Wednesday, September 02, 2009

THE LIFE OF A MUSICAL IS A CURIOUS JOURNEY




My favorite songwriters in the entire world are Robert and Richard Sherman. I was twelve years old when I heard my first Sherman tune. The song was "Mr. Piano Man" sung by the amazing Annette Funicello. It was lively. It was fun. It had a catchy tune and a great lyric. I had also loved "You're Sixteen" by Johnny Burnett recorded in the late 1950's and later made famous all over again by the one and only Ringo Starr. Now because songwriting has always been exciting to me, one of my first reactions was to find out exactly who had written this wonderful song.. By the time Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color had premiered on my birthday in 1960, I was asking "Who are those guys?" Who are Richard and Robert Sherman? I kept listening. Disney released "The Parent Trap" and by this time, I was their biggest fan. I liked everything they wrote. The tunes of "Ugly Bug Ball" sung by the legendary Burl Ives and the song "For Now, For Always" in "The Parent Trap" were constantly circulating in my head. So now turn the clock forward. By the year 1984, I was really into writing for musical theatre big time-- even an Off-Broadway show. We attracted investors for this show from this venue and we were all set to go on: The Minskoff Theatre, Broadway USA. And then? The bottom dropped out and we lost our production for the lack of two hundred and fifty-four thousand dollars. The investor had withdrawn the money due to illness and we could not find another investor in time. The theatre was painted and the marquee was up. And then, the dream fell apart. But they don't call me "Tenacity Jones" for nothing (but that's another story) I don't stop writing at this point: I just direct the creativity into commercial jingles for famous products like Dr. Pepper and Oscar Meyer hot dogs. In 1989, I was operating a literary agency. Among many others, I represented the late great Morey Amsterdam who wrote hundreds of songs and was living off the income of three including the best of them all "Rum and Coca Cola". By sheer chance, I was invited to a songwriter's social function in 1993 and saw a young man with dark hair and expressive eyes who wore the name tag "Robert Sherman". I have never been afraid of asking questions. So I walked up to this stranger and asked : "By any chance are you related to the amazing songwriter Robert Sherman?" He looked right at me and said "Why, yes I am; he's my father!" At that point, I begin flooding him with a fan's enthusiastic information and trivia questions that not even he can answer. I guess I impressed him. Robbie was also a brilliant songwriter and he soon became my client as well. I did get to meet his dad (one of my heroes) in November of the following year. Richard and Robert were preparing a show at that time called "Busker Alley" and they working very hard for it's opening on Broadway at the Saint James Theatre. It was to be produced by Fran and Barry Weissler. Yes, the same folks who pulled a closing stunt with Christine Applegate in the revival of "Sweet Charity". The very first production of "Busker Alley" on the road to Broadway was to be at the Mccaulley Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky on April 7th of 1995. It It was to star dear (now old) icon Tommy Tune and the late great Marcia Lewis. It was to be choreographed by Tony Walton. Long story short, the production journey ended in Tampa after Tommy Tune broke his foot. That "broken foot' could have easily healed before Broadway, but all the investors pulled out. Barry and Fran -- what were you thinking? This poor old musical had gone through more title changes ("Stage Door Charley, "Buskers, etc) than you could ever imagine. Now flash forward to November 13, 2006 when a one night only performance was staged by the York Theatre starring Jim Dale and featuring a cameo by Glenn Close. It was directed by Tony Walton. Now the musical had new life. The song score had been incredibly improved and revised. Jim Dale was to star as Charlie. On September 1, of this year, the current producers pulled a Barry and Fran and announced that they were cancelling the show and returning all sponsorship and investment money due to the death of one of the writers and the illness of another. The late AJ Carothers, the original librettist had died two years before: a given even before negotiations had even begun between the remaining parties. And Robert Sherman at eighty-three simply had an advanced bout with Gout. Why Broadway producers continue to pull the stunts of David Merrick, "The Abominable Showman" amaze me. Don't they realize what they do to the creative process?
But don't worry about "Busker Alley". To quote the great Robert Sherman "It has had more life than a Cheshire Cat" and it will find new investors. Had I the money, I would writing the check right now. All by myself! That's how much I believe in "The Boys" -- Richard and Robert Sherman: the song team that gave us more memorable tunes than George M. Cohan. They are busy at work on new shows as well including a Broadway staging of their classic movie "The Slipper and the Rose" . What a great show! What a great time! Walt Disney would be proud of you!

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