Book by David Thompson, George Abbott & Robert Russell
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
adapted from the novel Love Is Just Around The Corner, by Lester Atwell

INFO:

Opened at the Alvin Theatre    May 11, 1965    87 performances
Original Director: George Abbott
Original Choreographer: Lee Theodore
Original Producer: Harold Prince
Original Leads: Liza Minelli
Cast Size: Male: 5    Female: 4    Ensemble: 0    Total Cast Size: 9
Orchestra: Piano only is available. (The recoding of the revival has at least a banjo, and a clarinet played by one of the characters, with the piano.)
Published Script: Samuel French
Production Rights: Samuel French
Recordings: The original was Liza Minelli’s first Broadway musical. There was a rewritten ’89 revival. I like the ’89 album, it’s far more complete and well-performed, generally.
Film: None.
Other shows by the authors: Kander & Ebb: Cabaret, Chicago, Zorba, The Rink, The Act, Woman Of The Year, Kiss Of The Spider Woman
Awards: Liza won a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical.

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

An “unknown” show by Kander & Ebb, it could easily be done by adventurous High Schools, Little Theaters, Dinner Theaters, an easy fit for busy stock and other companies who want to squeeze in a Musical quickly (this one will do that), and perhaps Off-Broadway, with the right production.

Be Warned:

The show is all about politics, and Communism in particular. At time, it makes a strong statement about equal rights and caring for the poor. If your audience won’t tolerate the subject, don’t do the show.

If you haven’t a strong leading lady, don’t do the show, find another one.

 

THE STORY: (For the rewritten version with a book by David Thompson, in 1989.)
ACT ONE: It is 1935. Willy, a boyish man, steps on stage, and introduces us to a play being presented by the WPA, with nine actors playing all 35 roles. The music starts. Enter the cast, dressed in winter clothing at the height of the Depression. The entire cast excluding Flora enter playing poor people on the street, trying to sell pencils and apples, and looking for work. Willy introduces the class valedictorian, Flora. (“Graduation Song/Unafraid”) She gets everyone singing that they will fear nothing.

The cast transitions out of their graduation robes. Garret and Mellick’s, a department store. Flora carrying art work she’s done, applies for work, with other artists. Flora greets her fellow unemployed fashion illustrators. One of the others is Harry, a shy, intense, oddly handsome man. Flora introduces herself to Harry as a runner for the store enters with merchandise for the owner. The secretary berates the young man for not entering the back way. And suddenly Harry, in his shy and stammering way, is protesting that the girl is a human being with rights. Flora is impressed. Flora fills in the job application (“Last Name”, or “Street Song I”) Flora knows waiting in a waiting room is death. She tells all the artists to get their samples out. The secretary informs them Mr. Stanley isn’t hiring today, even as Flora strategically compliments her dress. That doesn’t work, so she does a sell job about herself. (“The Kid Herself”) This surprises Harry, though all the artists get into the swing of it. The secretary, unimpressed, insists they all leave.

Flora insists Harry join her for coffee before disappearing. On the street, Harry buys an apple as Flora tells him she’s been to three offices today. He is so shy, he barely talks – except about her standing up for her rights. She gets carried away with what he’s saying, which scares him (he’s very timid), and he starts away. She invites him to her “studio”, a ballroom she rents out to other artists, and comes out even each month. He understands, it’s as he puts it, “the collective cause.” She explains that one of the artist’s living with her will make it someday, and she describes Kenny and Maggie.

The studio. Maggie and Kenny pick up the narrative. Maggie, who ran a dance studio in Oklahoma until one day “the place just blew away.” (Oklahoma was a part of the “great dust bowl” during the Depression.) She came to New York, and there she met Flora, asking every woman she could if they’d go on a blind date with Kenny. Maggie said yes. It was a dance marathon. Kenny informs Harry that he and Maggie danced for 13 days. They discovered each other while dancing. Now, they long for a dance audition. (“All I Need Is One Good Break”) Willy also introduces himself, a clarinet player and composer. He’s not making money, but he gets girls. Elsa introduces herself. She designs dresses, and Flora thinks she should start showing her designs around town. Mr. Weiss introduces himself. He had a jewelry shop that no one needed during a Depression. So he fixes watches, and like the others, rents space in Flora’s studio. They all need a break. (Lovely number, warmer than many Kander & Ebb pieces in more successful shows.)

