The York Theatre’s winter Mufti Series Tribute to Jule Styne ends with the delightful Subways Are For Sleeping, not seen since the 1961-62 Broadway season.
by Linda Amiel Burns
The book for this musical was based on Edmund G. Love’s book, Subways Are For Sleeping, a series of character sketches profiling men and women living on the streets of the city. Jule Styne acquired the dramatic rights and recruited his Bells Are Ringing collaborators Comden & Green to help bring the musical to the stage. The show opened in the busy 1961-62 season which also featured How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, No Strings, Milk and Honey, and I Can Get It For You Wholesale produced by David Merrick who also produced Subways. The show was directed and choreographed by Michael Kidd and starred Carol Lawrence, Sidney Chaplin, Orson Bean and Phyllis Newman who won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress. A young Michael Bennet and Valerie Harper were in the ensemble. Subways opened on December 27, 1961 and ran for 205 performances. It is also remembered as the show that Merrick engineered a famous promotional trick by taking out an ad with quotes from people with the same names as the first-string critics of New York’s seven newspapers with rave reviews.
This is the 110th musical that has been featured by the York Theatre in the acclaimed Mufti Series. In the after show talk back, musical consultant Jason Buell noted that Betty Comden never wanted the show revived as she felt they had not solved the book’s problems. However, with the go-ahead from Margaret Styne, Jule’s widow and Phyllis Newman, Adolph Green’s widow, they not only got the go-ahead but much help and advice on this production. Stuart Ross mentioned that he had read all seven versions of the script, made excellent choices, and brilliantly directed this show with an outstanding cast. Jim Morgan, Producing Artistic Director of the York for over three decades, describes the word Mufti, as an East Indian military term adopted by the British to mean in civilian clothes. That means that these productions are creatively bare bones, the cast holds scripts, and this is what makes The “Musical in Mufti” series remarkable as you get to see the essence of the shows without all the “bells and whistles.” This production had beautiful screen projections, a great production team, and an amazing cast that surprisingly only has one week of intense rehearsal to make it all happen, and as Jim Morgan jokes “whether they need it or not.”
Music Director David Hancock Turner on the piano sounded like an orchestra, along with George Farmer on bass. The very talented Eric William Morris plays the lead role of Tom Bailey with great charm. He is a man who had overstepped in his previous financial career winding up in jail and then homeless for the past six years. He is the leader of the pack, helping the men and women with tips on where to sleep for the night, and giving them leads on odd jobs to be had around town. Alyse Alan Louis (Eric’s real life wife) plays Angie McKay, a reporter who poses as a homeless woman to write a story on Tom and the unrecognized people forced to live on the streets. She has a lovely voice and sings “Girls Like Me” about her life and what she is seeking. Of course, Tom and Angie fall in love and sing “Who Knows What Might Have Been” before Tom finds out that Angie is a reporter and writing an expose on him. He sends her away, but as in all “boy loses girl” scenarios, they get together when he discovers that she never turned in the article.
The show stopping song is sung by a sensational Gina Milo as Martha Vail, “I Was a Shoo-In” the number that won Phyllis Newman the Tony. She plays an enchanting grifter whose bill at the hotel is long overdue and assumes that the management won’t throw her out if she is not dressed, and wears a bath towel as her costume for most of the show. The man who falls in love with Martha and tries to save her is Charlie, played with great humor by David Josefsberg. His song, “I Just Can’t Wait” brought the house down as he “cannot wait to finally see her wearing clothes.” The big hit song that came from this show is the standard, “Comes Once In a Lifetime” that is sung at the end when the plot lines are tied up as the leads realize that they can change their circumstances, make a business out of helping people with errands, chores and anything that might be needed. The show closes on a positive note with the optimistic song “What Is This Feeling In The Air” sung by the whole company.
Kudos to Jim Morgan, the entire Production Team, the excellent cast of Subways Are For Sleeping, and the 2018 Winter Mufti Tribute to some of the lesser known shows of the great Jule Styne whose gorgeous music and overtures are legendary. One of the highlights of this production was the inclusion of Styne’s amazing overture for the show as the projection of his hand written musical chart filled the screen. Thanks to the York Theatre for keeping the history of musical theater alive, and for producing new works and encouraging new writers!
The limited 11-performance engagement of Subways Are for Sleeping concludes Sunday, March 4, 2018 at 2:30PM at The York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s (619 Lexington Avenue, entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue). Visit: www.YorkTheatre.org for tickets and info on future productions.