All in Music That Makes Me Dance
A musical that seems to have those who remember it divided, with some people having enjoyed it and others just absolutely disgusted by it, was the 1997 Broadway production of The Life. With music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Ira Gasman, and a book by Coleman, Gasman, and David Newman, The Life took a look at the underworld of New York City’s Times Square circa the 1980s. The seedy and unsavory world may have been hard for some people to get excited about, considering the show was populated with pimps and hookers, hustlers and drug dealers. Others easily connected to the piece, understanding that these characters were the product of a harsh world, runaways and forgotten people and that this was their way of making ends meet and to escape living on the streets.
An eagerly anticipated musical of the 1984-1985 Broadway season was Grind, set to be Harold Prince’s big project of the time, but ultimately part of a sequence of lulls in what was an otherwise prolific career of genius and artistry. Grind was an edgy musical that depicted the harsh divide between races in burlesque theatre of Chicago in the 1930s. With a book by Fay Kanin, and a score by Larry Grossman (music) and Ellen Fitzhugh (lyrics), Grind was an ambitious piece of musical theatre that had a hard time settling into what it wanted to be. Sometimes, it played like a broad comedy, sometimes it felt as though it was aiming for serious drama, and the show-within-a-show moments often left audiences feeling like they were watching a musical revue, even when those numbers were making commentary about what was happening onstage. Still, there was something special about Grind sometimes did work, and much of that came from just how daring it set out to be.
I don’t know why, but I have murder and mystery on the mind lately and it got me thinking about Broadway musicals that have these two intriguing elements central to their makeup. Though the murder mystery musical hasn’t exactly been a regular item among Broadway musicals, there certainly have been occasional attempts over the years. Some of these have been enormous successes, others have been resounding flops, but each has been a unique stab at trying to kill within this compelling genre. Today, we look at some of these musicals.
Helen Gallagher is an actress who came very close to being one of Broadway musicals’ biggest stars, on a par with Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, or Gwen Verdon. Always one of the standout supporting players in such musicals as High Button Shoes, Make A Wish, and Pal Joey, for which she won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. It was inevitable that she would ultimately land a starring role in a Broadway musical that would launch her career into the stratosphere where it belonged. That vehicle, for all intents and purposes, should have been the 1953 musical Hazel Flagg wherein Gallagher played the title character.