From 1934 to 1970 a bar/nightclub existed in Manhattan's skid-row neighborhood of the Bowery that defined “dive,” and visiting there defined “slumming.”
Sammy’s Bowery Follies provided a home for burned out vaudeville acts that couldn't get booked anyplace else, and welcomed patrons who regularly passed out drunk on the premises. But it was raucous and fun—a place people could loosen their ties, let down their hair and sing along with popular show tunes of the day. If you were out on the town for the night, Sammy's was a perfect last stop.
Hosted by the owner, Sammy Fuchs (d. 1969), this highly atmospheric real-life slice of lost Manhattan nightlife is the subject of a new musical, also called Sammy's Bowery Follies, which will get private industry readings in New York October 24 at noon and 4 PM.
The reading will feature Eddie Korbich (Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder) as Sammy, A.J. Shively (Bright Star), Mimi Bessette (Bonnie & Clyde) as Gladys, and newcomer Missy Dowse. The ensemble includes Kyler Coburn, Colin Buckingham, Mardie Millet, Gene Taylor, Carolyn Seiff, and Bill Weeden.
Sharon Barnett, who wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the music and book with Michael McFrederick and Adam Shorsten, respectively, told Playbill.com that she has a very personal connection to the old club, which stood at 267 Bowery, today the site of a German restaurant. “My father, Mark Barnett, was one of the emcees. The emcees would always wear top hats. My father was a singer and a dancer, told jokes, and often also did the scenery. My sister Marcelle and I grew up in this club. As children we also sometimes performed as a sister act, doing show tunes and such, and we often sang with my dad. We were children, and we loved it.”
She put all those memories into her show, Sammy’s Bowery Follies, which she described as ”a new feel-good musical, set in the 1940s, about a young man who returns from the war seeking fortune, and his name in lights at the renowned nightclub Sammy’s Bowery Follies, and along the way finds love and a showbiz family.”
The club was remembered in the documentary film Heaven Wants Out, which included long stretches of film shot at the club while it was in operation. Technically released in 2009, it was only recently made available.
“People called Sammy’s the Downtown Stork Club,” Barnett said. “It was frequented by everyone. You could be sitting next to a plumber or the President of the United States. Outside there were the Bowery bums. It was very colorful. The Grey Line [a New York tourist bus service] would take people to places like the Copacabana and the Latin Quarter, but they always wound up at Sammy’s. They went from one extreme to the other.”
Kimberly Loren Eaton serves as producer and director. McFrederick will be the music director. Jacob D. Yates will be associate music director, accompanist and conductor. The show will have stage management by Marci Skolnick and music supervision/vocal arrangements by Marina Kamen.