Monday Morning, Mr. Wonderful, as Sammy Davis’s character in his first Broadway play was called.
If Sammy Davis were only a dancer he would be known as one of the greatest tap dancers of the 20th century.
If he were only a singer he would be known as one of the greatest male vocalists of the 20th century.
He was both.
Here he is with a song from his second musical, Golden Boy, from 1964, about an African-American boxer who falls in love with a white woman.
Paula Wayne who played Sammy’s lover, Lorna, in the show, said that when the time came during rehearsals for Sammy to kiss her, Sammy was very reluctant to do so. It was the first time an interracial kiss had happened on the Broadway stage; but Paula insisted that there would be no problem. She was soon to find out otherwise—the day after the show opened there were pickets in front of the theatre from white supremacists groups denouncing the show.
But the show ran for 500+ performances and had a great, under-appreciated score by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams—probably the best score they ever created.
Another of the great, but lesser known, film dance stars, Tommy Rall, who died this month. As a youngster, he was in a group of dancing teens called the “Jivin’ Jacks and Jills” at Universal Studios, which included Donald O’Connor. He was trained in ballet, and his amazing high jumps, pirouettes, and flips rival anything else seen on the screen. He appeared in movie musicals almost every year in the 50s, but somehow he never made it into super-stardom. O’Connor thought Rall was one of the greatest dancers living, a better dancer than either Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire.
Here he is with Ann Miller in “Why Can’t You Behave?” from Kiss Me Kate, where he mixes dance with some practical jokes in a fun character piece.
Gene Kelly, Michael Kidd, and Dan Duryea as three GIs about to be discharged, set out on a binge and do an incredible dance number with trash can lids. From the film, It’s Always Fair Weather, the last Gene Kelly–Stanley Donen collaboration.
Monday morning, the extraordinary Cyd Charisse floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee, and schools the boys in boxing lore in this dance clip from It’s Always Fair Weather. Music and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
Angela Lansbury in one of her signature roles at the 1975 Tony Awards.
About two-thirds of the way through the clip, Lansbury gets surprised by a guest dancer. Don’t miss it. The look on her face is wonderful. (If you don’t recognize who it is, I’ll post his identity in the comments.)
Jean Simmons’ wonderful turn as the Salvation Army worker who just had her first drink in Frank Loesser’s Guys And Dolls. And, of course, Marlon Brando, in one of the oddest casting decisions for a movie musical, as the leading man, gambler Sky Masterson.
The “bench scene” from Carousel, “If I Loved You,” with the original Broadway cast, John Raitt (father of Bonnie) and Jan Clayton. In my opinion, the best love scene and music that Rodgers and Hammerstein ever wrote. And stay until the end to catch the amazing Jan Clayton in the final clinch.
The short-lived original 1998 Broadway production of The Capeman had a beautiful score by Paul Simon and Derek Walcott. And it was sung superbly by two icons, Marc Anthony and Ruben Blades.
The video above was uploaded last month to YouTube by Blades himself. In this song, Ruben Blades plays the older Salvador Agron, the so-called Capeman murderer, looking back and trying to reach his younger, 16-year-old incarcerated self, played by Marc Anthony.
I hope that someday more video surfaces, as that show really needs to be re-evaluated. It was performed for a few times in the summer at Central Park’s outdoor Delacorte Theatre in 2012, but was not picked up for a longer run. If anyone is interested, I’ll tell a funny story concerning my viewing of that production.
Yesterday, radio station WBAI 99.5 FM in NY aired my interview with tap-dancing legend, Maurice Hines. Together with his brother Gregory, he re-invented tap dance for modern audiences.
Maurice guested on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson over 35 times and had a featured role in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club. The star of several shows on Broadway, he just opened Off-Broadway in a new autobiographical song and dancer called Tappin’ Thru Life.
In the show, 72 year old Maurice sings, dances and dishes about the greats he’s worked with, including Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and on and on. I had the pleasure of talking with him in his dressing room a few hours before his Wednesday evening performance.
Click on the grey triangle to hear the warm giving voice of Maurice Hines talking about his life and times.
The pranksters at Improv Everywhere are at it again, and they need you!
Improv Everywhere is the group of geniuses who created theNo Pants Subway prank. They specialize in seemingly spontaneous musical break outs in public places. In the above video you can see one of my favorite of their pranks (or “missions,” as they call them), a real life musical in a grocery store celebrating the mingling of fruits (don’t ask, the video explains all)!
And now you, too, can participate in their next prank in mid-April. If you live in NYC and have one or more of the following skills: ballet, gymnastics, or ballroom dancing, then get in contact with them at the following urls:
Last week I went to a delightful community theater production of The Pajama Game. The songs were written by Jerry Ross and Richard Adler, and the show was a big hit when it first opened in 1954. They followed up a year later with Damn Yankees which also was a big hit. Unfortunately, Jerry Ross died shortly afterward at the age of 29, and Adler, who lived to be 90, never had a Broadway hit again.
The action of the play is the love story between a union leader and a supervisor of the Sleep-Tite pajama company. The love plot is set against the background of an impending strike demanding a 7 and 1/2 cents an hour wage increase. While not politically sophisticated, the story actually celebrates the struggle of union members for better wages, a sentiment you would be hard-pressed to find in today’s popular entertainment.
The score delivered some pop songs that are still standards today. Here’s “Hey There,” sung by John Raitt, who created the lead role in the original Broadway production and the movie. Raitt had one of the great Broadway voices, perfectly suited for the strong leading man tenor roles of Rodgers and Hammerstein as well as The Pajama Game.