The musical by composer Richard Adler (The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees), lyricist Will Holt (The Me Nobody Knows) and librettist George Abbott (The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, On Your Toes) played eight performances on Broadway in December 1976, and disappeared. Directed by the famed "Mr. Abbott," it was considered a throwback to musicals of an earlier period, with several standout songs but not enough good reviews or audience support to keep it going.
The work was unearthed by WCU associate professor of piano Bradley Martin, who is the musical director for the Feb. 4-5 reconstructed production of the musical. The seed of this staging was formed when Martin discovered there was another Broadway musical written by composer Adler, whose flame burned hot (and briefly) in the 1950s with the musical comedy hits Damn Yankes and The Pajama Game.
"I first heard about the show from an album [called] 'Shakespeare on Broadway'," Martin told Playbill.com by phone from Cullowhee, NC. "The song that caught my attention was 'Should I Speak of Loving You.' It's beautifully melodic, it has a lovely flow and a sentimental longing to it. It was [intended to be] the hit song of the show…the melody is heard in the entr'acte and exit music."
Martin began researching the work. "I came to a dead end — I didn't get very far," he said.
A complete version of the Broadway script and score could not be found, but Folger Shakespeare Library had a copy of an earlier draft of the script in its files. Martin and his colleagues investigated further and ended up pulling the body parts of the script and score from the collections of the Library of Congress, the Folger and the New York Public Library. "The [music] materials for the show came from the Rodgers and Hammerstein archives in the Library of Congress," Martin said. "[The process] was just trial and error — trying Music Theatre International, Tams Witmark, New York Public Library…to find any material for the show. Not even the holders of the copyright had material. With all the changes that occurred between first productions in Seattle and then the Kennedy Center [and] finally Broadway, there was no script that represented Mr. Abbott's final production."
As nearly as possible, the production being performed by undergraduate actors and musicians will be a reflection of the flop Broadway staging that ran Dec. 20-26, 1976, following developmental tryouts in Seattle and Washington, DC. This concert script was created by painstakingly listening to a pirated recording of a Broadway performance and transcribing it, Martin said.
The investigation also resulted in the uncovering of the show's original orchestrations by master Broadway orchestrator Hershy Kay (On the Town, Candide, Evita, A Chorus Line, 110 in the Shade, On the Twentieth Century). They will be heard for the first time since 1976.
Martin said he hopes a recording of the score will be made on campus, in its recording studio, and there is a wish among the creative team of this college revival that the script and score might be published and made available for licensing.
"It's great for colleges, especially," Martin said. "It's a little like The Boys From Syracuse — lots of comedy mayhem and songs."
Adler and Holt were invited to attend the production but are not able to make it.
Music Is is populated by 40 student performers and musicians, telling the Shakespeare tale of shipwrecked siblings Viola and Sebastian, with the former disguising herself as a man and falling in love with Orsino — and arousing the attention of Olivia.
The principal cast includes Jonathan Cobrda as Shakespeare, who narrates the story; Will Bryant as Duke Orsino; Joe Callahan as Sebastian; Anastasia Teel as Viola; Allison Dixon as Maria; Joshua Farrar as Valentino; Charity Haskins as Olivia; Peter O'Neal as Sir Toby Belch; Brian Gay as Malvolio; Robert Helma as Antonio; and Andy Thompson as Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
The musical is produced by the School of Stage and Screen at WCU in the small college town of Cullowhee, an hour's drive from Asheville in the Great Smoky Mountains. The school has about 9,000 students. Broadway star Terrence Mann (Cats, The Addams Family) is the Phillips Endowed Chair of Musical Theatre at Western Carolina University and directs there once a season.
Director Catherine Cox played Viola in the original production of Music Is, earning a Drama Desk nomination as Outstanding Actress in a Musical for her work in 1977. (For the record, Music Is earned one 1977 Tony nomination — for choreographer Patricia Birch. Paul Gemignani was the musical director; legendary Abbott was the director; Roger Berlind was among the producers.)
Cox might be best known as the gym teacher/wannabe mom Pam in the 1984 musical Baby, for which she won the Drama Desk as Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical. Cox later earned a Tony nomination as Actress in a Musical for Oh Coward! in 1987. Serving as the revival's director, Cox has set the new production in a more modern era than the Renaissance period of the 1976 original.
Stylistically, Martin said, Adler "does not abandon his '50s musical-theatre roots." Although "the show does contain beats such as 'The Hustle', much [of the score] is based on the style of Adler's earlier shows [like] Pajama Game and Damn Yankees."
He added that the show "has a wonderful carnival/circus feel and has a few references to the bell-bottom pants and platform shoes and clogs of the '70s."
The cast of Music Is also includes Daniel Scott, Mary Wiedel, James Hendley, Natasha Mills, Jaclyn Helms, Alayna Shaw, Jessica Koons, Joshua Jones, Jeff Mack, Madeline Seagle, Lauren Smith, Kaitlyn Reda, Asa Jordan, Wesley Gonzales, Cullen Ries, Shane Dinan, Alyssa Gillikin, Lindsey Cline, Nicki Bayne, Sydney Troxler, Garrett Pace, Tierney Cody, Marc Lewis, Andrew Drake and Caleb Camp.
The Music Is orchestra includes Sabrina Kumar, Hannah Austin, Ryan Wall, Terri Armfiled, Rosalind Buda (reeds); Andrew Adams, Lelia Lattimore, Michael Collings, Owen Tharp (strings); P. Bradley Ulrich, Brandon Nichols, Joel Jeffries, Justin Beebe, Dane Morgan (brass); Hunter Black and Chris Smith (percussion).
The concert creative/production team of Music Is includes Amy Dowling (choreographer), David Haines (stage manager), Del Delorm (lights), Tony Sirk (costumes), Del Delorm & Luther Jones (set), Todd Lewis (sound), Devante Goolsby & Courtney Tomlinson (costume crew), Emily Lindeman (deck captain), Cameron Fuelerham & Paul Thiemann (spot operators) and Andrew Adams (rehearsal pianist). Catherine Cox is credited with "concert adaptation."
Music Is will play 7:30 PM Feb. 4 and 3 PM Feb. 5 the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center on the campus of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC.
Both showings will be in the 1,000-seat John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for faculty, staff and seniors. Student tickets are $10 at the door or $7 in advance.
To order tickets, or for more information about the season, call the Bardo Arts Center box office at (828) 227-2479 or visit bardoartscenter.wcu.edu.