The Broadway musical, A Class Act, recently nominated for a Best Musical Outer Critics Circle Award, tells the story of the life of composer-lyricist Ed Kleban through songs that he wrote for various projects over the years.
Fans of the show at the Ambassador Theatre have found the music and lyrics to naturally fall within the framework of the fictionalized libretto constructed by Lonny Price and Kleban's romantic companion, Linda Kline.
But diehard Class Act fans can't help but wonder where the songs came from — what were the sources of the songs? Kline, who met Kleban in 1978 and later became his partner to 1987 (when he died of cancer), spoke to Playbill On Line to fill in the blanks about the source material.
She also revealed that the women in the show are composites of many different women in Kleban's life, and that she is not the basis for the Lucy character. Kline is a journalist and a librettist, not a dancer who studied to be a therapist (as Lucy is). "I'm fed up reading that I'm Lucy," Kline said.
And Ed never had a lifelong friend from the Bronx named Sophie (played by Outer Critics nominee Randy Graff), though Kleban's real-life pal, Susan Stamberg, of National Public Radio is the model for the character. What Price and Kline were looking for when writing the piece was the essence of Kleban's experience — that he was a conflicted creative person who wanted to be heard. Here, then, for the record, is a rundown of the sources of the songs for A Class Act, as related by Kline. Some lyrics were slightly tweaked to help fit the current show. The score is heard on a cast album on the RCA Victor label.
• "Light On My Feet": Written in the early 1980s as a standalone song, after the workshop of Gallery in 1981.
• "The Fountain in the Garden": Written before Kleban penned lyrics for A Chorus Line, for the musical, Gallery, whose songs were inspired by famous paintings (Richard Maltby Jr. directed the workshop). This song was inspired by a Van Gogh painting of a fountain at the hospital where the anguished artist was being treated.
• "One More Beautiful Song": Written in the mid-1980s for Musical Comedy, a musical Kleban wrote with Paul Rudnick, about the BMI Workshop.
• "Fridays at Four": From Musical Comedy.
• "Bobby's Song": From Musical Comedy, but the raunchy original title has been changed for A Class Act; the song is much longer, Kline said.
• "Charm Song": Written in the early 1970s, prior to A Chorus Line as a gift to BMI moderator and founder Lehman Engel.
• "Paris Through the Window": For Gallery, inspired by a Chagall painting.
• "Mona": From Gallery, inspired by the "Mona Lisa," early 1980s.
• "Under Separate Cover": Written for Subject to Change, a musical about divorce, with a libretto by Peter Stone, in the early 1970s.
• "Don't Do It Again": A spec song for a musical version of the Neil Simon film, "The Heartbreak Kid." It was one of the last songs Kleban wrote. He went to Simon's apartment and played songs for the possible project, and Simon did not pursue Kleban, or the project.
• "Gaugin's Shoes": From Gallery, inspired by a Van Gogh painting of — yes — Gaugin's shoes, written in the early 1970s.
• "Follow Your Star": From an unproduced musical version of the 1922 Hollywood spoof, Merton of the Movies by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly.
• "Better": From Merton of the Movies. Barbra Streisand recorded an uptempo disco-style version of the song, but it was cut from an album and never released.
• "Scintillating Sophie": A standalone song thought to be a very early Kleban song. It "sounds very young," Kline said.
• "The Next Best Thing to Love": Written for the last Michael Bennett musical, which became Scandal, about sexual freedom (or "orgies," as they say in A Class Act). Kleban wrote the ballad in one burst at 5 AM one morning, Kline said. Shortly after, for complicated reasons, he left the project.
• "Broadway Boogie Woogie": From Gallery, inspired by a Mondrian painting at the Museum of Modern Art.
• "I Choose You": From the unproduced Subject to Change. Kline said what is heard in A Class Act is just a fragment.
• "Say Something Funny": From Merton of the Movies.
• "I Won't Be There": Written probably before A Chorus Line.
• "Self Portrait": For Gallery, written in 1981.
How is the intimate A Class Act doing at the box office?
The week ending April 15, the underdog musical grossed only $129,048, but made $40,497 more than the previous week. The show was playing to a small 35.6 percent of total capacity. Producer Marty Bell previously told Playbill On-Line he and his producing partners are devoted and sticking with the show, and expect to see a jump in box office when Tony Award nominations are announced.
"You got bulldog producers," said Bell, who is mounting the valentine to musical theatre with producers Chase Mishkin, Arielle Tepper. Bell said the producers are in it for the long haul, and he expects a surge in business in coming weeks due to word of mouth, the new TV ad campaign and a direct-mail effort. The Outer Critics noms, the first in a slew of awards noms in spring, don't hurt.
Bell also said he's looking to the horizon of May 7, when the Tony Award nominations are announced. He expects the intimate, sentimental musical to get noticed by Tony nominators. One of the hot Tony-season stories could be that the late Kleban, whose story is fictionalized in the musical co written by Price and Kline, gets a posthumous Best Score Tony nomination.
The musical, first seen at Manhattan Theatre Club, concerns neurotic songwriter Kleban's wish to land as a Broadway composer-lyricist rather than just a lyricist (he wrote words to Marvin Hamlisch's music in A Chorus Line). A Tony nom — and a win — for full score would be the realization of Kleban's apparent lifelong dream. He was felled by cancer in 1987.
Although the score is a sentimental favorite for a Tony nom, a handful of other "new" scores this season will be competing, including The Full Monty, Jane Eyre, Tom Sawyer, The Producers and Seussical
. Observers of A Class Act point to likely Tony noms (at least) for Lonny Price, as the tirelessly complicated and plaintive Kleban, and Outer-Crix-nommed Randy Graff, who plays best pal Sophie. Graff gets only one solo in the show, "The Next Best Thing to Love," but it succeeds in the same way her solo in City of Angels, "You Can Always Count on Me," did. That memorable Cy Coleman song — and her good gal interpretation of it — is cited as a major reason Graff won a previous Best Featured Actress (Musical) Tony.
A Class Act tickets are $25-$75. The Ambassador Theatre is at 219 W. 49th Street. For ticket information, call (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250.