Flora introduces Harry as a fashion designer, and he finally gets in a word to tell her he’s not. He paints houses and subways. Everyone wants to know if Harry’s moving in. Flora intervenes and subtly lets them know they should all get lost. But Harry doesn’t want to show her his work, and he has an appointment. She opens his portfolio, and thinks his work is beautiful. She invites him to move in, though he has no money. He can pay when he can pay. It’s a deal. They are almost instantly in love. (“It’s Not Every Day Of The Week”)

In the park, Elsa, Willy and Maggie look for work. Harry sits on a park bench, waiting for Flora. Behind him is an ad for Lincoln Continentals, elegant people in the ad. It’s cold. Flora joins him with a surprise lunch. As they eat, he rails against the Capitalist system. And he’s brought her an application to join the Communist Party. (“Sign Here”) He talks her into signing.

The studio. Elsa works on a dress. Flora enters, stunned, and announces she’s now a Communist. She then tells Mr. Weiss. It worries him. Then willy tells Flora that Stanley, the boss at Garret and Mellicks, called twice. She had an appointment an hour ago. Flora grabs the dress Elsa is working on, though it’s not done. She’s convinced she’s got a job. She’s in a hurry, but discovers she can’t bend or sit in the unfinished dress. She has to get to the store, meet Stanley…and rush to a meeting of the Communist Party. They’re stunned that she’s a Communist, as she hurries away.

Mr. Stanley’s office. Stanley offers her a job. She’s so surprised, her dress rips. She’s to do an elegant campaign for them, using a dress brought in by the secretary. Stanley instructs her as to how to work for this company, its rules. (“Mr. Stanley’s Verse”) Her salary is going to great, at $30 a week. She’s made it! And it’s not a loud explosion, it’s “A Quiet Thing”. (Gorgeous song!)

A Communist Party Meeting. A banner reads “Communism Is Twentieth Century Americanism.” The chairman of the “cell”, Galka, calls the meeting to order. Various members make reports as to their progress. The “star” of the cell, Comrade Charlotte, makes an impressive and somewhat mad report of the disruptions she created this week. (“The Flame”) The meeting spins into gleeful uncontrol, almost a kazatzka. Flora rushes in with her bag and merchandise from the store. Harry greets her, wondering where she’s been, why she’s late. She announces she got a job at Garret and Mellick’s, and all congratulate her…with a motive. Harry and Galka explain to her the store should be unionized. Charlotte motivates them (tires them into submission, really) to hold a rally in front of garret and Mellick’s. Flora begs them to let her work from the inside, but Charlotte is unstoppable, and integrates every member into the plan. They agree to let Flora work from within to unionize, and to hold their rally at an upcoming date.

Harry is thrilled with Flora. He admires the dress from the store, which she’s now wearing. But they are confronted by that spirit of Communist inflexibility, Charlotte. She’s top work with stuttering Harry on a speech he will give the day of the rally, but he begs off. He, too, got a job today, painting a mural, and plans to spend time with Flora. Charlotte makes a slight play for Harry, and departs. Flora gives Harry a gift- a small bag of marbles he can use to practice speaking clearly. Then, to their celebration, she wants to go dancing, and he doesn’t dance. She shows him how, quickly. But then she remembers she has to return Elsa’s dress…and her shoes, which she borrowed as well. Harry tries the marbles and almost chokes.

The studio. Kenny and Maggie rehearse their dances. They discuss Flora, and how whether or not she’s a member of the Communist party, she’ll still do what she wants. Maggie suggests that where love is at work, people change and do unexpected things – look at what happened to Kenny and Maggie. Flora enters in a gorgeous full length fur. She supposed to draw it. But while she was at work, she met with the talent booker at the Rainbow Room, and secured Kenny and Maggie an audition. They are thrilled and rush out to practice. Enter Harry to take her to pass out pamphlets. She needs to work. He pushes the party (and his own) agenda, discussing free love. She insists on staying home and working, so he changes tactics and suggests she teach him to foxtrot. She does, and he’s thrilled. They share a romantic moment.

