Remembering Plain and Fancy
Not every Broadway musical is a runaway hit, but then not every musical is a calamitous flop. Over the years, there have been many musicals, also-rans, that lasted a season and offered many wonderful things that make it a worthwhile second look. One of those musicals is the 1955 Plain and Fancy. Set amidst the scenic locales and the denizens of Pennsylvania’s Dutch Country, the musical is a gentle story of two cultures clashing cultures and the connections we can make if we just open our minds and hearts.
Plain and Fancy featured a book by Joseph Stein (who would ultimately write the books for one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals, Fiddler on the Roof) paired with frequent collaborator Will Glickman. Together, the duo wrote sketches for Lend an Ear, and books for Mrs. Gibbons’ Boys, Alive and Kicking, and Mr. Wonderful. The score for Plain and Fancy was composed by Abert Hague (music) and Arnold Horwitt (lyrics). Hague is probably best known for writing the songs for the television holiday animated classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas, based on the Dr. Seuss children’s book of the same name. Hague would also go-on to write the music for the Broadway musicals Redhead, Café Crown, and The Fig Leaves are Falling.
Plain and Fancy tells the story of urbanites Dan King and Ruth Winters who take a sojourn from their world of New York City’s comforts to Bird-in-Hand, an Amish community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The purpose of their trip is to sell a piece of land to the farmer Jacob Yoder, who wants to gift it to his daughter and her intended on her wedding day. Dan and Ruth soon find themselves involved in the day-to-day lives of the local villagers.
Under the direction of Morton DaCosta (who would helm The Music Man on Broadway two-years later), Plain and Fancy opened at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre on February 28, 1955. Helen Tamiris provided the choreography for the show, which starred Richard Derr and Shirly Conway, as Dan and Ruth, respectively. Also in the cast were Barbara Cook, David Daniels, Will Able, Gloria Marlowe, Douglas Fletcher Rodgers, and (in the chorus) Carol Lawrence who would play Maria in West Side Story. Bea Arthur understudied the role of Ruth. Plain and Fancy lasted on Broadway for 461 performances, long enough to change theatres (it moved to the Mark Hellinger).
Plain and Fancy may not have been a Tony winner, but it did manage to be recognized with Theatre World Awards for Conway, Cook and Daniels. The real charms, however, are to be found in the score which most-assuredly deserves several listens. Among the delightful songs are “You Can’t Miss It”, “Plenty of Pennsylvania”, “Young and Foolish”, “It's a Helluva Way to Run a Love Affair”, and “Follow Your Heart” (all among a score that is quite good).
Though it is rare to see a production of Plain and Fancy, occasionally a theatre realizes the merits of this gentle and funny show and produces a revival. If you are interested in seeing a production, Plain and Fancy is mounted yearly at The Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres in Nappanee, Indiana.