ON THE RECORD: Fade Out—Fade In and Green Songs

News   ON THE RECORD: Fade Out—Fade In and Green Songs
This week's column features the songs of two Greens: the late Adolph (Fade Out—Fade In) and daughter Amanda ("Put a Little Love in Your Mouth").
Carol Burnett in Fade Out
Carol Burnett in Fade Out

FADE OUT—FADE IN [Decca Broadway B0000215-02]
A musical comedy satire about Hollywood from the authors of Bells Are Ringing (and the screenwriters of Singin' in the Rain), directed by Broadway's 75-year-old master George Abbott and starring Abbott's Once Upon a Mattress discovery Carol Burnett. A Girl to Remember sounded like a musical to remember indeed, and was sure to be the biggest hit of the year.

But Fade Out — Fade In — as it was retitled — turned out to be a victim of time. In this case, literally so. When the deal was set at the beginning of 1963, Burnett was on the verge of television stardom. (Judy Holliday, floundering in the misbegotten Hot Spot, was apparently stunned and distraught when her Bells Are Ringing pals bypassed her for the new funny girl on the block.) The show was announced for November 1963, and the theatre party agents started lining up dates.

But newlywed Carol got pregnant. Fade Out — Fade In was postponed in June. (As it turned out, the President was assassinated on Nov. 22, the the day before the original opening date.) Carrie Hamilton was born in January; rehearsals began in March 1964, and Fade Out — Fade In opened at the Hellinger on May 26, 1964.

The delay was a mere six months, by the calendar; but these were a fatal six months for the project. Opening in November, Fade Out would have been the biggest hit in more than two years, since the Frank Loesser-Abe Burrows smash How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Fade Out would have handily knocked out that fall's competition, the big-budget failures Here's Love and Mary Martin as Jennie. And Carol would assuredly have been the funny girl of the day.

But January saw the arrival of another Carol, in Hello, Dolly!; March brought Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice; and April brought Tammy Grimes and the incomparable Bea Lillie in High Spirits. By the time Burnett finally arrived, she was no more than third or fourth banana. And while Fade Out did strong business, initially — breaking the My Fair Lady house record at the Hellinger — Dolly! and Funny Girl were the hot tickets in town. The postponement caused Fade Out to lose a million dollars or so worth of advance sales for the winter and spring seasons, bookings they were never able to replace. More fatal to the fate of Fade Out, as it transpired, was the ascendance of Burnett's star. Carol was already a TV personality when Once Upon a Mattress launched her on the scene; by the time she signed for Fade Out, she was on the verge of stardom. Guest spots continued through the postponement, making Burnett more than ready for primetime — and less in need of a boost from the Broadway spotlight. By September 1964, in fact, she was starring in her first TV show, "The Entertainers."

Wait a minute, you might say; how could she open a Broadway musical in late May and launch a TV series in early September? Good question.

The matter was much disputed at the time, and I can't tell you who was right and who was wrong. Within a few weeks of the Fade Out opening, Burnett missed a few performances with an abdominal ailment. She was given a week off in July for minor surgery. (The producers brought in Betty Hutton to play the role, and not very well.)

And then came Burnett's pain in the neck. A taxicab she was riding in stopped short, aggravating a five-year-old neck injury. Burnett began missing performances; when her condition was questioned, she began spending her days in traction. The producers altered the staging to accommodate their star, but they were decidedly not happy when she found the energy to film her new TV series. ("The Entertainers" was produced by Burnett's husband Joe Hamilton, and was presumably in the works before Fade Out — Fade In opened on Broadway.) In October, three weeks after "The Entertainers" first aired, Burnett announced that her doctors demanded that she must "cease all professional activity," and booked herself into the hospital (with news photogs flashing).

The producers plunged on with an understudy, waiting for Carol's return. (Statement from the star: "I have no idea when, if ever, I can return to the type of physical activity I was doing before I went in the hospital — simply because the doctors themselves do not know.") With the grosses plummeting, the producers finally threw in the towel after four weeks and closed the show on November 14. But not without instituting legal action: "We say that she can't work in any other medium until she fulfills her contract with us."

Burnett responded, accusing the producers of "attempting to destroy me as a performer and for attacking my personal and professional integrity." Actors' Equity got into the matter, ruling that Burnett must work out the remaining time on her contract. The show — still stored in the Hellinger — resumed on February 15, 1965, but it was now a hard sell. "I will do my utmost to perform," promised the star; not a reassuring message to ticket buyers who had already been stuck once.

By the time the show reopened, Dolly! and Funny Girl had been joined by Fiddler and Sammy Davis's Golden Boy. Fade Out — Fade In never recovered its initial box-office momentum, and closed in April after 271 performances (combined) at a loss of half a million. ("The Entertainers," alas, was canceled in March. Burnett ultimately managed to do O.K. in TV, though.)

Fade Out — Fade In has long been high on the list of shows we wanted on CD. And now we finally have it. To those readers who wonder why record companies don't give us the shows we want, be advised: It ain't always so simple — especially when the album was recorded by a long-defunct, small label. The original contracts between ABC-Paramount Records and the rights holders were inconclusive on the subject of new technologies (like the compact disc). Sure, the authors were glad to have the album reissued. But you know how it is; nothing can be done without the lawyers. . . . It took years, literally, to get things signed and sealed, which is why this oft announced release was postponed again and again.