An elevator at Garret and Mellick’s. (A square of light) The elevator operator sits on a crate, and another man is in the elevator reads a newspaper. Flora asks to be taken to floor 12, the administrative offices. The operator and she speak, and she brings up the idea of unionization. The Operator suggests she not disuses such things, people will think she’s a red. Then, Stanley lowers his newspaper, announces she’s 3 hours late and asks to see her artwork immediately. He likes her work, but finds it incomplete, and demands more detail – which is not her style. He expects her to adjust and gives her one more chance, til 9 A.M. Wednesday.

It’s February. At the studio, Elsa is posing for Flora, and she wears the gown from Garret and Mellick’s. They hurry so Elsa will have time to fit Maggie into her audition dress. Flora tells Elsa she and Harry are planning to use Valentine’s Day to take a buggy ride through Central Park. He doesn’t know that, yet. She’s stolen candy from Mr. Stanley meant for his secretary with a sickening love note in it, and the man is engaged to marry the boss’s daughter. Charlotte makes an appearance with Harry, both wearing matching red scarves which Charlotte knitted to keep Harry’s throat warm at rallies. Harry shares his sketches with Charlotte, and she’s all over them and him. Elsa drags Flora from the room before she murders Charlotte. Charlotte wants to know when Harry plans to work his speech, and offers to help him that evening. Charlotte heads out, and Flora expects Harry to stay for Valentine’s Day, but he leaves to do the Communist Party’s bidding.

Flora is furious. She hates Charlotte. She doesn’t want to talk about “rights,” she wants love on Valentine’s Day. (“Dear Love”) She decides to go to his apartment for Valentine’s Day. She expects to make love with him. On the street on her way she passes Mr. Stanley, and hides the candy she stole from him for Harry.

ACT TWO: Kenny and Maggie present the tap routine they plan to audition with, for Elsa and Mr. Weiss. (“Keepin’ It Hot”)

Harry’s apartment later that night. Harry’s on his bed speaking loudly, pretending to speak to a crowd. His room is almost empty, one light bulb. Charlotte knocks on his door (a free-standing unit). She rushes in in fear for his life, but he’s just practicing with the marbles. He assumes she’s there to work the speech, but instead she asks if he knows how to play “Soldier and Spy.” She’s the spy with a secret, he must guess the secret as she pulls him onto the bed. Her secret -she’s being recruited to be the Party Secretary. And she’s recommending Harry to take her place in the local cell. She strips to her camisole and demands to know his secrets. (“Express Yourself”) He crawls under the bed, she finds him and resumes the attack. But there’s a knock at the door, and it’s Flora. Charlotte begs him to send Flora away. They struggle to her enjoyment, until he inadvertently slugs her in the face and she passes out. Harry frantically straightens the room and hides Charlotte, opening the door.

She waits to be welcomed in, handing him the stolen chocolates. He instead slams the door shut. She screams at him, and he lets her in. She points out there’s no where to sit but his bed…and he offers to meet her at the automat in a few minutes (where they first met). No way, she offers him his Valentine’s Day gift – her. Charlotte moans under the bed, Harry attributes it to the neighbors. As Flora goes on and on about being ready, Charlotte grabs Harry’s thigh, and he hurriedly hides her hand. Charlotte grabs Flora’s knee, and she thinks to her delight that it’s Harry’s hand. She finally looks and then freezes. Both Harry and Flora scream and leave the bed as Charlotte crawls out from under it. Harry claims they were practicing his speech. Charlotte staggers out. Flora is furious again and departs, leaving Harry to wonder “Where Did Everybody Go?”

The studio. Kenny, Maggie, Willy, Elsa and Mr. Weiss are all posed in “revolutionary” poses. Weiss hates this. Harry sketches frantically as everyone tires. Flora enters, and is chilly, and she and Maggie talk. Weiss ends the revolution. Harry tries to talk to Flora about last night, and apologizes. She’s touched but unwilling to yield. She’s about to, though…when Charlotte enters. She has written his speech for him, which disappoints him. Flora leaves to collect names at the store “from the inside,” to make pointless their display outside. Charlotte questions Flora’s commitment, and Harry tells her that as soon as Charlotte turns in the all-important art assignment Monday at 9 a.m., she’ll be side by side with them in the trenches (so to speak). Charlotte has her own idea.

