Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Joe Darion's "Shinbone Alley"

Before there was Cats, there was Shinbone Alley. Never saw Shinbone in any version and I never understood the popularity of Cats.
Shinbone Alley (sometimes performed as archy & mehitabel) is a musical with a book by Joe Darion and Mel Brooks, lyrics by Darion, and music by George Kleinsinger. Based on archy and mehitabel, a series of New York Tribune columns by Don Marquis, it focuses on poetic cockroach Archy, alley cat Mehitabel, and her relationships with theatrical cat Tyrone T. Tattersal and tomcat Big Bill, under the watchful eye of The Newspaperman, the voice-over narrator and only human being in the show. The project began in 1954 as a Columbia Records concept album with Marquis' original title, featuring Eddie Bracken, Carol Channing, and David Wayne. That same year a concert version was presented by the Little Orchestra Society at The Town Hall in New York City. With an expanded book, the addition of several lengthy ballet sequences, and a cast of animal characters, the rechristened Shinbone Alley preceded Cats by a couple of decades and was a precursor of the far more successful Andrew Lloyd Webber hit. It was one of the first Broadway shows to feature a fully integrated cast. With neither an out-of-town tryout nor a preview period, the Broadway production opened on April 13, 1957 at The Broadway Theatre, and closed on May 25, 1957 after 49 performances. Following "creative differences" with the writers and producers, original director Norman Lloyd requested that his name be removed from the credits. The production was supervised by Sawyer Falk and choreographed by Joe and Rod Alexander, with production design by Eldon Elder, costumes by Motley, and lighting by Tharon Musser. The cast featured Bracken, reprising his role as archy, Eartha Kitt as mehitabel, Erik Rhodes as Tyrone, and George S. Irving as Big Bill. Supporting players included Cathryn Damon, Jacques d'Amboise, Ross Martin, Lillian Hayman, and Allegra Kent. Relative newcomer Chita Rivera was Kitt's standby. The show's sole Tony Award nomination was for Best Costume Design. In lieu of a cast album recorded in a studio, a tape of a live performance was transferred to acetate and released on the Legend label. In 2005 the musical had its Australian premiere in Melbourne, under the name archy & mehitabel. Produced by Magnormos, it was directed by Aaron Joyner and starred Jane Badler in the role of Mehitabel, and Michael Lindner as Archy.[1][2] The "Musicals Tonight!" series presented a staged concert version in November 2006 in New York City.

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