Sunday, June 03, 2018

Rainy Day Musicals

A cloudy, gloomy morning left me feeling a bit romantic and introspective. I brightened things with Strawberry Almond Pancakes and one of the Broadway cast albums I picked up while on vacation, Pipe Dream. Based on the John Steinbeck novel Sweet Thursday, this is the tale of Doc, a marine biologist (William Johnson) working in Cannery Row in Monterrey, California, who falls in love with Susie (Judy Tyler). Susie is new in town and just started as a prostitute at a local cafe and bordello owned by Fauna (Helen Traubel). While the locals try to earn money to buy Doc a new microscope, Susie and Doc begin a tentative romance. Susie's convinced that Doc doesn't need a girl like her, especially after he's not thrilled with her big song at a party at the cafe. But Doc's buddy Hazel has his own way of bringing them together...

While the story may have been suited for Rodgers (who worked on similar tales of lowlifes with his first partner Lorenz Hart), it really wasn't for Hammerstein. He whittled down references to Susie's original occupation and what the cafe actually was to vague insinuation and gentled the story and watered down the tough characters. Despite a huge advance sale, this wound up being savaged by critics and barely lasted eight months in 1955 and 1956.

Too bad, because some of the music is lovely. "All at Once You Love Her" is one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most underrated ballads; I also like "Everybody's Got a Home but Me" for Susie and the cakewalk "Sweet Thursday" for Fauna and the locals. Two more good songs, "The Man I Used to Be" and "The Next Time It Happens," turned up over forty years later in the score of the Broadway stage version of State Fair. A lot of critics in the 50's apparently complained about opera diva Traubel, but she sounds just fine on the CD.

A fascinating flop that's worth looking around for if you're a fan of 50's shows or Rodgers and Hammerstein's other work. My original cast CD is out of print, but it and the live recording of the 2012 Encores! concert are currently streaming on Amazon, and both can be found on YouTube.

Headed out just as the CD was ending. Work was quiet when I came in. I spent the first hour doing returns and gathering trash. It didn't pick up until around 12:30-1, when everyone started coming out of church. I alternated between bagging and getting thrown into the register for a couple of hours. Spent the last hour doing carts after one of the two baggers who had been outside went home.

It had started to shower while I was working on the carts. The rain was just starting to pick up as I rode home. By the time the downpour came, I was at home and on the computer, working on writing. Lavender-locked Princess Amilyn defies Palpatine by asking him what has become of Prince Henry, the rightful heir to the throne and her former fiancee. Palpatine orders his men to bring her to him, but Leia defends the young woman. Now Palpatine's men are after both of them...but help is on the way...

(And darn it. I did manage to deliver the rent, but I got the number mixed up and wrote 665.50 as 665.05 again. I need to be more careful next month.)

Broke for dinner at quarter of 7. It was cool enough for me to bake my Turkey Salisbury Steaks. Had them with a cucumber-tomato salad for dinner. Played more Lego Indiana Jones while I ate. Got another piece on "Hunt for Sir Richard" and (after three tries) completed "Castle Rescue." The last piece was on a ledge across from a whip point. I kept whipping into the next round instead of shooting the box to open the piece. (That's how I missed the last piece in "Hunt" as well.)

Finished the night with another legendary Broadway flop, Anyone Can Whistle. Angela Landsbury (in her first musical role) is the mayor of a town in need of money. When water suddenly starts flowing from a rock, she declares it a miracle. It's a fake, rigged to bring in tourists. The only person in town who doesn't believe in the "miracle" is Fay Apple (Lee Remick). She brings in her inmates from the local insane asylum to drink the water and prove that it's not real...but the inmates escape and flee among the townspeople. Fay and a handsome stranger (Harry Guardino) have to find them and round them up again.

Like Pipe Dream, this is a good score welded to a premise that doesn't work. Some of Stephan Sondheim's best songs - "Everyone Says 'Don't'," "There Won't Be Trumpets," "With So Little to Be Sure Of," "A Parade In Town" - have nothing to do with the "who's crazy and who's sane?" plot, which is convoluted and just plain weird. The cast makes the most of the odd material. Landsbury has so much fun as the mayor, one can understand why she's since become one of the most beloved performers in musical theater. People in 1964 understood it even less well than me. It ran for a little over a week that April and became one of the biggest stage flops of the 60's.

Despite the crazy book, this has picked up a cult following over the years. While the 2010 Encores cast unfortunately wasn't recorded, a 1995 concert at Carnegie Hall is available for streaming and on CD on Amazon along with the original cast, and both once again can be found on YouTube.

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