Sunday, May 15, 2011

What Makes Sammy Sing?

Budd Schulberg's dad ran Paramount in the 1930s, so naturally his son became a communist.  Budd also wrote a book about Sammy Glick, a poor Jewish kid who makes it to the top in Hollywood by stabbing his friends in the back.  The local communist cell didn't like it since it didn't give enough praise to the collective (or whatever), which led to Schulberg's break from the CPUSA, and eventually to his naming names and writing On The Waterfront, where the hero is an informant.

I've never read the novel What Makes Sammy Run?, but I'd heard the score to the Broadway musical adaptation, and have recently read the libretto.  It follows the plot of the book.  It seems rather cliched, though maybe because we've seen the story played out so many times since.  The 1964 production was not well-reviewed. It had a decent run, but that was mostly due to the star power of lead Steve Lawrence.  Still didn't make money.  It was also a troubled production, with Lawrence publicly bad-mouthing the show, as well as missing many performances.

It's possible to have a show with a heel for a lead, as Pal Joey demonstrates, but this one is rarely revived.  The book is dated, and not that great.  But perhaps that could be overcome.  What can't be is the lack of memorable songs in Ervin Drake's score.


Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I've never seen Pal Joey, but I think Evita is a successful musical with a heel for a protagonist. And maybe Carousel, though that musical focuses more on redemption, I guess.

I wonder whether terrific music can overcome most any plot in a musical? This might be why you never hear about Miss Saigon anymore (I never liked the music to that show very much, though Jonathon Pryce was a delicious heel)

8:17 AM, May 16, 2011  
Blogger LAGuy said...

For better or worse, Rodgers and Hammerstein changed the face of what was acceptable in a musical. Before then, while there was an occasional stab at something more serious, musical comedies were frothy. Thus, Brooks Atkinson writing in The New York Times that though the show was expertly done, "can you draw sweet water from a foul well." When the show was revived in the 50s, no one had that problem.

A musical can now be about any subject, and an anit-hero at the center isn't necessarily that odd. Still, if you want to make money, it's best to have a rooting interest in the lead character, even if the character isn't conventional.

10:15 AM, May 16, 2011  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

To your point, the musical version of Wicked gave a happy ending to a rather cynical, down-spirited story. Even Chicago manages to be "frothy" on the topic of murderers.

8:39 AM, May 17, 2011  
Blogger LAGuy said...

BTW, I was referring to Rodgers and Hart's Pal Joey in the first paragraph above.

3:43 PM, May 17, 2011  

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