Women strike at the store, the next day. At the Studio, Flora announces she’s collected 33 names. Weiss and she speak. He looks at the art she’s doctored to fit the stores needs, and is surprised the work has become so pedestrian. They talk, and Weiss admits that once, he was a Communist. He also wanted to change the world for the better, but found the party too unyielding. Willy enters excited, with Kenny’s tux for the audition. Unthinking, Flora takes it and hands willy the envelope with her artwork in it. Without thought, Willy places the envelope in the box the tux came out of. Kenny and Maggie change clothes, while Willy announces he’s seen the picket-line at the store, and cops. And suddenly Flora realizes she can’t turn in her work – she’d have to cross the picket line. She gives the work to Willy to cross the line and deliver to Stanley’s office. Willy’s on his way. Weiss and Elsa are surprised that Flora would adhere to the Party’s drivel instead of her own conscience. (“You Are You”)

She starts to come to her senses. Kenny and Maggie, dressed to the nines are ready to go, when Kenny gives Flora the envelope he found in the box. She thinks it’s the list of names (which she gave to Kenny by accident), but it is her artwork. She rushes to the store and Kenny and Maggie head off to audition.

The rally. Harry nervously stands on a soap box and reads the speech Charlotte has written for him. Passersby complain and demand he go away. They laugh at him, and he finally tosses aside the speech and speaks for the poor and hungry in his own words. (“The Joke”) At first no one utensils, but then others take up the cry for justice and equality in the midst of the Depression. The people shake his hands, congratulate him. Several join the picket line.

Flora rushes in, and Harry wants to share his victory and have Flora join him marching the line, to see what scabs cross it. But Flora is there for her own reasons, and explains she must save the jobs of the people on the list that is accidentally being handed in. Harry tells her if Flora crosses the line, she’ll be showing disloyalty to the party, and to him. She demands to know who gave him the right to question her principles. He is rigid, and she lets him know the party stinks if it makes him so weak. She crosses the line.

Stanley’s Office. He’s at his desk as Flora rushes in. He thanks her for the names, so they know exactly who to fire. He insists that all they need was given to them in their paychecks, and the rest is “social work.” She’s had it,. And asks if that’s why Stanley has a “social secretary,” quoting the Valentine she stole. Flora threatens to let Stanley’s fiance in on his dirty secret if instead of firing the 33 people on the list, he meets with them and hears their demands. She starts to call, and Stanley decides not to fire the people on the list – except Flora. That’s the deal. She accepts it. Outside the strikers cry “Wages Up, Hours Down.” But Flora has lost everything she cared about. She reprises “A Quiet Thing” as we see Kenny and Maggie at their audition, full of hope.

The studio. Kenny and Maggie describe the audition, ending with their being hired. Flora enters to their joy. Alone with him,. She admits to Weiss she crossed the line and is probably done with the party, and that she lost her job. And Harry -well, she’ll see now if he really cares for her. There’s always hope. And Harry enters. He asks Flora if the jobs were saved, and she tells him yes. He admits she must be herself, she can’t help herself, and she will never work out with the party. He admits she has changed his life in every way for the better. But he’s determined to change the world his own way. He’s leaving her and the studio. He departs, leaving her alone. (“Sing Happy”) Willy asks if she’s going to join the celebration, a cup of coffee. He knows that her friends need to take care of her for a bit, now.

THE SONGS:

“Prologue”, “Opening”, “Graduation Song/Unafraid”, “Street Song I”, “The Kid Herself”, “One Good Break”, “Not Every Day Of The Week”, “Street Song II”, “Sign Here”, “Street Song III”, “Mr. Stanley’s Verse”, “A Quiet Thing”, “The Flame”, “Street Song IV”, “Dear Love”, “Keepin’ It Hot”, “Street Song V”, “Express Yourself”, “Where Did Everybody Go?”, “Street Song VI”, “You Are You”, “The Joke”, “Wages Up, Hours Down”, “Sing Happy”

Hits include “A Quiet Thing”

MY OPINIONS:

As always feel free to ignore or skip my opinions and rating. Just don’t be surprised that the red menace that then haunts you is red ink in a ledger.

This is an interesting show, with interesting strengths and weaknesses. When iot first opened, it was Kander and Ebb’s first collaboration, and their first show for a new star, Liza Minelli. They would write many more shows for her, much of their best career work dedicated to and inspired by Liza (and vice versa).

