|June Gable, Frank Coppola. (Photo: Friedman-Abeles.)|
Al Carmines, the prolific minister-composer-lyricist-performer, had been writing tuneful, energetic, campy musicals for the Off-Off Broadway Judson Poets Theatre for years and had developed a devoted following. Now and then one of his shows would move to a commercial Off-Broadway venue, such being the case with Wanted, originally seen at Carmines’s home base in September 1971.
This satire on American right-wing politics centered on the figures of such iconographic Robin Hood-like outlaws as Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Ma Barker, and John Dillinger. In Wanted their pursuit by gay FBI chief Jacob Hooper (get it?) glorifies them as heroes for their stand “against poor law and indifferent order,” wrote Clive Barnes. He loved the show for its many laughs and stimulating thesis, but also for Carmines’s lyrics, which “move with a lopsided grace and simple dexterity.” As usual, Carmines’s music was wildly eclectic. “It restores the art of the musical to the Off Broadway theatre,” Barnes concluded.
Walter Kerr advised, “I do believe you’ll like it.” Not everyone felt that way, however. John Simon (as so often) dissented, describing the music as “thinner than ever,” the lyrics as “genuine dumbness,” the book as “condignly effete,” and the “informing spirit . . . simplistic and flaccid.”
The cast included Andra Akers, Reathel Bean, Jerry Clark, Cecilia Clark, Frank Coppola, June Gable, Merwin Goldsmith, Lee Guilliatt, John Kuhner, Peter Lombard, Stuart Silver, and Gretchen van Aken.
Do you enjoy Theatre’s Leiter Side? As you may know, since New York’s theatres were forced into hibernation by Covid-19, this blog has provided daily posts on the hundreds of shows that opened in the city, Off and on Broadway, between 1970 and 1975. These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through 1950. Unfortunately, the publisher, Greenwood Press, decided it was too expensive to continue the project beyond 1950.
Before I began offering these 1970-1975 entries, however, Theatre’s Leiter Side posted over 1,600 of my actual reviews for shows from 2012 through 2020. The first two years of that experience were published in separate volumes for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 (the latter split into two volumes). The 2012-2013 edition also includes a memoir in which I describe how, when I was 72, I used the opportunity of suddenly being granted free access to every New York show to begin writing reviews of everything I saw. Interested readers can find these collections on Amazon.com by clicking here.
Next up: Warp I: My Battlefield, My Body