ON THE RECORD: Oh! Captain and Jerry Herman's Parade

By Steven Suskin
03 Nov 2002

PARADE [Decca Broadway 440 064 738]
Devoted musical comedy fans no doubt recall something called Frankly Frank, a 1960 intimate revue. Not just songs but stories, scenes, piano pieces. Frankly Frank went unrecorded, except for its clever Kennedy parody "Bobby and Jackie and Jack" (Shepard-Kringas).

Now wait a minute there was no Frankly Frank; it, and the Kennedy song, was spun out of Stephen Sondheim's recollections of the Off-Broadway revues of the late fifties for his 1981 musical Merrily We Roll Along. This sort of revue three or four actors, some barstools and a piano player was commonplace in small theatres and nightclubs at the time.

Most notable, perhaps, were the shows put on by Julius Monk at his Downstairs at the Upstairs (and, later, Upstairs at the Downstairs). Many of Monk's revues with titles like Pieces of Eight and Dressed to the Nines were recorded, although they remain difficult to find. These revues include some startlingly good material, although some of its topicality has withered. Sondheim himself contributed a song "Pour le Sport," written for an unfinished musical to Take Five, which opened two weeks after West Side Story.

Which brings us, oddly enough, to Jerry Herman. In 1954, at the age of 21, the Jersey City native appeared in the Village with a show full of college material called I Feel Wonderful, which played six weeks at the Theatre de Lys. (This was the show that interrupted the run of The Threepenny Opera, which played a ten-week engagement and then returned for six years after Herman's revue closed.)

Four years later, Herman was playing piano at a Greenwich Village nightclub called the Showplace. Like Franklin Shepard in Merrily We Roll Along, he convinced the owner to put on an intimate revue written by himself. Nightcap opened for an extended run, eventually attracting a big-time producer from uptown. Well, not big-time, exactly; Larry Kasha was an assistant stage manager from L'il Abner and Whoop-Up. He asked Herman to expand the show and brought the newly-titled Parade to the Players Theatre on January 20, 1960.

Parade not to be confused with the Jason Robert Brown-Alfred Uhry musical of the same title didn't cause much of a stir over the course of its 95-performance run. A cast album was made by Kapp Records. Dave Kapp had pioneered the original cast album in 1943 with Oklahoma! for Decca. Kapp's own label had limited success outside of two cast recordings none of the majors wanted: Once upon a Mattress and a little item that turned into a blockbuster, Man of La Mancha. Parade was in the class of neither and quickly hit the cut-out bins.

One song, "Jolly Theatrical Season," stands out, although it is understandably dated. Dated in that it refers to the then-current shows on Broadway, circa 1959. ("It may not have run long but Juno's great charm was / That Shirley Booth's son had a hook where his arm was.") This is Herman at his most pointed, lyrically; other than "Bosom Buddies" and "Gooch's Song," I don't know where that he ever again approached this level. The music is a delightful, slightly-syrupy waltz that perfectly fits the macabre subject. (Echoes of the melody can be found in "There's No Reason in the World," a ballad in Herman's 1961 Broadway musical Milk and Honey.) The duet is sung by Parade's nominal star, Dody Goodman, and Charles Nelson Reilly. Reilly a holdover from Nightcap is the most interesting presence on the Parade album. He left the show soon after the opening to take a small role in Bye Bye Birdie, followed by important roles in How to Succeed (as Bud Frump) and Herman's Hello, Dolly! (as Cornelius Hackl).

The score's other perky show tune is called "Show Tune." "There is no tune as exciting as a show tune in two-four," it goes. The song is hampered by a bland B section (of ABAC). Herman was canny enough, several years later, to salvage "Show Tune"; with a new lyric and an infinitely stronger B section, it sparked Mame as "It's Today." Parade's Overture includes parts of two songs not otherwise heard on the cast album that were recycled into Mack and Mabel, as the refrain of "I Wanna Make the World Laugh" and the verse of "Wherever He Ain't." The cast of five is accompanied by four musicians, led by the composer and Jack Elliott at the pianos. The CD is accompanied by a refreshingly breezy set of liner notes by Peter Filichia.

Herman's cast recordings have now all been transferred to CD. (Two of his shows remain unrecorded, I Feel Wonderful and the 1961 Off Broadway flop Madame Aphrodite.) All told, Parade is a find for Herman fans and a mere curiosity for the rest of us. No, the material has little of the bite or originality of those unlikely-to-appear-on-CD Julius Monk revues. But that, perhaps, is part of the reason that Herman achieved Broadway success while writers of more specialized revue material didn't.

Steven Suskin, author of "Broadway Yearbook 2000-2001," "Broadway Yearbook 1999-2000," "Show Tunes," and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books.