Musicals Tonight!, the Manhattan company devoted to small scale concert revivals of musicals, showcases the obscure Johnny Mercer-Robert Emmett Dolan musical, Foxy, Dec. 5-17 in Manhattan.
A 1964 vehicle for Bert Lahr, drawing in the 1606 Ben Jonson classic, Volpone, the musical comedy is set during the 1896 Gold Rush. The revival will include four songs not heard on Broadway.
Rudy Roberson takes the title role (originated by the late clown, Lahr), getting revenge on pals who stole his "grub stake" to book passage to the Yukon for the Gold Rush.
Foxy, pretending to be rich and dying, fools his friends in order to get their dough. The company, directed by Thomas Mills and musical directed by Robert Felstein, includes Jay Winnick, David Sabella, Andrew Gitzy, Rob Lorey, Jessica Frankel, Natasha Harper, George Pellegrino, Amy Barker, Brian Cooper, Lawrence Cummings, Marvin Einhorn, John Flynn, Jason Levinson, Michael Mendiola, Juliette Morgan, Marni Raab and Jennifer Scheer.
The book is by Ian McKellan Hunter and Ring Lardner Jr. The original cast at the Ziegfeld Theatre also featured Larry Blyden, John Davidson, Julienne Marie and Cathryn Damon. Lahr won a Tony Award for his performance. The musical was originally produced at the 1962 Canadian Gold Rush Festival in Dawson City, Yukon Territory. Robert Whitehead, David Merrick and Billy Rose were all reportedly attached the show at various times. *
Musicals Tonight!, run by producing artistic director Mel Miller, is one of several Manhattan companies that revive classic musicals in concert form. Performances are at the 14th Street Y.
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, laughing. 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. The Goodspeed Opera House plans to revive the original version of the show in 2001.
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.
Tickets are $15-$19. Musicals Tonight! performances are at The 14th Street Y, 344 E. 14th St. in Manhattan. For more information, call (212) 362-5620.
— By Kenneth Jones