Remembered today for his popular songs and his classical works, Alec Wilder was active in the Broadway community for most of his career, music director Aaron Gandy told Playbill On-Line.
Wilder's first Broadway credits were songs interpolated into several revues, including Three's a Crowd in 1930. He provided incidental music to several plays, including Arthur Laurents' The Bird Cage and Peter Pan staring Jean Arthur and Boris Karloff, for which Leonard Bernstein was composer.
Wilder's best-known songs may be "I'll Be Around" and "It's So Peaceful in the Country."
"Miss Chicken Little" was one of several TV musicals Wilder wrote for the fledgling industry. It featured Jo Sullivan in the title role and George S. Irving as the Fox. William Engvick was Wilder's collaborator on the project.
Also for TV, Wilder wrote "Pinocchio" starring Mickey Rooney and Stubby Kaye (1957) and "Hansel & Gretel" starring Barbara Cook, Paula Laurence and Red Buttons (1958). The "Miss Chicken Little" concert cast includes Christine Long (Titanic, Show Boat, The Fantasticks) as Chicken Little, Jay Douglas (The Full Monty, Miss Saigon) as Cocky Locky and Michael Hunsaker (Ragtime, Listen to My Heart: The Songs of David Friedman) as the Fox. The full company numbers 24.
"I'm constantly on the lookout for worthy music theatre scores that deserve to be recorded," said Gandy, who is on the board of PS Classics, Inc., the not-for-profit recording label that seeks to restore and record American musical theatre scores. "I had certainly heard of Alec Wilder's name, but knew little about him. I was aware that he was a composer of popular songs, and of classical-style chamber works, like his famous Octets. I also knew of his book, 'American Popular Song,' which was the basis for his NPR program by the same name. When I discovered that he wrote for the musical theatre, I was intrigued. And when I learned that the biggest Broadway stars of his day had starred in his shows, I began to do some digging."
"Miss Chicken Little" premiered on CBS television in 1953. Gandy bills it as "a faux-operetta treatment of the familiar fable, but told with an adult sensibility."
Gandy said, "I loved the score, and I thought the text was hilarious. When I learned that the annual Wilder concert was open for suggestions, I proposed giving 'Miss Chicken Little' a listen."
No recording is currently planned, Gandy said, but this concert is an opportunity to re-introduce Alec Wilder as a music theatre composer.
"For fans of Alec Wilder, I expect this to be quite a pleasant surprise," he said. "And for those Broadway aficionados who enjoy rediscovering forgotten musicals, this concert is a rare chance to get to know a celebrated work from an ambitious composer at the height of his creative powers."
Concert direction is by Lainie Munro, and music direction is by Aaron Gandy. Also on the bill is a set of Wilder's cabaret standards sung by Jackie Cain (of Jackie and Roy), accompanied by The Four Bags, and the world premiere of Wilder's "lost" Piano Trio.
The performance, produced by The Friends of Alec Wilder, a not-for-profit group of fans of his music, is 2 PM April 17 at the Bronfman Theater, Collegiate School, at 260 W. 78th in New York City. Tickets are $25 at the door, $5 for students.
Wilder's other scores include Kittiwake Island, which had a brief run Off-Broadway in 1960 and included Lainie Kazan in the cast, Nobody's Earnest (based on Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest), which closed out of town, and a revue of his songs entitled Clues to a Life, which featured Christine Andreas and Craig Lucas, and ran at the Vineyard Theater in 1981.