Broadway Blip: The Red Shoes
Bob Merrill’s final foray into the world of the Broadway musical was for the ill-fated stage adaptation of the classic film The Red Shoes. Jule Styne was working on the project with book writer and lyricist Marsha Norman who had scored quite the artistic success a year earlier with The Secret Garden. When Styne found himself in need of some additional and revised lyrics for the project, he reached out to his old collaborator (and show doctor) Bob Merrill and brought him in to help salvage The Red Shoes. He agreed to do so under the pseudonym Paul Stryker.
The Red Shoes drew its inspiration from the popular 1948 film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, itself loosely-based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name. The stage musical’s story is set in 1921-1922 amidst the Russian Ballet Lermontov company, traveling Europe to London, Paris and Monte Carlo. Victoria Page, one of dancers in the troupe, is the object of desire for two men: Boris Lermontov, the impresario of the company who wants to control Victoria’s career, and Julian Craster, a young composer with ambition who is infatuate with love for the girl. In the end, she is driven to suicide, overwhelmed by the forceful nature of these two men who are having a tug-o’-war for her attentions.
The Red Shoes went through a turbulent tryout period in New York. Director Susan H. Schulman was replaced along the way by Stanley Donen. There was a great deal of opposition from about half of the creative team (Schulman and Norman in particular), who didn’t want to merely plunk the film down onstage, but rather wanted to evolve the story to have a fresh feel, free from the trappings of the movie. Donen, Styne and producer Martin Starger wanted to adhere to the classic, feeling that audiences would come looking for a stage version of the film they love. The musical also lost its original star Roger Rees, who was replaced by Steve Barton (Of Phantom of the Opera fame).
The Red Shoes proved to be the final Broadway musical for both Jule Styne and Bob Merrill. One wishes that two such gifted men with long careers in the theatre could have gone out with a hit, but that was not to be. The Red Shoes opened at the Gershwin Theatre on December 16, 1993, running a mere 5 performances before closing. Critics universally panned the production, but had encouraging things to say about its star Margaret Illman, Heidi Landesman Ettinger’s scenery, and “The Shoes Ballet” itself with choreography by Lar Lubovitch. Not much was said about Bob Merrill’s (or Paul Stryker’s) lyrics, but it was never indicated in the program what revisions and new material he provided separate from Marsha Norman’s work.