"He'll brighten your day
He'll lighten your load
'Cause he knows why the chicken crossed the road!"
- Book by Fay Kanin
- Music by Larry Grossman
- Lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh
- Directed by Harold Prince
- Musical direction by Paul Gemignani
- Orchestrations by Bill Byers with Jim Tyler and Harold Wheeler
- CD produced by Normal Newell
- Opened 4/16/85 at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in New York. 79 performances.
Gus Joey Faye Solly
- Brian McKay
Louis, the stage manager
Mike, the doorman
Leonard John Crofoot
- Ray Roderick
- Kelly Walters
- Steve Owlsley
- Malcom Perry
Knockabouts, bums, toughs
This musical had an original story. It's set in 1933 Chicago, in Harry Earle's Burlesk [sic] and the city. The burlesque house has two companies, white and black, and as the town is touchy about "mixin'," the companies cannot mingle on or offstage. The principal black characters are LeRoy, the comic, and Satin the stripper; the principal white performer is Gus, a comedian. LeRoy loves Satin but cannot express his feelings to her except in crude, offputting burlesque routines. Gus is going blind and is in danger of losing his career, so he enlists a helper, an Irish bum named Doyle, as his primary stooge. Doyle has his own demons, but he proves to be a useful addition to both companies. For one thing, he's the only person who can ride a bike, so he's picked to deliver a bike to the birthday party of Satin's little brother Grover. Unfortunately, toughs take offense to this mixing of white and black, and the bike is destroyed. LeRoy, unable to deal with the violence, retreats into a burlesque routine.
Gus's eyesight is now too poor for him to continue performing, and he commits suicide. Doyle is devastated and disappears during the memorial service. Satin and LeRoy search for him, unsuccessfully; LeRoy is finally able to confess his love for Satin, who is thrilled, and they arrange to meet for dinner. But on her way to meet him, Satin finds Doyle, drunk and being set upon by toughs. She rescues him and takes him home. As he sleeps, he talks, and reveals that he was an Irish terrorist who accidentally killed his wife and son.
Next morning, Satin returns to the theatre only to encounter LeRoy, feeling rejected. He humiliates her onstage and then attacks Doyle, causing the two companies to take sides (along racial lines) in the conflict. However, when those ubiquitous toughs invade the theatre, the companies become one company as they fight the common enemy.
- This Must Be the Place
- A Sweet Thing Like Me
- I Get Myself Out
- My Daddy Always Taught Me to Share
- All Things to One Man
- The Line
- Katie, My Love
- The Grind
- Why, Mama, Why
- This Crazy Place/Act 1 Finale
- Trio: Who Is He?/Never Put It In Writing/I Talk, You Talk
- These Eyes of Mine
- New Man
Entries in red were winners.
- Best Musical
- Best Director
- Best Book
- Best Score
- Best Featured Actress (Jones)
- Best Scenic Design
- Best Costume Design (Florence Klotz)
This show was an interesting mid-80s flop that I believe was Stubby Kaye's last Broadway musical. The plot is way overloaded and unfocused--it seems silly, for example, to give Doyle so much background and emotional baggage, when his function is mostly as a catalyst for the two companies to examine their relationship with each other. How did his past as a terrorist in any way affect what happens in the musical, except to make him vaguely mysterious for a while? Possibly they gave him this past because they needed another take on the word "grind." They already had grind in the "bump-and-grind" sense, the grinding down of spirits by the Depression, and the grind of daily performances; Doyle added the grinding of elements to make bombs. It's also possible that Larry Grossman had some nice Irish-sounding melodies that they wanted to include in the show, so they made Doyle Irish. Anyway, this is a classic example of a show utterly destroyed by book problems. Ken Mandelbaum suggests several ways that Prince could have salvaged this show, including by giving it the Cabaret or Chicago treatment consistently throughout, rather than only twice (at the beginning and when LeRoy reacts to the destruction of the bicycle and throws everyone but Satin into an imaginary burlesque routine by way of escape). The show does feel like a cross between Chicago and Follies with a little Ragtime and Gypsy thrown in, though in a lumpy and awkward way.
Grossman was as unlucky as Stephen Schwartz was lucky. Here is a composer whose music deserves attention, yet all four of his Broadway scores were flops. His only success, such as it was, came with the off-Broadway show Snoopy!, which of course has been completely overshadowed by the earlier (and inferior) You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. I have all his scores except Minnie's Boys, and I'm struck by the disconnect in the quality of the music versus the crap of the books. Grind is a snappy, always interesting, classic brassy Broadway score with some standout numbers ("Sweet Thing Like Me," "I Get Myself Out," "All Things to One Man," and the much-better-than-average overture) and more than a hint of burlesque rhythms. Of course, the mid-80s were not kind to classic Broadway scores... but it holds up quite well. Fitzhugh's lyrics are competent with a few good moments, but not much sticks in the memory.
According to Ken Mandelbaum, the star presence of Vereen required that his part be fleshed out considerably, but as may be evident if you ever listen to this CD, too much attention is paid to him and not enough to the rest of the company. It's a shame, too. He's a great dancer and a good actor, but not much of a singing performer; I find myself impatient when he sings. Kaye delivers an appealing second banana performance, but he's definitely lost a step from his glory days in the 1950s. Nolen gives a powerful, if slightly overemotional, performance on his two solos, "Katie, My Love" and "Down," and one wonders why he wasn't at least nominated for the Best Featured Actor Tony. (1985 was such a sucky year for musicals that several categories had to be eliminated entirely because there weren't enough candidates, which explains why a flop like Grind could get seven nods and why the oddity Big River could win most of the awards... but I digress.)
Jones is easily the class of the show (her "Sweet Thing Like Me" is an early knockout punch) and deservedly won her Tony. Carol Woods is shamefully underused on the disc, appearing on only one song, the well-received gospel number "These Eyes of Mine" sung at Gus's memorial service. (In general this talented woman is shamefully underused on Broadway. I saw her blow the house away in Follies on the "Mirror, Mirror" number, and I was thinking, "Who is she? Who is she?" I'm slowly learning.) The other actors are pleasant but unmemorable.
Unimpressive. The booklet has basic details of cast and production, a plot summary, and a cast list. There are six captioned color pictures (decent, if a little dark and distant) inside and a rather fuzzy color picture of the company (looks like just the black characters, not the full company, despite the caption) on the back. For a song list and who sang them, you have to go to the back of the CD case. There's no production history, which would have been useful given this musical's status as a Hal Prince flop.
This is one of the better flop scores available, assuming you can find it. It's worth a search if you're into flops, are a fan of one of the principals, or want to explore Grossman's music.
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