Legs Diamond died twice, the first time in a mob shootout on December 18, 1931, and then a second time on February 19, 1989, when the musical bearing the Prohibition-era gangster’s name died an ignominious death inside the soon-to-be-defunct-itself Mark Hellinger Theatre, the victim of too much hurried rewriting and a leading man who wasn’t quite the triple-threat the role of Legs required.
End of story, right?
Wrong, though it would have been without Michael Betts, co-producer of Musical Theatre West’s Reiner Reading Series, who fell in love with the musical’s Original Broadway Cast recording and refused to let go of a dream to bring Legs back to life, even if for One Night Only, a dream which came miraculously true on Sunday, December 2, 2012.
Here’s a question for Los Angeles area musical theater lovers. Of the two Tony-winning musicals of 1951, Guys And Dolls and Call Me Madam, which one have you seen over and over again and which one have you never seen—or at least not until last night at Glendale’s Alex Theatre?
The answer to the second part of the question is, of course, Irving Berlin’s Call Me Madam, the mostly forgotten winner of three Tonys (for Best Score, Best Actress, and Best Featured Actor), a musical gem/chestnut that hundreds of Angelinos got to experience last night in Concert Staged Reading form, thanks to the oh-so talented triple-threats of L.A.’s Musical Theatre Guild.
Few 20th Century events continue to exert the fascination of the 1912 sinking of the Titanic. The mind still boggles at the epic tragedy of a supposedly unsinkable ocean liner on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City striking an iceberg in dead of night. What terror must have been inspired by the sudden realization that death was but an inexorable hour or two away?
2,224 passengers and crew in all—and only enough lifeboats onboard to carry half of them. 1,514 dead. Only 710 survivors, despite there having been space for 500 more.
And the “what ifs.” What if there had been sufficient lifeboats? What if the ship hadn’t been traveling at full speed so as to reach its destination in record time? What if a few critical modifications had been integrated into its design? What if a nearby ship had gotten Titanic’s SOS? What if? What if? What if?
Performance Riverside introduced its patrons to the musical theater genre known as the Concert Staged Reading in last night’s script-in-hand, one-performance-only “reading” of Ahrens and Flaherty’s A Man Of No Importance. And the result?
A nearly flawless production entirely deserving of its standing ovation.
A title that rings a bell for older musical theater buffs, but one that might not be familiar to anyone under a certain age. A score by songwriters whose better known shows keep getting revived and revived, but not this one. Songs that became hits even though the musical they came from did not. A book that, as they say, “needs work.”
It’s precisely for musicals like 1965’s On A Clear Day You Can See Forever that the “concert staged reading” was designed.
Musical Theatre Guild closes its strongest season in years with an imaginatively staged, powerfully performed “concert staged reading” of the 1975 Broadway hit Shenandoah.
Tony-nominated musicals of the 1950s fall largely into two categories. There are those that have made such a lasting impression that hardly a year goes by without regional theater revivals galore. Shows like South Pacific, Guys And Dolls, The King And I, West Side Story, Damn Yankees, My Fair Lady, and The Music Man make this list. The rest are mostly long-forgotten chestnuts that nonetheless merit a “concert staged reading” from time to time, if only for nostalgia’s sake. Take for instance Pipe Dream, Redhead, or New Girl In Town.
Then there’s Bells Are Ringing, which in spite of a Tony-nominated Broadway revival in 2001, has largely faded into obscurity despite at least three popular standards (“Long Before I Knew You,” “Just in Time,” and “The Party’s Over”) written by the incomparable Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and a book that continues to delight five and a half decades later. If ever there were a show in Category B which deserved to be in Category A, Bells Are Ringing is that show, as Sunday’s Musical Theatre West concert staged reading made abundantly clear.
Musical Theatre Guild continued its finest season in years with Monday evening’s one-night-only concert staged reading of William Finn’s A New Brain, so brilliantly directed (by Todd Nielsen) and performed with such polish and panache that it came close to meriting the words “fully staged,” quite an achievement considering that the entire shebang was put together with a mere twenty-five hours of rehearsal.