This show failed on Broadway for numerous reasons. By ’65, the subject matter this discusses had grown passe. It had been covered in many Musicals. This show’s music and idea reminds me a lot of a better and earlier show, The Cradle Will Rock, by Marc Blitzstein, and more than a little like earlier Kurt Weill. It even reminds me of The Pajama Game, with all the hoo-haw about unionizing. And the Commy thing was done more cleverly and romantically in Porter’s Silk Stockings. That said, the score is much stronger than many other more successful shows of the period, such as Sweet Charity, and The Apple Tree. The story is cute, if sloppy in construction. (This is true of the ’89 rewrite, it’s all that’s available, now.) The character’s actions do not always make tons of sense, and the show would be better if they did.

It is clear that Kander & Ebb wanted to write Musicals that were about important things, and so they did. This was a good first attempt, and it shows all the promise, if you look carefully, of what was to follow in their stellar careers. But the show did not work in ’65, and ended the long-term relationship between Producer Prince and master Musical Comedy Director/Writer George Abbott. Prince would elect to direct his own shows from hence forth, a great blessing in its own right to the theater. But no harm, no foul, as Kander, Ebb and Liza went on to theatrical glory.

This show is probably not the great undiscovered K&E masterpiece, it has too many niggling problems. The score is not all strong. I think “Dear Love” is a weak act ending, as a case in point, an I’m not convinced that ending the act with the dialogue preceding it wouldn’t be stronger. “Express Yourself,” which hasn’t much to do with the character, seems weak to me as well, and the scene around it does the job of establishing Charlotte and Harry better than the song. The character of Charlotte is a bit of a red haring anyway, and leads nowhere, unless we assume that Harry goes back to her as well as the party at the end, which may be so, and perhaps would be best shown in some way as Flora sings her last song, about happy songs. Harry’s happy ending would then be acceptance into the cabal he’s elected to be a part of, and the woman who has wanted to share free love with him from the start.

Another weakness is, of course, the unhappy ending. Flora has lost her job, her man, and her sense of esteem. That doesn’t work. She has friends who will now take care of her, as she has taken care of them. Well, we all need help sometimes, which is a big message in this show. But ending Flora off as weakened, a victim of sorts, is not a very satisfying ending, despite the fact that she has loyal friends. She is then, ultimately, not as strong a woman as we thought she was, and as we were led to believe she was. I think the actress, in her last scene, must rally, and not just accept the inevitable defeat. We should sense her putting the pieces back together.

Regardless of the fix, this is likely to remain a just-okay musical, with a score that is often really fun and clever, and sometimes memorable. It is, however, theater history of a sort, and would be easy to market as the first Musical by the men who wrote Cabaret and Chicago. The lead role is a sweet one. Nothing in the score is very hard to sing, really. There’s no set to speak of, and almost no technical difficulty in mounting a production of this show. There’s little dance. The “sex” in the show is a joke, nothing ever happens, so a High School could give the show a go. It’s got a cast of nine and a piano for an orchestra. (One cast member plays banjo, another clarinet, but it’s not much.) And it’s Kander & Ebb. It deserves productions.

A thought – if you could replace her last sad song with a Kander & Ebb classic not attached to a Musical, such as “My Coloring Book”, their first hit song, and end the show with an emotional bang, that would be very helpful to the show! It would also provide this show two hit songs to hang its hat on, with “A Quiet Thing”, while building up the lead role.

MY RATING: * (A better-than-average and interesting show, right for many groups.)

 

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

The accompaniment available is a single piano, and I do believe that the score flattens out and starts to sound like a lot of the same thing with only a piano. The score isn’t versatile enough to survive that uniform an orchestration. It would improve with drums and bass, at the least. I think it could use a second keyboard for strings and such. A band of 4 isn’t much, and when you add the onstage banjo (and maybe the same actor could play a little guitar?), and clarinet (which could receive moire use, as well), the score would open up and show more colors.

This much reliance on a pianist requires a Musical Director who plays very well, and who can really play with heart, and with changing emotional values. The pianist must accompany as much as play, give and take with the actors. Tempos and feels must be varied as much as possible so the score doesn’t flatten out. A big job.

Flora Maszaros – Mezzo with a nice belt, very expressive emotional voice, pure and sweet quality.

Harry Toukarian – Baritone, a clean, easy voice (with a stutter).

Charlotte – Mezzo with a belt.

