Remembering A Day In Hollywood/A Night In the Ukraine
A musical that we rarely see anything written about, but one that has always fascinated me as a concept is A Day In Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine. Each act of this clever, lighthearted musical is its own play (they are not interconnected), diverse in purpose, subject matter, and execution, and I often find myself wondering at how it came together to be a modest success on Broadway, running 588 performances at the John Golden Theatre. A Day In Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, which brought together two iconic American elements of mainstream entertainment, Hollywood musicals and The Marx Brothers, premiered in London’s West End before crossing the Atlantic for its Broadway berth.
The first half of the show “A Day in Hollywood”, was a tribute to the great musicals of Hollywood yesteryear. Director/Choreographer Tommy Tune and co-choreographer Thommie Walsh constructed a joyous opening sequence to a song by Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly!) called “Just Go to the Movies” inviting us into the world of the 1930s Silver Screen. This was followed by the deliciously-clever “Famous Feet,” a number with choreography that featured the feet of many of film’s famous characters, allowing audiences to see them from the knees down (for example: the ruby-slippered tootsies of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, and the spinning footwork of Fred and Ginger). The musical’s first act was set at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where Hollywood laid their footprints down, the ushers and usherettes of the establishment performing a musical revue that took us through songs like “Too Marvelous for Words,” “Thanks for the Memory” and “On the Good Ship Lollipop.” There was also a hysterical tap routine that taught the audience about the movie censors and the rules the studios had to follow. Additional songs were written by Frank Lazarus and Dick Vosburgh. The show was a nostalgic flashback to the old movies, catering to an audience who had either seen them upon their initial release or had grown up watching them on television. This was a time where most everyone revered old movies because we treasured the past and held the classics in our hearts. Act I of A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine appealed to our warm memories and made for an escapist night of theatre.
Act II of A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine took a turn toward screwball comedy and witty wordplay, with Dick Vosburgh writing what Anton Chekhov’s The Bear would look like if it were performed by the Marx Brothers. The melodies for this portion of the show were written entirely by Frank Lazarus, with Vosburgh providing the lyrics. The story is set in the morning room of the Pavlenko residence in the Ukraine just before the Russian Revolution. Imagine what it must have been like to see a story by Chekhov (already a comedy) and taken for an outlandish spin of lunacy with the Marx Brothers playing the central characters. Vosburgh was surprisingly adept at creating a script that felt authentically like the comedic quartet.
A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine opened on Broadway on May 1, 1980 with a cast that included David Garrison, Priscilla Lopez, Peggy Hewett, Kate Draper, Albert Stephenson, and Stephen James. It was nominated for 9 Tony Awards including Best Musical. It took home wins for Best Featured Actress (Lopez) and Best Choreography (Tune and Walsh). For the fact that it was a relatively well-received musical, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine is rarely revived today.
Mark Robinson is the author of the two-volume encyclopedia The World of Musicals, The Disney Song Encyclopedia, and The Encyclopedia of Television Theme Songs. His forthcoming book, Sitcommentary: The Television Comedies That Changed America,will hit the shelves in October, 2019. Hemaintains a theater and entertainment blog at markrobinsonwrites.com.