Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Dance Party: In Their Own Lifetime

This week's Dance Party is a celebration of two of its contributors, who recently went to that big musical theatre camp in the sky. There is a big musical theatre camp in the sky, right? (If you are not interested in these obits, you can always just scroll down for the actual clip). First, our host:

Tom Bosley


TV Guide listed Bosley's performance as Howard Cunningham in the long-running sitcom Happy Days as one of the top 10 Dads of Television, and who am I to argue? Tom became a household name with his performance as "Mr. C.," though he owes that role, at least partially, to Harold Gould. Gould played the character in the pilot, but had a scheduling conflict when the show went to series, so Bosley got the gig (I mentioned this when Harold Gould died recently). Tom had been a go-to comic actor in TV for a decade or more before landing the role which would make his career; I remember him quite fondly for a guest gig on the sitcom Get Smart, playing opposite one of my favorite character actresses, Alice Ghostley (the duo would reunite several years later, when Ghostley was a regular on Bewitched). Here's a quickie clip from that Get Smart episode, called "The Farkus Fracus," from the fourth season of the series. Tom is playing a more sardonic character than Howard Cunningham, and, together with Ghostley, they created a gem of a comic couple (I mentioned this episode when I wrote about Alice Ghostley several years ago, when she died).

After Happy Days, Tom spent a couple of seasons headlining the detective series Father Dowling's Mysteries, and also had a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote. That series reunited him with Angela Lansbury, with whom he had worked in The World of Henry Orient, one of Peter Sellers's most underrated films. Bosley was also part of the first Disney Broadway show to be culled from the studio's cartoon vault, Beauty and the Beast. He played Maurice (the father) in the premiere production of that long-running hit, and also spent some time playing Cap'n Andy in the national tour of Hal Prince's revival of Show Boat. These performances marked a return to the stage for Bosley, who won the Tony award for his 1959 performance in the Pulitzer Prize winning Fiorello!, one of the few musicals to win that prestigious award.

And that brings us to the second obit of this long-winded Dance Party:

Jerry Bock


His death this week is one of those dark coincidences; only a week earlier, Bock had spoken at the funeral of one of his frequent collaborators, librettist Joseph Stein. Along with lyricist Sheldon Harnick, the trio created one of the best loved, most revived musicals in the canon, Fiddler on the Roof. As composer, Jerry is responsible for supplying the first six notes of the score to this masterpiece, which, standing alone, can be identified by anyone who has any knowledge of American musical theatre.

The song-writing team of Bock and Harnick were together for a prolific 15 years, and then split up about 40 years ago. Their first Broadway effort, The Body Beautiful, was not a success, but brought them to the attention of Mr. Broadway himself, George Abbott. Along with his protege Hal Prince, Abbott invited the duo to provide the score to a new musical regarding New York's most famous mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia.

Fiorello! opened in 1959 and was an instant hit, sharing the Best Musical Tony with The Sound of Music, and is one of the rare musicals to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Bock and Harnick spent the 1960s providing Broadway with one of the decade's biggest smashes, Fiddler on the Roof, as well as other well-regarded, though less-successful shows. She Loves Me (1963), based on the Jimmy Stewart film The Shop Around the Corner, is now considered one of the gems of musical theatre, and provided Broadway diva Barbara Cook with another star turn (and Jack Cassidy with a Tony). The Apple Tree (1966) was actually three independent playlets, with source material from Mark Twain and Jules Feiffer, and provided Barbara Harris with a Tony, opposite a pre-Hawkeye Alan Alda.

The Rothchilds (1970) was based on the true story of the rise of that banking dynasty, from Jewish poverty to positions of European power.

The show boosted the careers of rising stars Jill Clayburgh, Chris Sarandon, and Robby Benson, and won Tonys for Hal Linden and Keene Curtis. The Rothchilds was to be the final collaboration of Bock and Harnick, and the last score of Bock's to ever reach Broadway, but it will be remembered for providing one of the great power ballads of the era, in Linden's big eleven o'clock number, "In My Own Lifetime."

In Jerry Bock's name and honor, there is now a Jerry Bock Award for Excellence in Musical Theatre, awarded to composers since 1997. Though he continued to work on various projects, the final new work of Bock to appear on Broadway was in the most recent (2004) revival of Fiddler. After 40 years apart, Bock and Harnick reunited to pen one new song, "Topsy-Turvy," for Yente the Matchmaker (it replaces "The Rumor" in the original score).

One of Jerry Bock's less-successful works was the musical Tenderloin, from which this week's Dance Party comes. Bless you for wading through all the above trivia to get this far. Taking place in New York's red light district, the production starred classical actor Maurice Evans in his only musical role. The clip below comes from one of those PBS concerts which are produced to be shown, piece-meal, during pledge breaks. It showcases one of the dance numbers from Tenderloin, and the great Chita Rivera makes it enjoyable viewing. In honor of our dead boys Tom Bosley and Jerry Bock, enjoy: