Book, Music & Lyrics by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse
Based on a Marcel Marceau pantomime

INFO:

Opened at Queen’s Theater (West End)   July 20, 1961   485 performances
Schubert Theater (Broadway)   October 3, 1962   555 performances
Original Director: Anthony Newley
Original Choreographer: John Broome, Virginia Mason
Original Producer: David Merrick (Broadway)
Original Leads: Littlechap: Anthony Newley    Evie, Anya, Ilsa, Ginny: Anna Quayle
Cast Size: Male: 1, 1 boy (no lines)    Female: 1    Ensemble: 4-15    Total Cast Size: 7-18
Orchestra: 13, but it will work with piano/bass/drums
Published Script: None available
Production Rights: Tams Witmark
Recordings: The original Decca Broadway recording with Newley as Littlechap is the best. The Sammy Davis Jr. version is also excellent, 1978.
Film: 1966, interesting and instructive, with Tony Tanner, too stationary, doesn’t use the medium well. 1996, with Peter Scolari, good luck finding some way to see either of these. Sammy David, Jr. did a film after doing the show live, and some of it is available on you tube.
Other shows by the authors: The Roar Of The Greasepaint-Smell Of The Crowd; The Good Old Bad Old Days (Bricusse also wrote the musical movies Scrooge; Doctor Doolittle; Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and lyrics for Victor/Victoria.)
Awards: Tony Best Supporting Actress in a Musical (Anna Quayle)

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

This is a fine show with a quirky and fascinating book, and a great sense of humor. The score is very effective and catchy, and features three huge hit songs. It is, at the same time, a very small show compared to most musicals, and relatively inexpensive and easy to produce. One fairly simple set, and the costumes are a piece of cake. The score is lovely, but again, comparatively simple. The orchestrations are contained and require a small group, but it can be done with piano/bass/drums. (I’d put some brass on it, at least a good trumpet, and maybe mate it with a clarinet.)

I could see this show being done very well by High Schools with drama departments that take their work seriously. It is well within the ability range of most colleges to produce an excellent production, Little Theater Groups, stock companies (a very good choice, I would think, given its minimal technical demands and easy turnaround), and pro companies. It’s too sophisticated for younger actors.

I’m surprised that Stop The World hasn’t had much more of a life. It absolutely should. Done well, I can’t see how an audience (and your group) won’t fall in love with it.

Be Warned:

Stop The World would come under the heading of an “experimental show.” It is not a standard Musical Comedy. It is very presentational. The 4th wall is violated endlessly. The actors dress as mimes. All the action takes place in a circus ring, surrounded by visible, theatrical lighting. There is no attempt to hide the fact that this is a show. It is almost “Brechtian.” There is only one man in the show, the star, and he needs to be an amazing talent. One woman plays all the women in his life. (There’s a little boy, as well, with no lines and nothing more, really, than an entrance.) The show uses many theatrical experiments coming out of the 1950s in Europe, and is somewhat expressionistic. If you’re not knowledgeable in such theatrical schools of thought (Brecht, Expressionism), or if you’re not prepared to take some theatrical risks and to do a play that rarely feels “realistic,” then this one is a pass.

Also, the show is built entirely around two performances, the man who will play Littlechap, and the woman playing the women in his life. These roles are extremely demanding vocally and in terms of comic and dramatic acting. Few shows offer two larger or more dynamic and rewarding roles. This is truly a star vehicle, a show built to showcase these two actors. If you haven’t the right performers for these two roles, this will not work AT ALL.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: Littlechap is born, goes to school (“A-B-C”) and grows into a young man,pretty much that fast. He at first does not speak. He gets a job as a tea boy. Then he meets Evie, falls in love, and realizes he will have to do two things to win her…speak, and get rich. (“I WANT TO BE RICH”) Evie has her own ideas of the life she wants to live, a posh and middle-class existence. (“TYPICALLY ENGLISH”) But bored silly, she takes a romantic interest in Littlechap. This leads quickly to marriage, a fate Littlechap decries. (“LUMBERED”) He longs for a son, but rapidly finds himself “burdened” with two daughters. His father-in-law gives him a promotion, and moves him to the Sludgeville office. (“WELCOME TO SLUDGEVILLE”) He takes his new position seriously, and plans to do great things with it. (“GONNA’ BUILD A MOUNTAIN”) He is indeed successful, and his boss/father-in-law rewards him with a Moscow business excursion. There, he meets Anya (played by the same actress who plays Evie, but with a thick, comic Russian accent), destined to be his first affair. He dreams of perhaps having a son with her, his own little “MEILINKI MEILCHIK.” Back at home, Evie gives birth to the much-desired son, but he is stillborn. (Yes, serious stuff for a Musical Comedy.) This leads to more tension at home. (“FAMILY FUGUE”) They hire a German au pair, Ilsa (same actress), destined to be Littlechap’s next affair. (“TYPISHE DEUTSCHE”) More trouble at home. (“NAG! NAG! NAG!”)

ACT TWO: His professional life, however, is a screaming success. On a business trip to NYC, he meets Ginny, A NIGHT CLUB SINGER IN THE Marilyn Monroe vein, and affair number three, again played by the same actress. (“ALL-AMERCIAN”) But he must go home – his eldest daughter is pregnant. Perhaps this will provide the heir he’s longed for? (“ONCE IN A LIFETIME”)

Littlechap launches a political career, and does the political double-talk thing very well. (“MUMBO JUMBO) He joins Parliament – and then has a heart attack.. Now Evie must care for him as he retires. (“WELCOME TO SUNVALE”) he realizes at last that he has loved Evie all along. (“SOMEONE NICE LIKE YOU”) But in truth, Littlechap has had only one great love throughout his life, one he faces to his sorrow as Evie dies. (“WHAT KIND OF FOOL AM I?”) As he is dying, he does see his grandson born, providing some hope for the future.

THE SONGS:

“A-B-C”; “I Want To Be Rich”; “Typically English”; “A Special Announcement”; “Lumbered”; “Welcome To Sludgepool”; “Gonna’ Build A Mountain”; “”Glorious Russian”; “Meilinki Meilchick”; “Family Fugue”; “Typiche Deutsche”; “Nag! Nag! Nag!”; “All-American”; “Once In A Lifetime”; “Mumbo Jumbo”; “Welcome to Sunvale”; “Someone Nice Like You”; “What Kind Of Fool Am I”

Hits include Gonna’ Build A Mountain; Once In A Lifetime; Someone Nice Like You; What Kind Of Fool Am I

MY OPINIONS:

As always, feel free to ignore my opinion and rating, as you see fit.  Just remember that if the world does stop suddenly, according to science, everyone dies and the planet incinerates.  There might see some things worth knowing about all that before starting.

I’ve always loved this show. I loved it so much as a teenager that I mounted a production of it and played Littlechap. When I listen to the original Broadway recording and I hear that overture start, with those absolutely great songs, I get chills. Newley and Bricusse said they wanted to write a show with songs that had the appeal of a Rodgers and Hammerstein show, what they called “bathtub appeal.” They certainly accomplished that with both this show, and their next one, Roar Of The Greasepaint. I think this is a vastly under-appreciated and under-produced show with the potential to give the right theater group a big success. If you’re looking for a relatively small, affordable show, this is a very good one to consider. If you have a small-ish stage, limited or no wings or flies, again, look at this show. It’s themes about relationships and success and the difficulties in navigating those waters are universal and timeless. The score is a complete winner. (There are a few “British-isms” in the lyrics and dialogue which you should be able to easily work with. Some few words might be provided a definition in the program, as I saw done once with this show.)

I can’t think of many shows that would be more fun to do, by the way. So long as your leads are not of the Prima Donna variety, this can be a wonderful experience. This show calls for fantastic inventiveness and creativity from the leads and director. And that is great fun.

Important – Stop The World is a show that has underperformed through the years. It should have had, it should have now, an active and beloved life. Many of the one-star shows in this book fall into this category, which is why they are in this book. With such shows, as I discuss approaches and designs, I’ll try to provide creative ideas to “modernize” and make relevant these shows. The idea – well, I want these shows produced often, seen by many audiences. They are worthy, and have something to offer today that will help vitalize an ailing Musical Theater.

The action all takes place in a circus ring. The actors are supposed to be dressed as mimes. I really don’t believe this works. Mimes do not perform in most circuses. And mimes are silent, whereas these characters never shut up. (A good thing, that.) And they sing. You might consider dressing them as clowns rather than mimes. Or even dressing them in modern day everyday clothing and presenting them as everyday people, perhaps with a touch of clown make-up on each character, implying we are ALL clowns in some divine circus. Anyway, I’d look for an approach along these lines to unite the piece thematically and aesthetically.

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

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:
The music is catchy and relatively simple. It’s bouncy, alive, vital, memorable. A decent pianist/MD (musical director) should not struggle much either playing it or teaching it. There is a limited amount of harmony and counterpoint, but really limited. One of the easiest scores to work with. By the way, use the overture, especially if you have any kind of orchestra. It’s a vital, memorable overture that presents several hit songs the audience will know, and will help them dive in.

Littlechap must really, really sing. A tenor with a big theatrical voice and range is required, and he must be able to express both broad humor and powerful anger and grief in his delivery of a song. The show is a tour-de-force for this actor, it is entirely a star vehicle. He’s a tenor with an explosive top range, ringing high notes in the classic Broadway tradition, a very large voice that expresses great emotion. He must also be able to handle patter-type lyrics, quick, repetitive, tough on the tongue. Get this one right!

Evie (and other women) is an alto capable of vocal gymnastics, and a British, American, German and Russian accent (convincing and comic). She must sing quite well, a good range, strong voice.

The ensemble women should sing well enough and harmonize decently.  They are window-dressing, in terms of the vocals.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:
This show doesn’t call for a lot of real dance. The numbers are intended to be staged rather than choreographed. A talented director with a good sense of composition, rhythm and movement should be able to generally handle the choreographic requirements. Just beware of monotony. Littlechap rarely leaves the stage, and he does many numbers alone. If you have him do the same sort of thing redundantly (run across the stage while singing so he can now sing to stage right audience, that sort of stuff), you are not serving the actor or the play well. Focus on the lyrics when planning the movement, and make your planned moves work easily and unobtrusively to the music. Allow your two actors to place their energy and attention on their signing, they’ll need to. Too much movement will bury them with complexity this show actually does not support.

CASTING CONCERNS:
This is a small cast, and they sing a lot. That said, even the Broadway production seemed unconcerned with the quality of the ensemble singer’s voices. They must carry a tune, harmonize decently, but that’s about it. They will all be women, so get a good mix of soprano and alto in casting these roles.  Casting for this show can be any ethnicity or race, but they must “play” at British, low and high.

Littlechap must be a mature (say 30s-40s), all-around singing actor of great ability and charisma. (Or a star in the making, as Newley was when he wrote, directed and starred in this show’s original production.) He must move well, possibly do mime, sing very well and with an interesting voice, and have profound acting chops at his disposal. He will go through many of the obvious and trying vicissitudes of marriage, ending with a nearly dry-as-dust form of contentment where they are satisfied to be married to “someone nice.”. He will age from birth to old age and death during the show, without benefit of make-up or costume changes. The role is about as demanding as any in Musical Comedy. Any ethnicity is fine.

Evie is Littlechap’s female counterpart. She plays four roles, four nationalities, each stereotyped. The actress must be able to really run with this sort of thing. She must have a strong, reliable, and hopefully somewhat appealing voice. (I think Anna Quayle in the original fell short in that department.) She will age just as Littlechap does, and go through the marriage with him. Evie is another tour de force. When he’s not in the spotlight, she is. 30s-40s, like him. Any ethnicity is fine.

The ensemble should be cast better than any of the productions I’ve seen or studied. Newley seemed to avoid interesting background performers, demanding the spotlight as he did. But the ensemble has a lot of gags to play out and a lot of time on stage, and you should cast women who can move well, sing well, and who specialize in comedy. (And just to mention it, I don’t see any reason why all of the ensemble need to be women. I think you’d get a better sound out of your cast, and be able to play more interesting gags and moments, mixing it up. But do remember that two of the actresses are to play their two daughters.) Also, if you’re going to experiment with the circus aspect of the show (and I believe you should, as I describe below in Sets), you might want to cast ensemble that can juggle, do the high wire, swallow fire, and do other circus-like acts. This will add to your creative options as a director as you explore Littlechap’s life through the prism of a circus theme.

The little boy (Littlechap’s grandson) is a walk on. Get a cute kid.

SETS:
There’s only a single set, the center ring of a circus, with a tunnel at the back representing both birth and death. In reality, unless everyone will be on stage all the time (they won’t), you’ll want to create some sort of secondary exits to backstage.

The set for this show often looks monochromatic, and for the life of me, I don’t know why. A circus tent can be filled with flags and other objects of great appeal and color, and I think this one should be. The circus represents life, and life is complex. I think the ring should invite us in, appeal to us, make us believe that something very interesting is going to take place here. The backdrop can be the circus tent, but make it an interesting one.

And while we’re at it, it’s a circus. So why can’t Littlechap and Evie appear on the high wire for a scene, or atop an elephant, or in a clown car? No production has explored the circus option well that I’ve seen, and I think that’s missing something very appealing and obvious. A director and designer could really have fun with that sort of approach, and so might the actors and the audience. It would also effectively “change the look” from an empty ring for over two hours, to a place where strange and bright and wonderful things happen. This is an area that a good director should coordinate on with a good designer. There’s a lot of new and untried ground available with Stop The World. Your production could be the one that makes this show really live and earn the attention it merits.

COSTUMES:
Well, as you can see, I vote for clowns over mimes, and I do not consider them to be interchangeable as the original production apparently did. Clowns could be fun. The opportunity for individualizing each character is interesting, so long as the make-up doesn’t become thick and obtrusive. We need to see the actor’s work, not just a made-up face. This is especially true of the two leads.

I also am not opposed to plain, contemporary clothing as a possible approach, for what it will bring to the piece. (Perhaps with minimal clown make-up.) Either approach has it’s own unique interest and appeal, and depending on your director, could be really interesting to work with.

Plain modern dress does not have to be flat, monochromatic or unflattering. Individualized flairs in the clothing (a scarf, a hat, stripped stockings, pink shoes) can help get some color onto the stage and make the characters memorable.

Dance isn’t much of an issue, so you don’t have to sweat it much. But your leads sing a LOT, and must be able to breathe.

PROPS:
The show does have props, but the number and complexity of the props will be determined by the approach your director takes, and will accordingly vary. It is unlikely, however, that this will be a terribly tough show for props. There may be expendables like party poppers and the like.

LIGHTING:
Very important! The set is simple, the costumes are simple. So what is there to look at? And this show goes through major mood swings. The show is essentially very dramatic, almost melodramatic at times, though it is more than saved by it’s comic take on melodramatic events. (And listen, a man at the end of his life bemoaning all the missed and lost opportunities could be melodramatic treacle. “What Kind Of Fool Am I” is, instead, masterful.) There are many, many solo moments for the two leads, and just slapping a spot or follow spot on each one will become a snooze. What’s more, a well-directed production will make sure to have the leads interact with each other and with the ensemble as often as makes sense, to change to look and move the show away from feeling like a parade of solos and duets, so use of a spot would throw out that opportunity. Your lighting will need to be creative. Your uses of color will be as important as your use of light in general to focus the audience’s attention. This is a show that can feel long and bland when handled badly.

