Pipe Dream, Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1955 Musical About Outsiders, Awakens in NYC

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23 Mar 2012

Helen Traubel and Judy Tyler in the 1955 Broadway production
Helen Traubel and Judy Tyler in the 1955 Broadway production
Photo by Rodgers & Hammerstein

John Steinbeck's California coastal community of Cannery Row was described by the novelist as "a poem, a stink, a grating noise." Learn how Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II turned the world into the musical Pipe Dream, currently in rehearsal as an Encores! concert.


It is, Ted Chapin says, the Rodgers and Hammerstein show "nobody knows."

Chapin, president and executive director of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, is talking about Pipe Dream, which is being presented as part of the City Center Encores! concert series March 28-April 1. It was the composing team's seventh musical, coming after major hits — Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I — but also immediately after a relative failure, Me and Juliet. Pipe Dream opened in November 1955, and with 246 performances is the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that had the shortest run on Broadway.

Based on "Sweet Thursday," a 1954 novel by John Steinbeck set in Monterey, CA — as was Steinbeck's previous "Cannery Row" — it tells of a marine biologist who falls in love with a prostitute. Opera star Helen Traubel was hired to play Fauna, the madam of a bordello. A Broadway veteran, William Johnson, who had replaced Alfred Drake in Kismet, portrayed Doc, the biologist; the hooker, Suzy, was Judy Tyler, who had played Princess Summerfall Winterspring on TV's "Howdy Doody Show."

The much starrier Encores! cast features Will Chase (Michael Swift/Joe DiMaggio of TV's "Smash") as Doc; Laura Osnes (Bonnie and Clyde, Anything Goes, South Pacific) as Suzy; Tony Award winner Leslie Uggams (Hallelujah, Baby!) as madam Fauna; and Tom Wopat as Doc's friend Mac. David Ives, an Encores! regular, has adapted Hammerstein's libretto. Marc Bruni, who directed Fanny at Encores!, directs.

From the very beginning, he says, "Encores! has always felt that shows by great musical theatre writers that may not have succeeded originally were always worth taking a look at, were always worth revisiting. It underscores the notion, which some people find hard to take on, that Encores! is not about pre-Broadway possibilities but really about giving an audience in New York that likes musical theatre a sense of what shows from another era were like, hopefully accentuating the positives and minimizing the aspects of the shows that weren't that great."


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