That’s the Ticket – Where It All Began
by Guest Writer Mel Miller
I first became aware of That’s the Ticket, thanks to “The Musicals No One Came to See” by Rick Simas. His bare-bones description: music and lyrics – Harold Rome; book – Philip and Julius Epstein; director – Jerome Robbins; stars – Leif Erickson, Kaye Ballard, Jack Carter and George S. Irving; orchestrations – Don Walker and Robert Russell Bennett (incidental music – Buster Davis). It closed after a 10-day run in Philadelphia in 1948. Two years after discovering its existence we revived it with George S. Irving in the cast.
The Library for the Performing Arts had ACT I. The show takes place in 1948 during the Presidential contest between Thomas E. Dewy and Harry Truman. There’s a far-right group, called The Feudal Party, that is looking for an appropriate candidate. The first scene takes place in Central Park as the ingénue breaks up with her boyfriend. She is left sobbing when a frog who hops out of a nearby pond to comfort her. He is a Prince who has been bewitched for 1,000 years. She takes him home and the next morning he is a Prince again. Her father, the chairman of The Feudal Party, decides that there could be no better reactionary candidate for President of the United States than a former Prince. I was hooked and my research began in earnest.
The low-hanging fruit was the music. I went to the Yale University Music Library and they kindly allowed me to copy what I needed from their Harold Rome Collection.
Locating Act II was an entirely different matter. I struck out with every “finding aid” that existed for anyone involved with the production. Then I called George S. Irving.
George did not have his old script but recalled that Jerome Robbins had a bound copy in his personal library. But Mr. Robbins had since passed away. I let my fingers do the walking – and used the White Pages. I found a listing for “The Estate of Jerome Robbins” and left a message. I got a call back from a very helpful assistant who told me that all of Mr. Robbins’ papers had been donated to the Dance Division of the Library. When I called the library, I was told there were no funds to catalog the 100 boxes of material and I couldn’t search them on my own. Since the boxes were surrounding the librarian’s desk, she opened one up and there was “my” script. However, since it was annotated by Jerome Robbins, I would need permission from the Robbins Estate before I could examine and/or copy it.
My friend at “The Estate” told me the trustees had just met and would not meet again for at least six months. But perhaps he could do something in the interim. And he did. HE RE-TYPED THE ENTIRE SCRIPT (without the annotations) and sent it to me!
Now I needed to acquire performance rights. Mr. Rome’s nephew was easy to locate and readily agreed. Philip Epstein had died decades earlier, and Julius’ representative was not interested – all I ever received from him was a scribbled “NO!” on my fax. I needed help – and I found it.
Our very first revival was Let It Ride (1998) with music and lyrics by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. Just like Philip and Julius, Jay and Ray were not Broadway people they were Hollywood people. They wrote Oscar winners – “Buttons and Bows,” “Mona Lisa” and “Que Sera Sera” as well as “Silver Bells” and “Tammy.” When I called Ray for information he asked, “How many Epsteins do you need?” He’d been playing poker with Julius for years and knew most of the Epstein clan. Theo Epstein was the GM of The Boston Red Sox and told me the only way he would grant me permission was if I assured him that the Yankees would not beat his team in the playoffs.
Then we cast George S. Irving in a show he had been in nearly a half century before. Not only was he still an amazing performer but he was an even more amazing raconteur.
Jerome Robbins: This was to be his Broadway debut but he didn’t love the show and when he crossed the street to see Kiss Me, Kate he urged the producer, Joe Kipness, to close the show in Philadelphia.
Kaye Ballard: A practical joker and a great caricaturist. She disliked the producer so much that she taped caricatures of Kipness to all the urinals and toilet seats.
Joe Kipness: Owned several restaurants, including Joe’s Pier 52, and wanted celebrities to be seen at his tables so he handed out chits for free meals to certain cast members.