Broadway Blip: The Boys from Syracuse
Rodgers and Hart musicals always included a delicious sense of fun and their 1938 comedy The Boys from Syracuse was no exception. Based on William Shakespeare’s 1594 play (his shortest) The Comedy of Errors, The Boys from Syracuse features one of Rodgers and Hart’s most enduring score with such gems as “Falling in Love with Love,” “Sing for Your Supper,” “This Can’t Be Love” and “What Do You Do with a Man” as standouts.
To write the book for The Boys from Syracuse, who better than the great George Abbott, the king of assembling musical comedy books and staging them with aplomb, to adapt Shakespeare’s farcical tale? To date, Abbott would have only crafted one book of a musical, Rodgers and Hart’s 1936 critical triumph On Your Toes, but would go on to write such classics as Where’s Charley?, The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, and Fiorello!(among others). Abbott, already a revered director, knew how to piece together musical comedy almost instinctively from the begging, staging his shows with energy and fine-tuned timing. This would prove especially useful in both writing and directing a musical like The Boys from Syracuse. To choreograph, George Balanchine, who had stopped the show with On Your Toes’ “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue” ballet, returned to work with Abbott on what would turn out to be a less dance-driven piece.
The story followed two sets of twins, each half of a pair separated in a shipwreck. For years, they fear their siblings have died, only to end up in the same town where the citizens, particularly wives and other romantic partners, become confused by the comedy of errors that comes from twins being mistaken for their brothers.
The Boys From Syracuse opened on November 23, 1938 at the Alvin Theatre with Eddie Albert, Teddy Hart (Larry Hart’s brother), Jimmy Savo, Ronald Graham, Muriel Angelus, Marcy Westcott, and Wynn Murray in the leads. The show ran 235 performances, a solid hit for the day. The production featured two designers of note. Costumes were designed by Irene Sharaff, and the set by Joe Mielziner. Both well-established young artists already, they would go on to impressive careers in their respective fields.
The Boys from Syracuse would receive two significant revivals, one Off-Broadway in 1963 that ran for 500 performances at Theatre Four under the direction of Christopher Hewitt. That production starred Stuart Damon, Clifford David, Danny Carroll, Rudy Tronto, Ellen Hanley, Julienne Marie, Karen Morrow and Cathryn Damon. The other revival of note was the 2002 Roundabout Theatre production directed Scott Ellis and choreographed by Rob Ashford. Jonathan Dokuchitz, Tom Hewitt, Chip Zien, Lee Wilkof, Erin Dilly and Lauren Mitchell composes the cast. That revival ran 73 performances.
A film version of The Boys from Syracuse, directed by A. Edward Sullivan, was released by Universal Pictures.