Thursday, June 17, 2021

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 From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Wings (Photo: Martha Swope.)
WINGS [Musical/Period/Politics] B/M/LY: Robert McLaughlin, Peter Ryan; SC: Aristophanes’ play The Birds; D: Robert McLaughlin; S/L: Karl Eigsti; C: Shadow; P: Stephen Wells; T: Eastside Playhouse (OB); 3/16/75 (9)

The Greek comic playwright Aristophanes has had several of his plays musicalized, Lysistrata and The Frogs among them, none very successfully. Wings, a version of his The Birds, joined that select group of ambitious failures when it presented what Douglas Watt referred to as its “witless lyrics and terrible tunes.” Its plot about a revolution against man and gods by winged dwellers of Cloudcuckooland was enacted by a cast largely made up of thespians in ornately feathered costumes.

This “mass,” as Watt called it, was devoid of social or political bite, although it stuck closely to the plot of the original. Christopher Sharp said “The music is forgettable, the lyrics are gibberish,” and Richard Watts called it “confusing and tedious” and an “inept amateur show.” Clive Barnes was on the fence, declaring it “extremely good-natured and perfectly harmless,” while Martin Gottfried was quite positive, describing it as “a delightful musical comedy,” a show of “imagination and fun,” “fast, direct and to the point.” Such support, however, was too little to prevent these birds from taking a bath. 

The 15-member cast included Stuart Pankin, Jay E. Raphael, Mary Sue Finnerty, Dan Held, and Robin Wesley.

Arthur Kopit’s much better, totally unrelated play (not musical) of the same title arrived on Broadway in 1978.

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 These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through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