|Karen Morrow in I Had A Ball.|
Karen Morrow was the go-to belter on Broadway during the 60s, starring in a string of unfortunate shows for which she received glowing reviews. She never had that big hit which may have insured her name be remembered, though in truth, the era in which Broadway stars became household names had already passed. Still, our Karen should be better known today than she is, and I'm sorry that, if people remember her, it's likely to be for that silly sitcom above.
Regrettably, her Great White Way endeavors aren't well-remembered, though her debut may have had some traction had it not been for her temperamental costar. I Had A Ball took place at Coney Island, and was structured around the questionable talents of comic Buddy Hackett.
|Nobody could get this one to work.|
Our Karen was also part of the prestigious flop The Grass Harp, which included in the cast Barbara Cook (in her final book musical to date), with Truman Capote providing the source material. This one lasted only a week on Broadway, but the character Morrow created, an over-the-top evangelist named Miss Babylove, stopped the show with her number.
I first came across Karen Morrow too many years ago to count, on a syndicated talk show helmed by Steve Allen. I still remember wondering who the hell this powerhouse singer was, as she belted a remarkable rendition of "Time After Time."
|Karen Morrow at her best: belting a showtune.|
I started to bump into Ms. Morrow on other talk shows, particularly Merv Griffin's, who was smart to make good use of her as a singer and lively conversationalist. There used to be several nice clips of her appearances on YouTube, but those have recently been removed for copyright reasons. I hate that.
|Everybody in the business of musical theater loves Karen Morrow. Here she is with her best buddy Nancy Dussault, Joanne Worley, and Jason Graae peeking overhead.|
|Karen's buddy Charles Nelson Reilly had better luck. He|
was able to transfer his Broadway stardom to TV. They
can be heard singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" on an album
of Broadway folks, recorded for AIDS charities.
That show was headlined by Juliet Prowse (a previous visitor to the Dance Party) and Shani Wallis, and included in its cast opera legend Yma Sumac and a very, very, VERY old Dorothy Lamour (sidebar: Lamour was so old she could not remember her lyrics. She toddled out to center stage, led by a chorus boy, stood stock still and warbled "Broadway Baby" with the conductor shouting her next lyrics from the pit. Sad. But unforgettable). Anyway, our Karen belted out "I'm Still Here;" there is a grainy clip of that performance here.
|This is the show I saw years ago at|
Studio One in West Hollywood.
But the first time I saw Karen Morrow live was more special. She teamed up with her friend Nancy Dussault (another 60s Broadway stalwart who appeared on this Dance Party) for a cabaret act which they have performed time to time over the years. I saw an early version of it in West Hollywood, years and years ago. Studio One was the big dance club of L.A. at the time, catering to partying gays, and the owners had created a small cabaret room adjacent to the main club. Neither room was soundproofed, so anyone performing in The Backlot, as the cabaret was called, had to put up with that unrelenting disco bass beat which shook the walls. It was a noble effort, that cabaret room.
As for Karen and Nancy, they gave a dynamite show. Their talents complimented each other beautifully, and were reminiscent of Mary Martin and Ethel Merman performing together (in fact, the centerpiece of their routine was the long duet those two earlier divas had performed back in the 1950s, when they were the Queens of Broadway).
This week's Dance Party, which is really last week's, comes from a Jerry Herman tribute. You'll recognize the Hollywood Bowl, where everyone gathered in 1994 to pay homage to Jerry; Karen is singing a song from one of his flops, Dear World.
That attempt to musicalize The Madwoman of Chaillot didn't succeed too well (though it won Angela Lansbury one of her Tonys), but it spawned this power ballad which continues to have life. A belated Happy Birthday to Karen Morrow. Keep on belting!