Musicals Tonight!, the Manhattan company devoted to small scale concert revivals of musicals, will stage four shows representing some of the most famous last names in musical theatre history -- Rodgers, Hart, Mercer, Porter and Berlin -- in the 2000-2001 season.
On tap for the nonprofit professional troupe, which performs at the 14th Street Y, are:
• I Married and Angel (Sept. 12-23): Rodgers and Hart's 1938 tuner that gave the world "Spring is Here," "Did You Ever Get Stung?," "I'll Tell The Man in the Street" and the title tune.
• Foxy (Dec. 5-16): Lyricist Johnny Mercer and composer Robert Emmett Dolan's 1964 musical with a book (based on Ben Jonson's Volpone) by Ian McLellan Hunter and Ring Lardner Jr. The concert will include several cut Mercer songs. The show originally starred Bert Lahr (who won a Tony for it) and Larry Blyden.
• Leave It To Me! (March 20-April 1, 2001): Cole Porter and Sam and Bella Spewack's musical comedy from 1938 in which a kittenish Mary Martin introduced "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." It also begat "Get Out of Town" and "Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love." • Watch Your Step (June 12-24, 2001): Irving Berlin's first complete score for Broadway, from 1914, starred Vernon and Irene Castle. Tunes include arcana "Show Us How to Do the Fox-Trot," "When It's Night Time in Dixieland," "The Minstrel Parade," "Settle Down in a One-Horse Town," "Lock Me in Your Harem and Throw Away the Key."
Musicals Tonight!, run by producing artistic director Mel Miller, is one of several Manhattan companies that revive classic musicals in concert form.
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," 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 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 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.
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