Broadway Blip: Up in Central Park
Here is a musical that used to be immensely popular in this country, but has faded into obscurity. Featuring a lush score by Sigmund Romberg and clever lyrics by Dorothy Fields, Up in Central Park was one of the last hangers-on of the operetta style while also embracing the more contemporary sound of the Rodgers and Hammerstein style that had become the rage two years earlier with Oklahoma!. Opening on Broadway in 1945 (the same year as Carousel), the musical was particularly well known for the lovely song “Close as Pages in a Book,” an oft-recorded love song that still holds up today (check out Barbara Cook’s enchanting recording).
Set in New York City during the 1870s, Up in Central Park tells of Tammany Hall politics and the corrupt “Boss” Tweed, his crooked political machine a big part of fraudulently constructing Central Park. Of course, there is a love story interwoven with the plot (in keeping with audience expectations of operetta and musical theatre) about a newspaper man who is investigating the corruption, but ends up falling in love with the daughter of one of Tweed’s toadies.
Featuring a cast that included Wilbur Evans, Betty Bruce, Maureen Cannon, and Walter Burke (“who” you say?) Up in Central Parkwas directed by John Kennedy and choreographed by Helen Tamiris. It played at the Century Theatre for 504 performances (not a bad run for the time, but neither was it a blockbuster). The production was produced by theatrical impresario Michael Todd. It soon became a popular piece with summer stock, tours, and even opera companies.
Besides the exquisite “Close as Pages in a Book,” the score has much to offer including “Carousel in the Park”, “It Doesn’t Cost You Anything to Dream”, “April Snow”, and “The Birds and the Bees.” Up in Central Park would be the last Broadway score for Sigmund Romberg. He died six years later in 1951. What is perhaps most interesting is that Romberg is one of the few operetta composers to make the transition to the post-operetta Broadway sound. He walks a fine line between the two here.
A 1948 film version of Up in Central Park tossed out most of the Romberg/Fields score, including “Close as Pages in a Book.” This seems somewhat ludicrous, since the film’s stars were Deanna Durbin and Dick Haymes, both of which would have sung it gloriously. The plot was also mostly excised and reworked. Vincent Price played Boss Tweed in the film. The one holdover from the stage production that seemed to be the only thing that pleased critics was the “Currier and Ives Ballet.” The film was not a hit.