Willy – Tenor with good solid mid-register.

Mr. Weiss – Some singing, lyric baritone.

Elsa – Mezzo.

Kenny – Lyric baritone/low tenor, decent belt.

Maggie – Soprano, sweet voice, nice mid-range, nice high notes.

Mr. Stanley – Baritone.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

This is not a “dance” show, unlike many other Kander and Ebb spectacles. Generally, your Director should be able to stage almost everything. The exception will be Kenny and Maggie’s dance pieces, an perhaps a few group numbers which may support a little movement, though not “dance” as such.

A Choreographer may be involved in staging “The Kid Herself”, “One Good Break”, “The Flame”, “Keepin’ It Hot”,“Express Yourself” (if it’s not cut, which it should be), “You Are You”, and “The Joke”.

“The Kid Herself” introduces us to the title character. Her friends who know and love her support her in her assertions. It is positive, aggressive, and needs to be uplifting. She can’t come off like an egomaniac, but rather as a supreme optimist who knows her mind. The group should be shown as exactly that, united, a group, supportive of each other. The rest of the show exploits this fact, but this number establishes it. Keep Flora as the focus of the number, it’s her number and it’s about her.

“One Good Break” is a number the audience should identify with, or at least many of them will. An appeal that breaks the fourth wall (as the narrator, willy, frequently does), is acceptable, but could be a bit odd, as if the actors in the show were asking for a break, and we’re suddenly doing A Chorus Line. I think I’d avoid that approach. These characters are singing to a deaf, blind world, to the fates that seem to have abandoned them. It could be addressed to a newspaper, to the Gods, to God. The number also introduces the individuals in Flora’s “artist collective” as individuals. Their individuality should be emphasized here, in the way they talk, sing, move, you name it. Very important for the show.

“The Flame” is a bit of a satire of Communist cells and their overly-serious, overly-driven attitudes. It should be funny if done right, in the Ninotchka-vein of Communists who can’t see past their own nose. However, if it all gets too rabid, it will be repulsive, and it is not intended to be. Funny is good, obnoxious is a step too far. They mean what they say, it’s not just a show – it’s just that what they mean and say and do is too much, it’s over the top for rational people.

“Keepin’ It Hot” is a straight show-biz dance duet, of a sort Kander and Ebb would later specialize in. Keep it fun, keep it moving, it’s one of the few moments in the show that will support any real choreography. Cast dancers in the roles of Kenny and Maggie! Tappers, if possible, who are comfortable with ballroom. It’s the mid-30s, so pattern your choreography for this number perhaps after Fred and Ginger.

“Express Yourself” should be cut. It has nothing to do with the Communism that drives Charlotte, and reveals her as a total fraud, interested only in self-gratification, but the lyrics don’t sound like this character! Neither does the music, particularly. If you do the number, focus on her self-involvement without making it too much of a cartoon, if possible. And Kenny does believe he loves Flora at this moment, so he can’t just give up the sexual ghost to Charlotte, he must really resist, to the point where she is injured accidentally. A less-than brilliant moment in the show that, um, should really be cut.

“You Are You” is the turning point in the story, where Flora’s true friends insist she do what’s right for her. It is a cute number, the construction is fun and a bit edgy. In a way, it is an echo of the last dance number, “The Joke”, in that the “troops” are being rallied, in this case, Flora’s inner strength to do the right thing, regardless of the cost. (The trouble at the end of the show is that she does the right thing and gets destroyed for it.) She has reached a point of moral bankruptcy, and that is where her friends try to build her up. Do her friends really do her a favor, here? Sure, they save her soul – but what price glory? This is a problem with the show which you can’t do much about through this number. Keep the number positive, supportive. Don’t need much movement, here, it will get in the way of the complex structure and lyrics.

“The Joke” is Harry’s moment in the sun, as he gains confidence from what he’s learned from Flora. It is somewhat amazing, after this number, that he leaves her, and at the same time does make sense. It makes the ending interesting, if a downer. Anyway, Harry rallies the crowd in the same way Flora was rallied by her friends, and on the same basis – conscience. The play’s moral heart is found in these two numbers. And “The Joke” makes the point of the show regarding the upside of caring for others, the part that Communism pushed at that time to try to take power, and which actual Communist governments, once in power, never gave a damn about. That does not detract from the moral message of the number, which Harry does believe in, and which was powerful in a Depression-era environment. Make this work by emphasizing the poverty, the desperation around Harry, that’s what hooks people.