The score, which followed Comden, Green & Styne's Do-Re-Mi and Subways Are for Sleeping (and Styne's Funny Girl) is plenty of fun; I mean, Betty & Adolph & Jule through the clarion voice of Carol Burnett? Things grow a little spotty after a while — the libretto was sketchy and disintegrated into near nothingness — and the final four tracks of the sixteen-track disc are weak.

But don't let that stop you. Fade Out — Fade In starts out with the best Overture since Funny Girl — which is to say, in eight weeks. Yes, this is the same Ralph Burns, after all. But the overture and the rest of the charts are only partially successful; there are three credited orchestrators on this show. The overture — after some delightfully daffy saxes and xylophones — lets down when they hit the ballad "I'm with You"; I'd make an educated guess that this was by Ray Ellis. The best sections of the score, though — "It's Good to Be Back Home," "Fear," "Call Me Savage," "Go Home Train," "You Mustn't Be Discouraged" — sound absolutely delicious, in the best Ralph Burns style.

I'm especially enamored of the last three, all of which have wildly tuneful Styne melodies. "Call Me Savage" is a duet between Carol and Dick Patterson (as her milquetoast romantic interest); it's kind of like "People Will Say We're in Love" in reverse, and very funny. This song, incidentally, was recycled for Hallelujah, Baby!, as "Witches' Brew" ("Double, double, toil and trouble"). "Go Home Train" is one of those mock-bluesy "this-town-ain't gonna-lick-me" ballads, and it represents Burnett at her musical comedy best. Yes, she gets the comedy out of it, but this girl can sing. "You Mustn't Be Discouraged" presents Carol and featured player Tiger Haynes as Shirley Temple and Bill Robinson, pounding the pavement hawking dance lessons in sandwich boards. (Second act song slot borrowed from Betty and Adolph's Wonderful Town, methinks.) Ah, what a musical comedy star Burnett would have made! But the Fade Out experience — and her subsequent TV superstardom — kept Carol away from Broadway until the nineties.

Jule's main music man Milton Rosentock was not present; he was perched across the street at the Winter Garden with Styne's more important Funny Girl. Colin Romoff conducted Fade Out — Fade In, with Buster Davis on the vocals (which incorporate a bit of "Stout-Hearted Men" in "Fear"). There is some first rate piano playing, in "Call Me Savage" — both the song and overture versions — and "I'm with You." That's John Berkman, who is also especially impressive on the cast albums of Anya and Cabaret. He later served as dance arranger for Bennett's Follies, Champion's Sugar and Fosse's Pippin.

Burnett is supported by Jack Cassidy, who shines in his big solo "My Fortune Is My Face" (with all those teeth). Cassidy had just picked up a 1964 Tony for She Loves Me, which opened in April 1963. He did not return to Fade Out after the winter hiatus — Dick Shawn came in as replacement — but Cassidy nevertheless earned his second consecutive Tony nomination. This was the show's only nod; given the well-publicized circumstances, Burnett was expressly excluded. Listeners will perhaps be surprised by the presence of Tina Louise as the plot's sexpot. (Movie mogul picks out usherette to star in his new film; bumbling studio heads — that is, his nephews — hire wrong usherette, Carol instead of Tina. I get these two mixed up, too.) Louise, who had been L'il Abner's Appassionata Von Climax, left the show during Burnett's sick leave; she wound up stranded on "Gilligan's Island."

So here, finally, is Fade Out — Fade In. Despite its lapses in material, it's a musical to remember — and enjoy, and listen to. Now if we can only get Decca Broadway to bring us Donnybrook.

There is a photograph of a somewhat wary Adolph Green on the beach, balancing a four-year-old on his shoulders, in the liner notes of "Put a Little Love in Your Mouth." The photo accompanies a song called "Daddy's Shoulders."

"Put a Little Love in Your Mouth" is a compilation revue consisting of songs from various projects with lyrics — and in some cases, music — by Amanda Green. (The title song is about dentistry, although the author admits that it could be misconstrued.) Recorded live during two performances at Second Stage and Joe's Pub, the CD has been issued by an outfit called Hook Records. Daddy Adolph, ten years before Fade Out — Fade In, joined with Betty and Jule to write a boisterous song called "Captain Hook's Waltz" — with which I supposed he serenaded his kids. "Who's the creepiest creep in the world," it goes. . .

Ms. Green sings many of the tracks, with a little help from her friends. Green's friends are a talented bunch: Jessica Molaskey, Billy Stritch, Mary Testa, Brooks Ashmanskas, Mario Cantone, Jonathan Dokuchitz, Kim Lindsay, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Quite a lineup of contemporary musical theatre talent, accompanied by the Tom Kitt Band.

But there is more here than that. Green — or, I suppose I should say Amanda — is a good lyricist. She takes after her father, certainly, in that she is literate and witty and brings a sense of the unexpected. In some ways, though, her writing seems closer to that of Dorothy Fields. Green's female characters — and many of them are female — think and express themselves like women, which is not always the case around Broadway. And she can sing, too.

An interesting writer, this Amanda, and an interesting CD. From the evidence of "Put a Little Love in Your Mouth," Broadway might have another Green in the wings.

—Steven Suskin, author of the new "Broadway Yearbook 2001-2002," "Show Tunes," and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached by e mail at Ssuskin@aol.com

Today’s Most Popular News: