Sunday, September 6, 2020



Eleanor Calbes and company.
LOVELY LADIES, KIND GENTLEMEN [Musical/Japan/Military] B: John Patrick; M/LY: Stan Freeman, Franklin Underwood; SC: Vern J. Sneider’s novel and John Patrick’s play, The Teahouse of the August Moon; D: Lawrence Kasha; CH: Marc Breaux; S: Oliver Smith; C: Freddy Wittop; L:Thomas Skelton; P: Herman Levin; T: Majestic Theatre; 12/28/70-1/9/71 (16)

Eleanor Calbes, Kennet Nelson, Ron Hussmann.

Comic actor David Burns as Col. Purdy gave the standout performance in this weak tea attempt to turn John Patrick’s once-popular play about American soldiers in 1946 occupied Okinawa into a musical comedy. A number of critics found the material dated, unoriginal, and inappropriate for musical theatre. Characters, dialogue, and situations were flat and uninspired, and the show was noticeably deficient in the dance department.

Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen deals with the inevitable conflict of Eastern traditional customs with American “progressiveness” and industrial pragmatism. Satirical stabs are thrust at the Army bureaucracy and American democracy, especially when viewed against long-established native folkways. An American Army captain, Fisby (Ron Hussmann), aided by Sakini (Kenneth Nelson), a charming Okinawan interpreter, attempts to bring the fruits of American democracy to Tobiki Village. The plot chronicles the extreme difficulties this task presents. In the course of the action, the Americans construct a teahouse for the villagers instead of a planned school building.

David Burns, Ron Hussmann.

Douglas Watt favored the show, writing that it restored” to the musical stage some of the dash and confidence it once had in abundance,” but other voices, notably that of Clive Barnes, prevailed. Barnes’s opening comment, “Oh, dear! I come to bury Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen, not to praise it,” enraged producer Herman Levin, who found it “cruel and . . . obnoxious,” while agreeing with Barnes’s privilege to write a negative review. A brouhaha erupted involving the picketing of the New York Times by over 50 actors and technicians.

Lovely Ladies also caused a furor among Asian-American actors when several of the Okinawan roles—including the important one of Sakini (played by Marlon Brando in the film version of the play)—were acted by Caucasians in yellowface. This issue, of course, would erupt in the future, most notably when there was an uproar over the casting of Jonathan Pryce as the Engineer, a Eurasian, in Miss Saigon. Ultimately, yellowface casting has virtually disappeared from the New York professional stage, or, at the least, the casting of actors lacking some degree of Asian heritage.  

David Burns was nominated for a Best Actor, Musical, Tony, and Freddy Wittop received a Best Costume Designer, Musical nomination.

The extensive cast included Tisa Chang, Sab Shimono, Alvin Lum, Remak Ramsey, and Eleanor Calbes as Lotus Blossom. Calbes, a soprano who was frequently cast in Asian roles, was publicized as the first Filipina actress to star on Broadway.