Subways Are for Sleeping, the 1962 Betty Comden-Adolph Green-Jule Styne musical about charming homeless people and struggling squatters on the fringe of society, finally got its CD debut in a licensed reissue from Fynsworth Alley.
Despite the October parting of ways between Fynsworth founder Bruce Kimmel and the owners of the company, Subways Are For Sleeping, valuable to musical theatre buffs, got its release in a unique distribution process. Fynsworth Alley made only 5,000 copies of the disc (they are hand-numbered) and the recordings are available only through the Fynsworth website (www.fynsworthalley.com) at $22.50 a pop.
Fynsworth generally sells its cabaret, show tune and cast albums exclusively online for three months before they go "wide" in stores and on other sites. Show buffs are eager for the quirky, New York-set musical, which has been out of print for years. Along with Wonderful Town, On the Town, Do-Re-Mi, Bells Are Ringing, the show is part of a clutch of Comden and Green musical love-letters to Manhattan folks struggling to find love and connection in the faceless metropolis.
The recording was produced for Columbia by legendary cast album producer Goddard Lieberson and preserves the Tony Award-winning performance of Phyllis Newman (Mrs. Adolph Green), who plays an apartment squatter who avoids her landlord by always answering her door in a towel. This prompts Orson Bean, a potential love interest, to eventually sing "I Just Can't Wait (to See You With Clothes On)."
The libretto, written by Comden and Green, is drawn from a book of essays by Edmund Love about 10 unconnected people who shed conventional, tax paying life for the freedom of the streets. "We have no steady home address," they sing. "No doorbell and no doormat. We live from day to day by our own ingenious format." Comden and Green would later say that times have changed so much — and our view of the homeless is so different — that it's a show that could never be revived. They said in liner notes they were reluctant to write both lyrics and book; they hoped a librettist would be hired. The show was written and rewritten over and over. The problem with the show, Comden and Green suggest, is that its lead characters (played by Carol Lawrence and Sydney Chaplin) were not as interesting as those who were supporting (Bean and Newman).
The score includes a title song, "Comes Once in a Lifetime," "I Was a Shoo In" (a star turn for Newman), "Strange Duet," "Be a Santa," "Swing Your Projects," ""I Said It and I'm Glad," "Girls Like Me," "What Is This Feeling in the Air?," "I'm Just Taking My Time," "Who Knows What Might Have Been?" and "Subway Directions"/"Ride Through the Night" (a classic bit of New Yorky color from Comden and Green, who reference points on the subways map, with riders giving suggestions for the best routes possible).
The CD includes six tracks of songs intended for the show and recorded as demos, featuring Rose Marie Jun, Jack Haskell, Adolph Green and Betty Comden. The songs are "Getting Married," "I'm Just Taking My Time" (which ended up in the show), "I'm Jut Taking My Time" (reprise)/"I Walk a Little Dog," "Hey, Charlie, Let's Talk," "Life's Not That Simple," "A Man With a Plan."
To read Playbill On-Line contributor Steve Suskin's thoughts on Subways Are for Sleeping, click here.
— By Kenneth Jones