Remembering Shirley Jones in Maggie Flynn
Shirley Jones proved her mettle as a star of musicals, albeit predominantly in film musicals. She found her early start when the casting director for Rodgers and Hammerstein, John Fearnley, discovered her at a casting call. When Richard Rodgers saw what Jones was capable of, she was put under contract with the duo (the first and only singer to achieve this honor). She was immediately cast in a minor role in South Pacific, and then was given a chorus role in their musical Me and Juliet, working her way up to an understudy for the lead. When Rodgers and Hammerstein went to Hollywood to begin work on the film version of their groundbreaking Oklahoma! (1955), it was Jones that they cast in the role of the farm girl Laurey.
Hollywood proved to be a perfect fit for Jones, and Rodgers and Hammerstein were quick to usher her into the film version of Carousel (1956) when the casting of Judy Garland fell through. Other film musicals included April Love (1957) and the film adaptation of the Broadway hit The Music Manin the role of the uptight Marian the Librarian. She also won an Oscar for playing Lulu Baines in the nonmusical Elmer Gantry. Broadway, however, would eventually beckon Shirley Jones back, and the star vehicle that would be her triumphant return would be the short-lived Maggie Flynn (1968).
Maggie Flynn was based on an idea by John Flaxman that drew from the historical context of the 1863 New York Draft Riots. Jones played the title character, an Irish woman who ran an orphanage for the children of African-American refugee slaves. She is married to a man named Phineas (played by Jones’s husband Jack Cassidy), an actor who leaves her to join the circus. Soon, Maggie falls in love with Colonel John Farraday, a gentle man who is much steadier and certainly more faithful to her, but, of course, Phineas returns and gives his best effort to win his wife back. They all become caught up in the Draft Riots and the result is that the orphanage is burned down. The show’s unhappy ending may be what led to its unsuccessful run, but whatever the reason, Maggie Flynn was not the hit that Jones and company were hoping it would be.
The musical featured a score by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, and George David Weiss. Peretti was a Borscht Belt musician who was cousins with Creatore (who was the son of bandleader/composer Giuseppe Creatore). The duo were record producers and produced many radio hits such as “Honeycomb”, “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” While working at RCA, and with their Maggie Flynn collaborator George David Weiss, they co-wrote “Can’t Help Falling in Love” for Elvis Presley. The trio actually departed their jobs at RCA to write Maggie Fynn. Whatever their pedigree for writing and producing great songs, their score for Maggie Flynn proved only occasionally pleasant, and sometimes forgettable. Still, it is worth a listen, particularly for “It’s a Nice Cold Morning”, “Mr. Clown” and the title song.
Maggie Flynn opened at Broadway’s ANTA Playhouse on October 23, 1968. Morton DaCosta, who had directed both the stage and film version of The Music Man, helmed the production. Peretti, Creatore, and Weiss also wrote the musical’s book with some shaping and additions made by DaCosta. Also in the cast was Robert Kaye as Colonel Farraday, and among the moppets portraying the orphans were Irene Cara, Giancarlo Esposito, and Stephanie Mills.
Critics were unkind to Maggie Flynn, particularly disturbed by its dark storyline and its heavy-handed parallels to the Vietnam War situation which was on every American’s minds. Some also mentioned that it had obvious similarities to The Sound of Music, minus the hopeful ending. One critic went so far as to say that “Maggie Flynnis the best Broadway musical since Her First Roman”, a critically lambasted musical that had opened three-days before Maggie Flynn. Jack Cassidy did receive a Tony Award nomination for his work in Maggie Flynn, but the show had closed long before the Tony nominations were announced. Maggie Flynn shuttered after 82 performances.