Broadway Musical Time Machine: Looking Back at Where’s Charley?
A musical that is rarely performed anymore, but one that was once a theatregoer favorite, is Frank Loesser’s Where’s Charley? The musical is based on the once-popular farce Charley’s Aunt written in 1892 by playwright Brandon Thomas. This comedy of errors includes cross dressing and wildly ridiculous situations of a performer playing two characters.
The musical opened on Broadway in 1948 and enjoyed a run of 792 performances at Broadway’s St. James Theatre (Current home of Something Rotten!)
Ray Bolger, who played The Scarecrow in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, played the lead in Where’s Charley? His exaggerated features and nimble dancing brought a cartoonish brilliance to the frenzied title character.
In 1951, there was a Broadway revival of Where’s Charley? that also starred Bolger. It ran for 48 performances.
Considering the score was by Frank Loesser who would go on to compose Guys & Dolls, The Most Happy Fella and How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, the score had very few hits except for one. The song “Once in Love with Amy” was the breakout blockbuster of the Where’s Charley? score. During the show, Ray Bolger would lead the audience in a sing-along of this spritely, repetitive ditty that infectiously caught on around the country.
A similar sing-along gimmick was employed when Bolger returned to Broadway in the short-lived All American (1962), singing “What a Country!” Audiences didn’t embrace this song with the same enthusiasm as “Once In Love with Amy”.
Warner Brothers made a film version of Where’s Charley? that also starred Ray Bolger. The film has never been made available on VHS or DVD. There is much rumor and conjecture around why it has been withheld from the public. Frank Loesser was not a fan of the film, so this may be why his estate has held back a release on DVD.