Skip to content


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – Off-Broadway 1964

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – Off-Broadway 1964



Today, we are told that most men lead lives of quiet desperation, that the hero of our time is a man bedeviled and frustrated by petty annoyances and demands, a man who can only dream of heroic deeds. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a new musical based on one of James Thurber’s most enchanting stories, is about just such a wistful little man. Although Thurber’s story takes place in Connecticut, Mitty is a universal character in whom we all recognize something of ourselves. He has become a legend. Mitty, escaping in daydreams from the straitjacket of reality, finds that life’s only triumphs come in “The Secret Life” (Prologue). Act I To the rapid-fire shouted orders of his wife to hurry, Walter Mitty (Marc London), just turning forty, prepares to face another day. As he shaves, he imagines himself before a firing squad, elegantly scorning the traditional blindfold and last cigarette (“The Walter Mitty March”). Recalled to a real, more formidable “squad,” comprising his angry mother-in-law (Susan Lehman) and nagging wife, Agnes (Lorraine Serabian), he meets a firing line of accusations: a missing sock, a spotted tie, too much smoking, causing his mother-in-law’s dentures to freeze solid in a glass of water he absentmindedly left overnight on the window sill. His only compensation is his adoring daughter, Peninnah (Christopher Norris). If only he could flee all the bickering and go “Walking With Peninnah,” or escape in a rocket where Mitty the Great Space Scientist, with a brilliant improvisation, repairs a clogged fuel line. His dream of glory dissolves as Agnes complains that he never does anything to get ahead in his job. In “Drip, Drop, Tapoketa,” he suddenly imagines himself as the famous Dr. Mitty saving his boss’s life with a miracle of surgical skill – only to be recalled to the all-too-real world by Agnes’s jealous suspicions of his mumblings and daydreaming. Why have their lives become so drab? “Once I made you dream; now I make you scream,” he muses (“Aggie”). As all leave for town in the family car, Mitty is assailed by Agnes’s and her mother’s barrage of driving instructions, shopping lists and general duties (“Don’t Forget”). At Harry’s Bar, his only refuge from the burdens of the world, Mitty falls into conversation with Willa de Wisp (Cathryn Damon), a tippling nightclub singer who also dreams – of stardom and fame. Her immediate problem, however, is a health fanatic boyfriend, Irving Kornfeld (Charles Rydell), who wants to build her up, marry her, and transplant her to his Oregon farm. But Willa believes that “Marriage Is for Old Folks.” Also on hand to denounce marriage to Mitty is an old college pal, Fred Gorman (Eugene Roche), now a philandering blowhard whose uncomplicated credo is “Hello, I Love You, Goodbye.” Suddenly Mitty fancies himself as a bon vivant ordering a meal that would make fastidious Secret Agent 007 James Bond drool. He is surrounded by adoring and beautiful women, including a veiled dancing girl who, alas, turns out to be Agnes. He banishes her from the dream. In reality, it is Willa who gets Irving’s adoration in a love poem (“Willa”). When Irving muddleheadedly accuses Mitty of leading Willa astray, Mitty comes to her defense. A grateful Willa prompts Mitty to imagine himself a great prizefighter, with Agnes as his protagonist. He boxes her with verbal insults instead of fists, overwhelming her by pointing out all the things “You’re Not.” Emboldened by Irving’s opinion of his manliness and by the “Confidence” of Willa and bar-owner Harry (Rudy Tronto), Mitty, high on dreams and champagne, decides to tell Agnes off and run away with Willa. Act II Having decided to help Willa with her career, Mitty imagines himself a great impresario with Willa as the star of the Folies de Mitty, doing a torrid nightclub solo for him, a hilarious caricature of a French chanteuse (“Fan the Flame”). In “Two Little Pussycats,” a pair of Fred Gorman’s slighted lady friends, Hazel (Rue McClanahan) and Ruthie (Lette Rehnolds), solicit sympathy. When Mitty wavers in his determination to flee with Willa, she and Harry convince him that it is Agnes herself, not he, who needs the psychological help she is forever prescribing for him. Suddenly, Mitty is a famous psychiatrist treating Agnes in a group-therapy session. Emboldened once more, Mitty tells his new friends all he will accomplish “Now That I Am Forty.” Agnes unexpectedly appears at the bar and proceeds to berate and humiliate her husband for his drinking and his intended relationship with Willa. Finally daring to put his dreams into action, Mitty tells Agnes he is leaving her, but as he is about to sign papers cashing in his insurance, selling his house and resigning his job, the sight of a pen that Peninnah had given him fills him with shame and he asks Agnes to take him home (“Aggie” – reprise). The next morning, suffering from a hangover, Mitty realizes that Peninnah gives his life meaning and Agnes gives it order and stability. Willa, Irving and Fred Gorman are “Lonely Ones” whose lives have no real direction. Besides, when Agnes’s well-intentioned nagging gets too much for him, there’s always “The Secret Life.”

– Curtis F. Brown (Taken from the original liner notes for OL 6320 / OS 2720)


Walter Mitty: Marc London Mother-in-law: Susan Lehman Agnes: Lorraine Serabian Peninnah: Christopher Norris Willa de Wisp: Cathryn Damon Irving Kornfeld: Charles Rydell Fred Gorman: Eugene Roche Harry: Rudy Tronto Hazel: Rue McClanahan Ruthie: Lette Rehnolds Music by Leon Carr Lyrics by Earl Shuman Book by Joe Manchester Musical Direction: Joe Stecko