Songwriter Hugh Martin, frail but still writing at 85, contributed new lyrics to a New York City concert presentation of his 1948 musical comedy, Look, Ma, I'm Dancin'!, and has encouraged the interpolation of songs cut from the original production.
Musicals Tonight!, one of several Manhattan companies that revive classic musicals in concert form, stages the show March 7-19, under the direction of Thomas Mills and the musical direction of C. Colby Sachs.
The tuner about the goings-on in a traveling ballet company was originally staged by George Abbott and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee wrote the book. Martin's score includes "I'm a Guy Who's Gotta Dance," "The First Girl in the Second Row" and "I'm Tired of Texas." The musical, Jerome Robbins' Broadway, memorably revived the song "I'm a Guy Who's Gotta Dance" in its opening number.
Musicals Tonight! artistic director Mel Miller told Playbill On-Line he simply wrote to Hugh Martin and asked if he could revive the show. The answer was yes, and moreso.
The original Decca cast recording of Look, Ma, I'm Dancin'! only preserved eight songs from the score, but this revival represents the entire show, and then some: Martin has written new lyrics to "The New Look" (not on the cast album), plus offered two songs written for, but not used, in the Broadway production: "Horrible, Horrible Love" and "Wonderful, Wonderful Love." Two other tunes not on the album, "Jazz" and "The Two of Us," will be heard here, too. Martin's favorite unpublished song, "All My Life," from the unproduced musical, Maggie & Jiggs, will also be interpolated into the score.
The musical farce includes a plotline about a "danseuse wannabe" who is an ex-vaudevillian and a brewery heiress underwriting a cross-country ballet tour. The concert cast includes Jennifer Allen, Noah Racey, Elise Molinelli, Rob Lorey, Amy Goldberger, Gair Morris, Sally Mae Dunn, Richard Ruiz, Edward Prostak, Alli Bivins, Ryan Duncan, John Flynn, Marc Kessler and Jennifer Miller. Nancy Walker starred in the Broadway original. Don Liberto and Virginia Gibson (then known as Gorski), of the original cast, will attend the March 17 performance, Miller said. Janet Reed, another original cast member, died recently.
The nonprofit Musicals Tonight! operates under an Actors' Equity approved showcase contract. Artistic director 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).
But his followers -- a mostly gay and elderly crowd, he said -- devour the scores. "I'm not getting the Rent crowd, I'm not getting the Stomp crowd or the De La Guarda," he admitted.
He is able to offer twists on the original versions, too, which lure in a passionate musical theatre crowd eager to uncover historical gems or lost songs. For example, he unearthed and presented the King of Hearts script and score as originally envisioned 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, who reprised his famous, naughty butler song about Delores Del Rio. And now there are the "lost" songs from Look, Ma, I'm Dancin'!
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. He just announced the Walter Keer musical, a cult favorite, Goldilocks as his June 13-25 show.
Tickets for Look, Ma, I'm Dancin'! are $15. Performances are at The 14th Street Y, 344 E. 14th St. in Manhattan.
For more information or reservations, call (212) 362 5620.
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.
-- By Kenneth Jones