A Choreographer comfortable with tap can do what needs to be done – but there’s not much dance, here.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Note – There’s no ensemble for this show. There’s no where to hide a weak performer. They must all be reasonably strong. All but Charlotte and Stanley should also be likeable.

Flora Maszaros – In her early 20s or so. A fashion illustrator. She is full of hope, optimism, and is a world-beater. Willing to face anything, not brassy, just loveable and sure. Cast for voice, acting, type, a little movement.

Harry Toukarian – A few years older than Flora. Shy, intense, handsome artist with a stammer, especially when nervous. A romanticist at heart with a dream he gradually realizes means everything to him. Cast for acting, voice, type, some movement.

Charlotte – In her 30s, a sexy, relentless zealot. A woman accustomed to getting her own way, regardless of the cost to others. Cast for type, acting, voice, some movement.

Willy – Boyish, spirited. A songwriter who plays clarinet. The narrator for the evening, direct, sweet-natured. Cast for acting, voice, type, some movement, clarinet.

Mr. Weiss – A man in his 40s-50s. Of German-Jewish descent, he lost his jewelry store to the Depression. Kind, smart, wise, generous. Cast for type, acting, voice, some movement.

Elsa – In her mid-late 20s. Practical, pragmatic. She plans to be a fashion designer, but lacks the courage to show them around town. She should be fairly gifted. Cast for acting, type, voice, some movement.

Kenny – A Ray Bolger-type, a real dancer Funny, charming, determined. Cast for dance (tap, ballroom), voice, acting, type.

Maggie – A bit naïve, straight-forward. Willing to move mountains for Kenny. Must dance well. Cast for dance (tap, ballroom), voice, acting, type.

Mr. Stanley – In his 40s-50s, perfectly dressed and coiffed, an exec, innately dishonest and somewhat vile. Cast for type, acting, voice, movement.

SETS:

Good news – no real set. You could have a backdrop filled with headlines from the Great Depession, with the terrifying numbers and poverty of that time, and use some famous photos of the period as well. This is the social background against which the piece is played. But I’d keep it simple. There are no sets, we are in formed by willy right at the start. There’s no money for sets, or an orchestra, or fancy costumes. The studio is an open space. Use cardboard cut-outs of street lamps and such for the streets, inexpensive, two-dimensional, of the period. The park can be a bench carried on and off. Mr. Stanley’s office, a desk in the studio, used for these scenes. All of it is overtly theater, overtly theatrical, in the Brechtian school of theater. (read Brecht’s Little Organum to get more ideas!) This is a “show”, and we should always be aware of it.

Communist banners for the meeting can be dropped from the rafters, or free-standing. Set changes are made in full view of the audience, another of Brecht’s innovations meant to remind the audience that this is a live play. Pieces on stage should double and triple for different locations, just as the actors will double and triple in “ensemble” roles. There’s no money – it’s the Depression. Get creative about all this. It will be fun. Work closely with your Director.

A set that can be designed and executed by a novice!

COSTUMES:

Inexpensive, clothes from the period. Do a little research, you’ll get it. Closets and thrift stores will yield some of the costuming. You may need to rent some dresses, the big fur, a few other pieces. Not overall that difficult a job, but keep everything in period. Not too tough a job.

Get the shoes right!

PROPS:

Envelopes, works of art, a phone (period), some apples, a carpet bag and portfolio cases, not much.

LIGHTING:

Should be well done, rich in emotion, and capable of directing the audience’s attention. In line with Brecht, you may want to lower your light grid and show the instruments throughout the evening, another reminder that this is live theater. (I do like this idea today, when audiences think everything is TV…) Someone with some experience should do this job.

MAKE-UP:

In period, keep it simple! DO get the hair right. Not too tough an assignment.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Musical Director, Lighting Director, Flora, Harry.

MY THOUGHTS:
A rather easy show, comparatively, to pull off. It’s ease of production along with its lineage, and some lovely numbers and moments, should recommend it to numerous production companies and schools. If this cast looks about right for what you have to work with (and High Schools can pull this show off), give it a look. It’s not a perfect show by a long shot, but it is entertaining, tuneful, fun.