In a show of chutzpah and originality, the American Jewish Theatre (AJT) in N.Y. will revive the forgotten musical So Long,174th Street as a part of its 1996-1997 season. Richard Sabellico, director of AJT's successful The Yiddish Trojan Women and The Cocoanuts, will stage the new production.
Starring Robert Morse, the original Broadway production of So Long, 174th Street opened on April 27, 1976. Joseph Stein wrote the book, based on his hit play Enter Laughing. Though the show ran only 16 performances, Stan Daniel's score is a treasured bootleg among musical theatre enthusiasts.
Set during the Depression, this is the story of an aspiring actor (Morse) who struggles to break free of his family's conviction that he should be a pharmacist. Morse, and his co-star George S. Irving, invigorated the show's hat-and-cane dance numbers with their antic comic skills.
The curtain rises as our hero is being interviewed in his dressing room, preparing to accept an award as Pharmacist of the Year. The show closes as he approaches the podium, having accepted his fate. This ironic frame provides a context for the exploration of one druggist's destiny.
Enter Laughing, based on a novel by Carl Reiner, opened on Broadway March 3, 1963. This popular farce starred Alan Arkin and was directed by Gene Saks. In a glowing New York Times review, Howard Taubman's only complaint was the lack of rest periods between the show's "side-splitting laughs."
Currently Off-Broadway, The American Jewish Theatre is presenting The Cocoanuts, the Irving Berlin/George Kaufman musical made famous by The Marx Brothers. The production recently transferred to The American Place Theatre (111 West 46th Street). Tickets are available through telecharge at (212) 239-6200.
The AJT's 1996-1997 season will include three other productions: Cherie Bennett's Anne Frank and Me, beginning performances on November 2; Barbara Damashak's Two Suitcases; and a revival of the Isaiah Sheffer/Abraham Ellstein musical Yiddle With a Fiddle.
The American Jewish Theatre is located at 307 West 26th Street in Manhattan. Information regarding the new season may be obtained by calling (212) 633-9797. As a point-of-interest, the 1976 production of So Long, 174th Street was one of the few legitimate productions staged in the now-demolished Colonial Theatre on Broadway at 62nd Street. Built as a music hall in 1905, the house served a TV studio and was home to the Harkness Ballet Company. Another short-lived, fondly-remembered musical, The Acting Company's The Robber Bridegroon , ran at "The Harkness Theatre" for 15 performances in 1975. The house was demolished in 1977 to make way for a condominium tower and the public lobby known as the Harkness Atrium.
-- By Kevin W. Reardon