The Grass Harp - The Real Miracle Show
A musical that a lot of people do not know, but will kick themselves when they realize what they have been missing out on, is the glorious The Grass Harp based on the novella by Truman Capote. It's a delightful story about a group of misfits and eccentrics in a small, southern town, who decide to renounce conventionality and move into a tree house in the woods. No, it is not a big splashy musical. In fact, its true pleasures can be found in its intimacy and quaintness. With a score by Claibe Richardson and Kenward Elmslie, the show ran a mere 7 performances on Broadway in 1971, but The Grass Harp has lived-on through its sumptuous cast recording featuring Barbara Cook, Russ Thacker, Carol Brice, Ruth Ford and an explosively wonderful Karen Morrow.
The cast is small, which really allows the book, music, and lyrics to focus in on the relationships and emotional pull of the piece. Even the opening number is a frolicsome romp through the woods and meadows as our core characters gather ingredients for a special elixir "Dropsy Cure Weather." It starts out gentle and contemplative, then explodes like a sunburst of joy as the tempo picks up. The slightly off-the-beam Dolly Talbo, with her orphaned nephew Colin and the spunky black cook Catherine (who thinks she's Native American), radiate so much life-affirming enthusiasm, that it is hard not to get sucked into The Grass Harp from minute go.
The whole score is like this. It tantalizes and surprises, but shows wonderful restraint in keeping with the tone of Capote's characters. Dolly (Cook) manages a divine loveliness relating our delicate human interconnectedness in "I'll Always Be in Love." The pubescent Colin (Thacker) is equal parts longing and sexually distracted with his two numbers "This One Day" and "Floozies." Catherine (Brice) gets the best comedic numbers with the hilariously clueless "Marry with Me" and the droll but oblivious "Indian Blues." "Yellow Drum" is an anthem for individuality as Dolly leads her parade of misfits into their new woodland home. I challenge you to listen to this peppy march and not spend the rest of the day trying to get the melody out of your head. In fact, there is not a stinker in this whole score. It ranks with Stephen Schwartz's The Baker's Wife as one of those great musical flops where find yourself wondering "why didn't this show at least have a solid run, let alone a long one?"
Saving the best for last, the most enthralling part of The Grass Harp is the musical set-piece "The Babylove Miracle Show." A traveling evangelist named "Babylove" brings her five illegitimate children to town and leads the denizens in a "hootin' and hollerin', talkin' in tongues", preachin' and prayin' tent revival. The number (sung with charm, gusto, pizazz and reverence by the versatile and always top--notch Karen Morrow) starts out folksy, builds with intensity to an unbridled verve of talking in tongues, then catapults to an angelic, hymn-like divinity. There has never been a number quite like this on Broadway and its musical audacity is refreshing and invigorating.
How many of you have listened to The Grass Harp? Are you as crazy about it as I am? If you haven't listened to it, I urge you to get a hold of this golden cast album that features Barbara Cook at her very best.