before he even heard her sing! He spotted Inga Swenson in an undergraduate show at Northwestern while in Chicago where he also auditioned Ann Henry, singer and dancer. In London he found Maggie Smith, who was the talk of the town in a little revue, “Oxford Eight.” Billie Hayes, singing comedienne, came highly recommended by Paul Lynde, the sketch director. He saw Tiger Haynes perform with the Three Flames at Bon Soir where he has been a mainstay for the past five years. Jane Connell’s comedy style impressed him in an off-Broadway production of The Threepenny Opera. He found T.C. Jones in San Francisco. Mr. Jones’s artistry in female impersonations made him decide to restore a theatrical institution that dates back to the Roman, Elizabethan, and Japanese Kabuki Theater. The present edition of New Faces has an international cast. In addition to Amru Sani of Bombay, Inga Swenson of Sweden, Maggie Smith of London, and Tiger Haynes of the Virgin Isles, there are Franca Baldwin of Italy, Suzanne Bernard of Paris, and Dana Sosa of Puerto Rico. The remaining native talent includes Johnny Haymer, Johnny Laverty, Virginia Martin, Bill McCutcheon, John Reardon, Bob Shaver, Jimmy Sisco, and Rod Strong. The songs and sketches are the combined creative work of the top young writing talent in the theater today. Paul Lynde, who directed and wrote several sketches, appeared in the last New Faces. Mr. Sillman saw David Tihmar’s work in Chicago where for the past five years he has directed the productions at the Music Theater. It was while in Chicago that Mr. Sillman became acquainted with John Roberts, a man of business and finance. The meeting resulted in a new producing firm which now encompasses every phase of the entertainment field. They plan to follow New Faces of ’56 with Serena, a musical adaptation of S.N. Behrman’s play which will have a score by June Carroll and Arthur Siegel, the talented team who contributed songs to the last and current edition. Yvette Schuymer, their associate producer on New Faces, co-sponsored the musical Plain and Fancy last season. Jay Blackton is one of Broadway’s best musical directors. He has wielded the baton for such musical hits as Call Me Madam, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Miss Liberty and Inside U.S.A., to mention but a few musicals in a career that covers both the concert and recording field. He won an Academy Award® for his musical direction of the film Oklahoma!
– Robert Ullman © by Radio Corporation of America, 1956
Franca Baldwin, Johnny Haymer, Johnny Laverty, Amru Sani, Dana Sosa, Suzanne Bernard, Tiger Haynes, Virginia Martin, Bob Shaver, Maggie Smith, T.C. Jones, Rod Strong, Jane Connell, Ann Henry, Bill McCutcheon, Jimmy Sisco, Inga Swenson, Billie Hayes, John Reardon Music and lyrics mostly by: June Carroll, Marshall Barer, Murray Grand, Harold Karr, Ronny Graham, John Rox, Arthur Siegel, Dean Fuller, Matt Dubey, Irving Graham, Paul Nassau, Michael Brown Sketches mostly by: Paul Lynde, Richard Maury, Louis Botto Musical Numbers Staged and Directed by David Tihmar Assisted by Peter Conlow Sketches directed by Paul Lynde Orchestrations by Ted Royal, Albert Sendrey & Joe Glover Musical Direction: Jay Blackton Entire production conceived and supervised by Leonard Sillman Recorded June 17, 1956, at Webster Hall in New York City Recording Engineer: XXXXX Produced for records by E.O. Welker