I Love My Wife
"Grab your Polaroid and hurry on over
Take the curtain up, we're ready to go
Bring the wife and kids and don't forget Rover
Though it's sexy it's a fam-i-ly show!"
- Book by Michael Stewart
- Music by Cy Coleman
- Lyrics by Michael Stewart
- Directed by Gene Saks
- Musical arrangements by Cy Coleman
- Musical direction by John Miller
- Opened 4/17/77 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York. Closed 5/20/79. 857 performances
Monica Michael Mark Stanley
This musical was "based on a French farce by Luis Rego" according to It's a Hit!--I don't have the title for it. There isn't much of a plot. At root, it's about two wannabe swinger couples in New Jersey, longtime friends, who want to experiment with wife-swapping and group sex. They schedule it for Christmas Eve, so a turkey and a cream pie make an appearance. This being the 70s, they smoke pot to calm their nerves. Everyone ends up embarrassed rather than happy--the positions are just too complicated, and they have hangups about the whole thing anyway--and they remain monogamous, but still friends, at show's end. Throughout, the four-piece band dresses up in scene-appropriate costumes (e.g., Santa suits for Christmas) and comments musically and verbally on the action.
- We're Still Friends
- By Threes
- Love Revolution
- A Mover's Life
- Someone Wonderful I Missed
- Sexually Free
- Hey There, Good Times
- By the Way, If You Are Free Tonight
- Lovers on Christmas Eve
- Ev'rybody Today Is Turning On
- Married Couple Seeks Married Couple
- I Love My Wife
- In Conclusion
- Bows (Hey There, Good Times)
Entries in red were winners.
- Best Director
- Best Featured Actor (Lenny Baker)
Drama Desk Awards:
- Outstanding New Musical Score
- Outstanding Director of a Musical
- Outstanding Actor (Lenny Baker)
- Outstanding Featured Player (The Band)
A few days ago my parents came over for lunch. After we ate, I played songs that I thought they would enjoy. One of those songs was "Hey There, Good Times." When it ended, I was going to put in something else, but then my dad said plaintively, "Can't we hear more from that?" So I started the CD at the beginning, and he spent the entire 48:07 with his eyes closed, listening. His opinion when it finished? A thumbs-up and an "Oh, yeah!"
This show is in my personal top 30 and is my third favorite Cy Coleman score after On the Twentieth Century and Sweet Charity. In some ways it even outdoes the latter, because the songs maintain a consistent quality throughout, whereas Sweet Charity has a couple of melodies that just don't measure up. Anyway, Coleman rivals Sondheim as the most versatile Broadway composer, able to compose convincingly in just about any musical idiom. This bouncy score is a veritable encyclopedia of forms, from march ("Scream") to honky-tonk ("Ev'rybody Today is Turning On") to country ("Someone Wonderful I Missed") to ballad ("I Love My Wife") to Christmas tune ("Lovers on Christmas Eve," which, unlike "We Need a Little Christmas," you're not likely to hear on Muzak this season) to pure Broadway glitz. (the showstopper "Hey There, Good Times"). "Monica" is one of the most lust-filled songs you'll ever hear; you can practically see the singers drool. The only clinker is "Sexually Free," which sounds like it was meant to be a pastiche of a religious testimonial, but just comes off as unattractive. Unfortunately, as the booklet lacks a plot summary, it's hard to understand where the songs fit into the show.
Stewart's lyrics are outstanding, one of the most facile sets I can think of, not terribly complicated but glowing with wit in practically every line. What a shame that he concentrated largely on books during his Broadway career--his only other full set of lyrics for a musical was for Barnum, and I don't know if those measure up to these because I haven't listened to that one much. His book is pretty dated, but I bet a revival could have fun with the ultra-70s look and feel of the show. And I don't know how they get such a full sound out of a four-piece band; I have my share of off-Broadway scores with four or more musicians, and none of them have half the depth of this one.
The ensemble cast is quite good. At the time, the principals were mostly talented unknowns. This was the first Bway appearance for Joanna Gleason, James Naughton, John Miller, Joseph Saulter, and Michael Mark, and the first musical (and last Bway appearance) for Lenny Baker, who would die of cancer in 1982. (Tragic irony: The man who played Alvin in London would also die young.) The Smothers Brothers, who would play Alvin and Wally later in the run, also made their Bway debuts here. The women have much purer singing voices than the men; possibly in response, their songs are "singin' " songs, not character songs, for the most part. But there's a great deal of engaging singing/acting going on here. Too bad it's impossible to tell who's singing what! (See below for why.) If you know Gleason or Graff's voice you can figure out their numbers, but the guys are one big blur.
Godawful. This is one of the worst booklets I've ever seen included with a musical. It makes the one for Nine seem almost good. It's all of four pages, and that includes the front and back covers. The front cover has minimal technical details. Inside the front cover are a song list (reproduced on the back of the CD case), "the cast" (the four principals), and "the band" (who are actually part of the cast, but you'd never know from this useless piece of paper). Inside the back cover are three favorable quotes from reviews plus a little box with the Tony and Drama Desk awards that the show won. The back cover has two uncaptioned color photographs, one of the principals in bed and one with the band in Santa suits. No plot summary, no indication of how long the show ran and where, and--the biggest sin by far--no indication of who played which character and sang which song.
One of the great forgotten scores of the 1970s, I Love My Wife may have a dated book, but its music is timeless. Essential for a comprehensive Broadway collection, and a must for fans of any of the actors or Cy Coleman. Speaking of Coleman, it's high time for some of his shows to be revived. Enough already with the tired retreads of stuff we've seen a thousand times in dinner theatre or the movies. Try this one, guys!
All non-lyric material copyright 2002, D. Aviva Rothschild. All rights reserved
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