A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel back to New York City to catch a bunch of new shows that were beginning their runs on Broadway. I saw the first disastrous preview of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, the good but boring first preview of The Scottsboro Boys and the Public Theatre’s transfer of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Each show had a different start, supported by different theatres and producers, and all hoping to be the next big hit. Whether any of them will be a huge hit is anyone’s guess in this business and a huge risk for all of the producers, actors and everyone else involved.
On the plane, I tried reading my first book on my newly purchased iPad. I downloaded I Got the Show Right Here – The Amazing True Story of How an Obscure Brooklyn Horn Player Became the Last Great Broadway Showman by Cy Feuer. Since it was my first e-book and I will say that I absolutely loved reading it on my iPad. Though I did miss turning a regular page, it was kind of fun not carrying anything else with me except my iPad on the plane – no iPod, no laptop, no DVD player. It was great!
I Got the Show Right Here is a direct account by Cy Feuer himself about his life growing up as a horn player in Brooklyn, going to Julliard, then working in the movie business in California and then finally landing back in New York City producing some of musical theatre’s biggest hits: Guys and Dolls, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Can-Can and Cabaret (the movie). The intimate style of writing reads like a journal – a very easy read, but so personal that you feel like Feuer is recounting his life story to you personally. For a musical theatre junkie, like myself, it was absolutely fascinating and captivating.
Feuer’s first foray into producing a musical was the big hit, Where’s Charley?. It started in Philadelphia at the Forrest Theatre. He writes, “There was a woman buying two tickets to Where’s Charley? Someone was actually putting up money to see our show. Amazing! …The reality was emotional.” Feuer was able to get Harold Arlen (fresh off the heels of The Wizard of Oz) to write the music and his friend, Frank Loesser to write the lyrics. They landed George Abbott (the best writer on Broadway at the time) to write the book and direct, and secured Ray Bolger to be the lead. On paper it was going to be a huge hit! (It sounds a little like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.)
Then came the Philadelphia opening night drama: Ray Bolger had worked himself into a state of exhaustion not able to perform. After three long days awaiting news, Bolger returned and performed all four weeks in Philadelphia. They transferred to the St. James Theatre and after three previews and opening night, they were a flop. Six out of the seven newspapers in New York City gave them terrible reviews.
The first matinee proved to be their saving grace – Bolger forgot the words, stepped out of character and asked the audience if they knew the words. A small voice came out of the dark, “I do, Ray.” It was Feuer’s son, Bobby, who had been to all of the rehearsals and knew every line in the show. Bloger continued the audience participation each night to major success. While the reviews were awful, the word-of-mouth was terrific and Where’s Charley? ran for three years. (Sound like anything on Broadway right now?)
For a show that played 792 performances, it has no original cast recording (there was a musician’s strike going on) and the movie made in 1952 has not been released because Mrs. Frank Loesser doesn’t like it and wants no one to see it. It’s virtually a forgotten musical. Feuer brings this important show back to life in his writing. Hopefully, one day, I’ll be able to see a revival.
Feuer continues to give the reader detailed descriptions of producing all of his other shows. If you look at Feuer’s career, it’s pretty outstanding. He’s earned numerous awards for his work in theatre:
- 2003 Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement
- 1967 Tony Award for Best Musical (Walking Happy, nominee)
- 1966 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical (Skyscraper, nominee)
- 1966 Tony Award for Best Musical (Skyscraper, nominee)
- 1963 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical (Little Me, nominee)
- 1963 Tony Award for Best Musical (Little Me, nominee)
- 1963 Tony Award for Best Producer of a Musical (Little Me, nominee)
- 1962 Tony Award for Best Musical (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, (winner)
- 1962 Tony Award for Best Producer of a Musical (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, winner)
- 1951 Tony Award for Best Musical (Guys and Dolls, winner)
He vividly re-creates Bob Fosse’s temper tantrums, Cole Porter’s obsession with finding the right lyric, and Liza Minnelli’s staunch defense of her then-lover, Martin Scorsese.
It feels like an unedited memoir because of all of insider information he gives to the reader. It’s priceless for someone who has grown up on his musicals. The casting and out-of-town tryout stories of Guys and Dolls alone is enough to purchase and read this book. He gives valuable insight to the characters and what they are suppose to be. I wonder if the producers of the last Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls read this? I think if they had, they would have casted the show in a much different way and probably would have had a more successful revival on their hands.
One of the most interesting parts of the book was when Feuer wrote about producing the movie version of Cabaret. Not only did this movie win numerous awards, but the performers Liza Minelli, Joel Gray and choreographer, Bob Fosse are legendary. Everyone, as he says, “was at the top of their form.” Cabaret won eight awards at the 1973 Academy Awards. He recounts losing Best Picture to The Godfather and his lost chance to apologize to his dear friend, Bob Fosse. He writes, “It was the most disappointing moment of my professional life. I missed winning an Oscar, but more important, I lost a chance to win back my friend.”
Whether or not, any of these new shows on Broadway will be a hit is anyone’s guess. Cy Feuer had his incredible hits, as well as a few flops but his contribution to the American musical theatre catalogue is remarkable. His risks paid off in more ways than one and he carved a place into musical theatre history that no one will forget.