Ten Sorta Forgotten Musicals

By Amos Staff

1.) The Rink: 1984. Book: Terrence McNally. Lyrics: Fred Ebb. Music: John Kander. The original Broadway production featured both Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera and, before it hit its Broadway version, Arthur Laurents wrote the book (he left and McNally was brought in. Heavy-hitters either way). A decaying roller rink on a beachside pier, a mother and daughter. And original reviews that included descriptives like “sour,” “phony,” and “turgid.” Set in the 1970s.

2.) Salad Days: 1954. Book and Lyrics: Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds. Music: Julian Slade. This one didn’t hit Broadway but played for over 2,200 performances in London’s West End (original run) with London revivals in 1976 and 1996. A woman, a man, a tramp, and a piano. Old-school innocence and freshness.

3.) Flora, the Red Menace: 1965. Book: George Abbott and Robert Russell. Lyrics: Fred Ebb. Music: John Kander. Set in 1935 Depression Era U.S., starred Liza Minnelli. Best-known songs are probably “A Quiet Thing” and “Sing Happy.”Like other Kander and Ebb musicals, this one leaned heavily on a female protagonist and had a political kick to its gallop.

(L-R) Show Poster from The Rink, detail from Show Poster for Flora the Red Menace, cover photo from Playbill for Mr. President.

4.) Shenandoah: 1974. Book: Peter Udell, Philip Rose, and James Lee Barrett. Lyrics: Peter Udell. Music: Gary Geld. A musical based on Udell’s screenplay for the 1965 movie of the same name. Civil War family melodrama. Originally nominated for six Tony awards (it won two: Best Actor (John Cullum) and Best Book). There was a Broadway revival in 1989 and Quantum Leap’s Scott Bakula was featured in a production at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. in 2006. (Yes, that Ford’s Theatre.)

5.) Mr. President: 1962. Book: Howard Lindsey and Russell Crouse. Lyrics and Music: Irving Berlin. Cold War era musical involving a president (out of office) who returns to politics. Plus a first wife and a first daughter. Notable in the first cast: Nanette Fabray. In our opinion, the best song is “I’m Going to Get Him” but, in fairness, it’s an old-fashioned Irving Berlin type song that should be a standard. And in 1962, probably sounded like an old-fashioned Irving Berlin type song that should be a standard.

6.) Carnival! (Or Carnival) 1961. Book: Michael Stewart. Lyrics and Music: Bob Merrill. We’re going to admit that, thanks to college and community theatre performances, this one is less “forgotten” than some of the other selections in this list. But it gets lost in the “Musical Theatre List” based on the fact that the similarly-named and infinitely more well-known Rodgers and Hammerstein Carousel tends to subsume and dwarf it in theatrical memory. Which is a shame because this gentle and winning musical deserves better. Based on the movie Lili, this musical time-travels to a rural European carnival/fair. A love story. A picaresque tale. And somehow, completely absorbing and escapist. With some truly lovely tunes (“Mira” comes to mind here.) Oh. And puppets and magic. Plus, original direction and choreography was by Gower Champion.

Nothing to look at but this is the remastered recording of the original Broadway version of “Mira.”

7.) Bring It On: The Musical 2011-2012. Book: Jeff Whitty. Lyrics: Amanda Green and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Music: Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Yeah, it’s based on the 2000 film by the same name (minus “the musical” and featuring Kirsten Dunst). It only lasted four months on Broadway and probably the primary reason it’s notable is because of, oh yeah, Lin-Manuel Miranda. That being said? Cheerleaders.

8.) Phantom 1991. Book: Arthur Kopit. Lyrics and Music: Maury Yeston. On the heels of 1986’ Lloyd Webber juggernaut The Phantom of the Opera, this musical never really had a chance. It’s had a bit of a life in regional theatres and dinner theatres but has never been produced on either Broadway or London’s West End. For the talent behind the musical Nine, however, it’s a disappointing piece of work. It is notable that Kristen Chenowith once played Christine in this version but that and the Nine connection are possibly the only noteworthy things about this poor little musical.

9.) The Baker’s Wife 1976/1989. Book: Joseph Stein. Lyrics and Music: Stephen Schwartz. This one has been performed (briefly) on London’s West End but has never been produced on Broadway. It’s based on the 1938 French film titled (in English) by the same name. Notable song: “Meadowlark.” Big names attached to this show at one point or another include Alun Armstrong, Patti LuPone, Paul Sorvino, Trevor Nunn, and David Merrick. “Meadowlark” has been covered on many, many Broadway singers’ namesake albums.

10.) Rags 1986 Book: Joseph Stein with David Thompson. Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz. Music: Charles Strouse. This one is easily confused with the later Ragtime. It’s an immigration story set in the early 20th century and made it through an entire four performances on Broadway. Notable original cast members: Judy Kuhn and Terrence Mann of Les Miserables fame (Yeah, and Mann was also in Broadway original cast of Cats.) Working Title Films acquired the rights to this musical but haven’t moved forward with production (as of early 2021).

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