John Kander and Fred Ebb had already had considerable success with Flora The Red Menace, Cabaret, The Happy Time, and Zorba when 70, Girls, 70 made its Broadway debut in 1971. Still, not even the renown of their four previous musicals could save their latest show from a quick 35 performance demise. In fact, 70, Girls, 70 vanished so quickly into obscurity that probably only the most avid Broadway buffs are even aware of its existence—Broadway buffs and the Musical Theatre Guild, which has as one of its missions to rescue flops like 70, Girls, 70 from obscurity.
Monday’s concert staged reading of one of Kander and Ebb’s least known shows gave MTG subscribers and musical theater lovers the chance to discover this forgotten piece of Broadway history, brought back to life by a cast of some of L.A.’s most veteran musical theater performers.
Since 70, Girls, 70 centers on a group of New York seniors living in an Upper East Side retirement hotel, a cast of veterans is de rigueur, and they don’t come more experienced or talented than MTG’s Marsha Kramer, David Holmes, Helen Geller, Roy Leake Jr., and Susan Watson, just five of 70, Girls, 70’s talented ensemble.
Though Ebb’s and Norman L. Martin’s wisp of a book makes it clear quite early on why 70, Girls, 70 closed almost as soon as it opened, some catchy Kander and Ebb songs and show-stopping MTG performances go a long way towards making for an entertaining two acts of Broadway history.
Here’s the plot, in brief. Learning that the retirement hotel they call home is soon to be bought by developers, the hotel’s elderly residents turn to thievery to make ends meet, stealing mostly minks from stores all the way from Sadies’ Second Hand Furs to Bloomingdales. (This was the pre-PETA 1970s of course.) As a result, the 70somethings’ lives go from drab to exciting, their hotel décor reaps the rewards of their larceny, and several other seniors in need of a roof over their heads find a new place to call home.
Under John Bowab’s direction, MTG’s 70, Girls, 70 ends up a good-deal less fully staged than most MTG shows, with all but the body-miked Kramer performing in front of microphone stands. Narration by Michael A. Shepperd helps set the scene, but the show still comes across more as a series of vignettes and songs than a fully plotted and blocked musical.
Fortunately, MTG’s sterling cast give the kind of sparkling performances fans have become accustomed to.
As ringleader Ida, a role originated on Broadway by Mildred Natwick, the delightful Kramer gets the lion’s share of stage time as well as three of the show’s best songs, “Home,” “The Elephant Song,” and “Yes.” Other 70, Girls, 70 highlights include three songs by waitresses Fritzi (Pamela Hamill) and Melba (DeBorah Sharpe-Taylor)—“Broadway My Street,” “Coffee In A Cardboard Cup,” and the sharpe-Taylor showcase “Believe”; “The Caper,” which has Harry (Holmes) attempting to educate the other seniors on the fine art of theft; Paul Keith and Christopher Callen singing about what’s on TV tonight in “You And I, Love,” “Do We?,” a double entendre ditty by still frisky couple Eunice (Watson) and Walter (Leake); and the show-stopping “See The Light” belted by show-stopper Geller, the very personification of a Broadway Baby. 70, Girls, 70’s sole “junior” character, the 20something Eddie (a spunky Erik McEwen) duets “Go Visit Your Grandmother” with Grandma Barbara Minkus, a musical number which features snappy tap choreography by Jeffrey Polk. Chuck Bergman completes the 70, Girls, 70 cast in the role of Man.
Correction, the cast is in fact completed by musical director Steven Smith in old lady drag as piano accompanist Lorraine, a mostly mute but nimble-fingered character who gets saluted in “Hit It, Lorraine,” a phrase oft-repeated by cast members about to launch into song. Smith leads a terrific eight-piece orchestra, with guitarist Peter Woodford performing a lively banjo solo.
Production coordinators for 70, Girls, 70 are Maura M. Knowles and Polk, Art Brickman is production stage manager, assisted by Janette Jara and Nicole Ruiz.
70, Girls, 70 will be reprised for a second and final performance at Thousand Oaks’ Scherr Forum, with only Smith and Woodford accompanying the cast.
Upcoming in Musical Theatre Guild’s 2010-2011 season are Hello Again, One Touch Of Venus, Little Me, and Bat Boy: The Musical.
The Alex Theatre, Glendale
September 20, 2010