Tuesday, February 16, 2021

473. SHELTER. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975.

Joanna Merlin, Susan Browning, Marcia Rodd, Terry Kiser.

SHELTER [Musical/Advertising/Marriage/Romance] B/LY: Gretchen Cryer; M: Nancy Ford; D: Austin Pendleton; CH: Sammy Bayes; S/C: Tony Walton; L: Richard Pilbrow; P: Richard Fields and Peter Flood; T: John Golden Theatre; 2/6/73-3/3/73 (31)

Terry Kiser, Marcia Rodd.

This was the type of musical critics described with words like “likable,” “amiable,” “pleasing,” and “engaging,” as if it were a puppy, not a show. It concerns a philandering young TV ad writer named Michael (Terry Kiser) who sees his wife and seven adopted kids only on weekends, and resides during the week in the special effects set used for the commercials he creates. With him is Arthur, a marvelous computer that, at the touch of a button, can created projected scenic backgrounds appropriate for any mood or climate desired. (This prescient notion is now common in both theatre and on TV.) Arthur can also do a host of other useful feats, including singing many of the show’s songs.

Michael seduces a young actress, Maud (Marcia Rodd), is disturbed the next morning by another of his bed friends, a cleaning woman named Wednesday November (Susan Browning), and finally must face his supportive, understanding, but firm, wife, Gloria (Joanna Merlin).

There were some decidedly effective ideas in play here (many of them scenic and technical), and the performances were bright and amusing. However, the critics were mostly disappointed, opining that the show failed to come together in a consistent blend.

Clive Barnes liked the “generally neat” lyrics, and found the “undemanding soft-rock [music] with lots of electronic sound . . . attractive.” Douglas Watt said the book was “gratingly mannered and senseless,” the lyrics “foolish,” and “The music in no better.” Martin Gottfried described Shelter as “an unmusical and an undramatic play.” Several others were annoyed by the unpleasant character of the spoiled, unstable, womanizing hero. One or two felt that a more positive women’s lib approach might have helped.

Creators Cryer (mother of actor Jon Cryer) and Ford, pathbreakers in being, reportedly, the first female lyricist-composer team on and Off-Broadway, would bounce back five years later (1978) with their best-known show, the popular I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road.