American musicals are often so sweeping and popular, once they come out we tend to push aside the source novels and plays on which they were based. Pygmalion is considered a Shavian classic, but how often is it done as compared to My Fair Lady? And much as the stories of Sholem Aleichem are beloved, Fiddler is Fiddler.
Trying to redress that imbalance a bit is a free series sponsored by the York Theatre titled "Perspective `98," which presents three Pulitzer winning plays in one-night-only staged readings. This year's trilogy is subtitled "Words and Music" because all three works ended up becoming Broadway musicals. The pieces will be read by Juilliard Drama School alumni, as well as special guest stars. Between acts, songs from the musicals the plays became will be sung.
Beginning the trilogy, Feb. 22, is They Knew What They Wanted, Sidney Howard's 1924 drama that became the basis for Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella. Spiro Malas, who starred in the acclaimed revival of Fella at Lincoln Center, will play the lead at the York and also sing songs from Fella. Emma Lampert, who appears in the York's current Harvey Schmidt & Tom Jones revue, The Show Goes On, will also sing at the reading.
John Patrick's The Teahouse of the August Moon follows, March 29. This 1953 drama was later musicalized into Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen by Patrick and composers Sam Freeman and Franklin Underwood.
Last up is Elmer Rice's 1929 Street Scene, musicalized (under the same name) by Kurt Weill, Maxwell Anderson and Langston Hughes. Managing director Joe De Michele told Playbill On-Line (Feb. 18) that Perspectives is now in its fourth year, with last year's theme devoted to plays by women."
De Michele added that such reading series are more necessary than theatre buffs might imagine: "A number of these Pulitzer Prize plays aren't even in print. With They Knew What They Wanted, we couldn't find anyone who holds the rights to it -- and Sidney Howard's daughter will be at the reading. With Perspectives, we bring plays back that people assume are a major part of theatre history, but a lot of them are out of print and in danger of being forgotten."
Artistic director James Morgan also noted that the series was a good deed in a different way. "Part of what we do with the funding dollars for Perspectives is to provide roundtrip transportation for groups that can't ordinarily attend theatre. We make an effort to bring people here. And we'd be interested in suggestions from people who have a group that fits into this category. We also want to get out to hospitals, senior centers, places like that."
As for the York Theatre's mainstage season, The Show Goes On ends its extended run March 1. DRG Records will be at the matinee and evening performances Feb. 25, taping the live shows for an original cast recording. Also, the show will offer a special midnight matinee (12:01 AM Friday morning, Feb. 27) open to the general public but specifically geared towards theatre people whose schedules might not allow them to see production otherwise. Said Morgan, "It was something Tom & Harvey did back when they had their own portfolio revues. Plus $5 from each ticket goes to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS."
Following The Show Goes On at the York space will be a rental, Native Tongue. The next York mainstage production isn't anticipated until mid-May. Under consideration is a revue titled The Jello is Always Red, culled from the songs of Clark Gesner (You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown).
As for the York's annual Musicals in Mufti series, arriving in September, the first show will definitely be Kelly, by Eddie Lawrence & Moose Charlap. Kelly is one of Broadway's most famous...um... disappointments. "We don't use the `f' word -- flop," said Morgan. "It has a lot of potential that was muddled by the time it got to Broadway." Donna Kaz will direct Kelly in its first production since its Broadway premiere.
-- By David Lefkowitz