Joel Grey turned 77 this week, so how could I not include him in this week's Dance Party? Well, it was either Grey or David Cassidy, who also had a birthday this week. Want to feel old? Former teen idol Cassidy turned (get this) 59 on Sunday. yikes. I decided against dredging up one of those old clips from The Partridge Family, with everybody lip-syncing and Susan Dey pretending to play the synthesizer and Shirley Jones looking wildly out-of-place.
Instead, it's gotta be Joel Grey. I've already written a bit about Grey (a bit?), including seeing him on screen in his career-making role as the Emcee in Cabaret. But I've resisted the temptation to use one of those clips, and instead chosen a little-known one. After Grey's success in Cabaret, he headlined a couple of musicals which were not big hits. His 1975 flop Goodtime Charley attempted to musicalize (get this) the story of Joan of Arc, as seen through the eyes of the dauphin of France who later becomes Charles VII. Maybe this would have made an effective opera, but as a musical comedy, not so much. How could a show recover from an opening number sung by the warrior King Henry V and Queen Isabella of Bavaria? That show must have been a hoot to sit through: I mean, Ann Reinking as Joan of Arc?? Wow.
I actually saw Grey's later disaster, The Grand Tour, about which I have written here.
But years before those mistakes, Grey had a minor hit with his follow-up to Cabaret, George M! He played George M. Cohan, which was a good fit for his singing and dancing skills, but Grey has never been a particularly warm presence onstage, and the show was pretty chilly. (I have to say that I have seen Grey once more onstage, in a summer stock production of 1776, in which he was very effective as John Adams, who was, after all, a chilly fellow himself.) And George M. Cohan was not a particularly nice guy to play; he was an arrogant egomaniac who trashed two marriages and, as a producer, attempted to block the formation of the stage actors union back in the 1920s. (Can you tell I played the sucker? Well, I played him into the ground, back in 1983, and can confirm that tap-dancing is not my strongest suit.) Anyway, in 1970, a truncated version of George M! was broadcast on ABC; unfortunately, there has never been a video of that show released, so the clip below is a bit fuzzy. But it's fun, especially when you notice the actors playing Grey's sister, mother and father. Surely you recognize them, right?
By the way, whoever first loaded this clip onto YouTube obviously had no sense of comic timing. Otherwise he would have included the tag line. After this number, the producer watching the Cohans perform (the guy with the cigar) takes a beat and says, "I'll take the girl."