Never heard of John Latouche before? Neither had some who walked into Taking a Chance on Love, a new revue of the late lyricist's work that debuted March 2 in a staging by The York Theatre Company in Manhattan.
A cast album of the show is in the works from Original Cast Records. The album, with the York cast, is expected to be recorded the week of April 10.
In the tuner, devised by Erik Haagensen, Terry Burrell, Jerry Dixon (Once on This Island), Donna English (Off Broadway's Ruthless) and Eddie Korbich (Carousel) sang classic and obscure songs from such Latouche musicals as The Golden Apple, Candide and Cabin in the Sky.
The two-act musical used Latouche's letters, journals and poetry to fill in the blanks between such songs as "Lazy Afternoon" and the revue's title number, taken from Cabin in the Sky. Previews began Feb. 17, a delay of two days to allow for a cast change in the developing show, which told the life story of Latouche, who was billed as a kind of bad boy of Broadway. Ned Rorem called him "the preface to Sondheim."
Explored in the piece were the contradictory elements in the life of Latouche: Gay yet married, a patriot who wrote for FDR but was blacklisted for communist sympathies, gifted but destructive. He died at age 41.
Lyricist-librettist John Treville Latouche was born in Richmond, VA, in 1917, and set his sights on New York City early, mixing with the literary lights of his time.
York artistic director James Morgan directed Taking a Chance on Love and designed the set. Musical staging was by Janet Watson and musical direction by Jeffrey R. Smith. Other designers were Suzy Benzinger (costumes) and Ryan K. Schmidt (lighting).
Latouche wrote lyrics to existing music by Chopin, and teamed with Ellington for Beggar's Holiday (1946) which York presented in concert Oct. 1-3, 1999, in its Musicals in Mufti series.
Other Latouche shows include From Vienna (1939), Banjo Eyes and The Lady Comes Across (both with Duke in 1941), Rhapsody (1944, music by Fritz Kreisler), Polonaise (1945, music by Chopin), The Vamp (1955, music by James Mundy). He also penned the opera, The Ballad of Baby Doe, which New York City Opera will revive in 2000-2001.
-- By Kenneth Jones