The boys in the back room will be whooping it up for saloon chanteuse Frenchy in the York Theatre Company's bare-bones concert revival of Harold Rome's Destry Rides Again, Sept. 24-26.
York's Musicals in Mufti, one of New York City's most popular musical theatre revival series, will present the 1959 tuner, based on the Frederick Faust novel and films that came before it, for five performances at the Theatre at St. Peter's, Lexington and 54th, in Manhattan.
York artistic director James Morgan usually explains in pre-show curtain speeches that the performances are put on after 35 hours of rehearsal, "whether the actors are ready or not."
Leonard Gershe wrote the book to Destry Rides Again, drawing on the same source material that begat the well-known non-musical Jimmy Stewart-Marlene Dietrich picture from 1939. Andy Griffith, Dolores Gray and Scott Brady starred in the stage musical, which was directed and choreographed by Michael Kidd.
Harold Rome also wrote music and lyrics for Pins and Needles, Fanny, Wish You Were Here and I Can Get It For You Wholesale. Destry Rides Again ran 472 performances. The York Destry stars Jim Newman (Big) as Destry, Sharon Scruggs as Frenchy, Celia Tackaberry as Rose Lovejoy, Patty Mariano as Clara, Bill Buell as Wash, Jack Doyle as Gyp Watson, Gary Lynch as Kent, William Thomas Evans as Bugs, et al., Mary Illes as Chloe, Dimples, et al., Bill Kocis as Sheriff Keogh, the Mayor, et al. and Robbi Marchion as Ming Li.
The Mufti series, as per the military-rooted title, is presented in "civilian" clothes (usually accessorized) with no set. It's best described as a concert series, with performances of the entire script of shows and actors carrying scripts in hand.
Musical theatre buffs have flocked to the limited runs in past seasons because the focus is on obscure, overlooked or (as York has called them) "underappreciated" shows that deserve another gander.
Each of the three productions in the Mufti series run five performances.
A revival of Noel Coward's The Girl Who Came to Supper (1963) opened the Mufti season Sept. 17-19. The series has been so successful for York, it will be presented twice per season beginning in January, when Kean (by Wright and Forrest) gets another look.
Next in the Mufti series, Duke Ellington and John Latouche's Beggar's Holiday, from 1946, inspired by John Gay's Beggar's Opera, gets a revised book by Dale Wasserman (Man of La Mancha) in honor of the Ellington centenary.
According to Erik Haagensen, who is working at the York this season, the musical is historically significant "as the first Broadway musical to present a serious interracial romance." He told Playbill On-Line, "When Alfred Drake kissed Jet MacDonald, immediate and nightly walk outs occurred."
It played 111 performances. The original cast featured Alfred Drake as Macheath and, in his Broadway debut, Zero Mostel. Casting for the York concert presentation is being finalized. The director is Kent Gash, a regional director (Theatre Virginia, Alabama Shakespeare Festival). It plays Oct. 1-3.
The Beggar's Holiday cast includes Jerry Dixon, La Chanze, Pamela Isaacs, Tami Swartz, Amy Jo Phillips, Ken Prymus, J.C. Montgomery, Jesse Means, Joe Langworth, Lana Gordon and Cheryl Monroe.
A cast recording of the 1998-99 Mufti series concert of the satiric 1920s-set musical, Billion Dollar Baby, is expected to be released later this year. Kristin Chenoweth starred. The score is by Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Morton Gould.
The York Theatre Company is at the Theatre at Saint Peter's, Citicorp Center, 619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street, in Manhattan. Call (212) 935-5824 for information.
-- By Kenneth Jones