Broadway Blip: 70, Girls, 70
In the spring of 1971, a musical was readying to open on Broadway that featured a cast of older performers, singing and dancing, looking back on life, many exploring regrets and old memories shaded by the perspective of time. This musical would go on to become one of Broadway’s greatest classics of all time. That musical was Follies.
Opening within ten days of Follies was another musical that featured a cast of older performers, singing and dancing, exploring memories but focused on an entirely different set of circumstances. 70, Girls, 70, with a score by John Kander and Fred Ebb and a book by Norman L. Martin and Ebb, is not a musical you hear much about these days, though it does deserve a second look and listen. Based on the1958 play Breath of Spring by Peter Coke, 70, Girls, 70 is about the residents of the New Sussex Arms, a retirement hotel on the Upper West Side, who launch a burglary scheme to buy their building which is being sold to real estate developers.
Opening at the Broadhurst Theatre on April 15, 1971, 70, Girls, 70 was directed by Paul Aaron and featured a cast full of showbiz veterans including Mildred Natwick, Lillian Roth, Hans Conried, and Lillian Hayman. In its out of town tryout, David Burns (the original Horace Vandergelder in Hello, Dolly!) was also in the cast. He suffered a heart attack onstage, was carried offstage, and died soon thereafter. Conried took over the role. Mildred Natwick received a Tony nomination for her performance, of course losing to Alexis Smith for her work in Follies.
Though it may have lasted for only 35 performances on Broadway, the musical 70, Girls, 70 has much to recommend for the musical theatre fan who loves delightfully character-driven showtunes. Among Kander and Ebb’s joyous score, standouts include the rumba “Home,” the frenzied “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup,” the guilt trip inducing “Go Visit Your Grandmother,” the heartbreaking (yet funny) “Elephant Song” and the life-affirming “Yes.” Anyone who enjoys Kander and Ebb should take some time to explore this mostly forgotten gem that is guaranteed to get your toes tapping and to ignite your heart.