Wednesday, June 9, 2021

586. WHERE'S CHARLEY? From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Raul Julia. (Photos: Martha Swope.)

WHERE’S CHARLEY? [Musical Revival] B: George Abbott; M/LY: Frank Loesser; D: Theodore Mann; CH: Margo Sappington; S: Marjorie Kellogg; C: Arthur Boccia; L: Thomas Skelton; P: Circle in the Square; T: Circle in the Square Joseph E. Levine Theatre; 12/20/74-2/23/75 (76)

Marcia McClain, Raul Julia.

A passable revival of the 1948 show based on Brandon Thomas’s internationally popular 1892 farce Charley’s Aunt. Nutshell description: an Oxford student impersonates his aunt from Brazil (“where the nuts come from”) and gets to play her in cigar-smoking drag. The original play itself had seen a 1970 revival with Louis Nye in the leading role. This arena-stage version of the musical employed only a six-piece band, thereby reducing the big Broadway score to chamber-music proportions, a transformation not so devoutly to be wished.

Raul Julia, center, Jerry Lanning, right.

Clive Barnes termed the material “dated” and the score one of Frank Loesser’s lesser contributions, but others, including Walter Kerr and John Simon expressed affection for the tunes. “Once in Love with Amy” and “My Darling, My Darling,” both of which had become standards, were considered as fresh as ever.

The arena shape was not very well suited to the needs of musical staging, and Theodore Mann’s direction was rather busy and unexciting. Margo Sappington, whose breakthrough show was Oh! Calcutta!, showed sparks of imagination in her dances, though.

Raul Julia, the star, was probably not the ideal choice for the part of Charley Wykeham (ditto Louis Nye). First, he was not a dancer, which the original star, the great Ray Bolger, most definitely was. Second, traces of his Puerto Rican accent were impossible to ignore when spoken in his role as an upper-class Englishman. Nevertheless, Julia's enormous charm and comic enthusiasm warmed many hearts, even those who found him miscast. The other principals—Louis Beachner, Jerry Lanning, Carol Jo Lugenbeal, Marcia McClain, Peter Walker, Tom Aldredge, Taina Elg, and Dennis Cooley—were considered adequate, if not exceptional.

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 These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through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 by clicking here. 

Next up: Whispers on the Wind.