|Jon Peck, Kelly Garrett, Sammy Cahn, Shirley Lemmon. (Photos: Martha Swope.)|
Following directly in the wake of the musty Music! Music!, which opened a week earlier, Words and Music hit Broadway like a breath of clean spring air. Whereas the critics had mauled the earlier work, they cuddled up fondly to the new one. Clive Barnes called it “simple and enchanting,” “a lovely fun show,” “human and civilized,” and told his readers not to miss it.
The program was arranged around familiar songs with lyrics by the prolific veteran Sammy Cahn, with Mr. Cahn (described by Walter Kerr as looking “like Snoopy posing as the Statue of Liberty”) being the central performer, vocally and at the piano. Supporting him was a terrific threesome, Kelly Garrett, Shirley Lemmon, and Jon Peck, of which, as so often, Garrett was the standout.
Cahn wove the songs—among them “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen,” “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” “Be My Love,” “Call Me Irresponsible,” “Until the Real Thing Comes Along,” and “I Should Care”—together with a nostalgically charming and funny personal narrative of his career. A hilarious highlight was his telling of the gestation of “Three Coins in the Fountain.”
“The evening is a feast of . . . show-biz foolishness, intimate, candid, proudly unapologetic,” wrote Kerr. Cahn’s froggy voice led Barnes to call him “probably the best bad singers in the world.” A sour note among the dulcet tones came from—wait for it—John Simon, who cast aspersions on Cahn’s talents—“He is only a word machine”—and attributed his success to the composers for whom he created the lyrics.
Cahn won a special Theatre World Award for his contribution.
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 These have been drawn from an unpublished manuscript that would have been part of my multivolume Encyclopedia of the New York Stage series, which covers every show, of every type, from 1920 through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: The World of Lenny Bruce.