Irving Berlin's little-known musical trifle, Watch Your Step, getting a concert revival by Musicals Tonight! in Manhattan June 12-24, has the slimmest of plots, the silliest of characters, but also Berlin's magic melodies, circa 1914.
Thomas Mills directs the shoestring-budget concert staging at the MainStage of the 14th Street Y, where producer Mel Miller has been unearthing neglected shows since 1998.
The plot involves a will that awards $2 million to any family member who has not fallen in love. There are two claimants and those out to thwart their winning put temptation in their paths. Dancing stars Vernon and Irene Castle originally starred in the 1914 musical, which includes such Berlin arcana as "I'm a Dancing Teacher Now," "Lock Me in Your Harem and Throw Away the Key," "Show Us How to Do the Fox Trot," "My Bird of Paradise," "Settle Down in a One-Horse Town," "I've Gotta Get Back to Texas," "They Always Follow Me Around" and more. On the original sheet music, the credits said music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, and "book (if any) by Harry B. Smith."
The Musicals Tonight! cast includes Ed Prostak, David Titus, Alison Walla, Daniel Frank Kelly, Rebecca Spencer, David Sabella, Jennifer Miller, Julian Brightman, Kirstie Bingham, Osborn Focht, Anne Catherine Hundhaus, Michael Dunn Litchfield, Aliza Loewy, Justin Roller, Lani Shipman, Amy Shure and Matt Toronto. Mark Hartman is musical director.
Tickets are $17. The 14th Street Y is at 344 E. 14th Street (between First and Second Avenues). For reservations, call (212) 362-0713. *
Musicals Tonight!, run by producing artistic director Mel Miller, is one of several Manhattan companies that revive classic musicals in concert form. The nonprofit company operates under an Actors' Equity approved showcase contract. Miller, 57, told Playbill On-Line he is a one-man-band with a passion for musical theatre and plays, although little background in producing. Armed with a degree in chemical engineering, Miller was a marketing consultant for years before plunging into the risky world of Off-Off-Broadway producing. He is the sole funder of each production, which, per Equity, has a budget limit of $15,000.
The mission of his troupe (for which he makes all the decisions, with the help of a lawyer, an accountant and a few friends he trusts) is to revive "neglected musicals," which, some have suggested to him, is euphemistic for "flops."
"'Neglected' is the eye of the beholder," said Miller. He admits his tastes may not be mainstream. Since starting in 1998 (presenting at the Lamb's, American Place Theatre and now the 14th Street Y), he's revived titles that are exactly chart-burners: Let It Ride (1961), So Long, 174th Street (1976), By the Beautiful Sea (1954), Dearest Enemy (1925) and King of Hearts (1978).
In 1999-2000, Look Ma, I'm Dancin'! and Goldilocks were among Miller's presentations, and both stagings offered fans songs that had been cut from the shows, allowing a greater sense of story and a glimpse into the authors' creative process.
The troupe's followers — a mostly gay and elderly crowd, Miller said — devour the scores. "I'm not getting the Rent crowd, I'm not getting the Stomp crowd or the De La Guarda crowd," he admitted.
His ability to unearth historical gems or lost songs lures in a passionate musical theatre crowd. For example, he uncovered and presented the King of Hearts script and score as originally envisioned by Steve Tesich, before it was altered for Broadway. The Broadway production was a failure.
When looking for a George S. Irving "type" for a concert revival of So Long, 174th Street, Miller ended up getting original star George S. Irving himself, who reprised his famous, naughty butler song about Delores Del Rio.
Eventually, Miller hopes to hire a development person to seek out grants for the nonprofit company, and he wants his own permanent space. For now, it's four shows per year.
Manhattan's other concert musical revival series are Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert, at City Center, and York Theatre Company's Musicals in Mufti. On the West Coast, San Francisco's 42nd Street Moon company stages concert revivals of old musicals.
— By Kenneth Jones