The original Broadway production had the same person, Sean Kenny, do sets and lights. (He also did Oliver!, The Roar Of The Greasepaint, and other shows.) His mark was to build sets and lighting so integral to a show that they took on the stature of another character in the piece. I do believe versatile and creative lighting is essential to Stop The World. I think, like Mr. Kenny,you’ll need to coordinate closely with the director and other designers to bring the show fully to life.

My favorite lighting effect can be used in “What Kind On Fool Am I.” (Or not.) The stage is lit, and Littlechap is in follow spot, opened up to cover his full body. As he sings, slowly fade out all the lighting except the follow spot, and then SLOWLY tighten that to cover just his face and upper torso. Get as tight as you realistically can. The actor must know this is coming and be relatively still, of course. As he completes singing the final, climactic note, cut to black. In this case, you’ll need to fade up the lights, even get a laugh, as the character’s not dead yet, to paraphrase Monty Python.

MAKE-UP:
This will be determined by the approach your director chooses to take. Mimes? White face is so easy, we won’t discuss it. Clowns? Now you can get creative. Modern dress with clown features – interesting again, but why? Are we saying that all modern men are clowns? (Are we? How about making everyone up like sharks? In Los Angeles, where I live, that seems like a metaphor closer to the truth. Kidding…sort of.) Anyway, once an approach is determined, the cast is small, and the need for a lot of design is likely to be negligible.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):
Littlechap, Evie, Director, Choreographer, Lighting Designer, possibly Set Designer.

MY THOUGHTS:
I want to propose another approach, or rather, take one suggested above and stretch it, I hope, intriguingly. This is an extension of the idea of placing the actors in modern dress. I think Stop The World can and should be done on a single unit set. But why a circus set? Littlechap longs for wealth and power, that’s the arena he plays out his life in, not a circus. (I get the “life is a circus” thing, but really, that was trite when they wrote the show in the early 60s.) So, how about instead of a circus ring, the ring that surrounds him throughout his life is made of images from big business, politics, the world at large. Parliament, big corporations, corporate symbols (slightly altered to avoid lawsuits), that sort of thing…designed in the identifiable shape of a circus ring. This will make the set less cliché, and more in touch with modern life, as well as support a modern dress approach. Dress Littlechap in drawers and a baby blanket at first (and have all the women coo and ahh at his entrance, as they would a new-born baby in a hospital. Then, schoolboy clothes, graduating to a very expensive (and easily sung-in) suit toward the end to demonstrate his wealth and success.

One other thought. Newley was intoxicated by Charlie Chaplin, and later, wrote a musical about Chaplin’s life which he starred in and directed. Chaplin’s character was known as the “Little Tramp.” Little Chap(lin)? Chaplin, like Littlechap, climbed up the world from a position of Dickensian poverty. Chaplin, like Littlechap, was known for his relationships with various women. Nothing I’d ponder on too deeply, I guess, just thought it might be useful information for a director.

Ah well, another thought, more a story. A sad story, I guess, but instructive. Tony Newley, toward the end of his career, decided to tour in Stop The World, and came to a theater near Los Angeles. I had bragged about Stop The World for years to my first wife, and saw this as an amazing opportunity for her to see this wonderful show with the original star. In high anticipation, we drove the many miles, took our seats. I beamed with pride-she was going to see something wonderful. Then the show started. Newley was, well, overweight, not to put too fine a point on it. So he cast an ensemble of women who were more overweight than he was, to make it, I don’t know, appear that he was thin by comparison? He still had that remarkable voice of his, but the production was AWFUL. (I had seen Sammy Davis Jr. do Littlechap a few years earlier, and he was brilliant, a far better production, damn the luck.) At the Intermission, my wife asked me if this was indeed the show I had hyped so much? It wasn’t, and we are not what we were…