Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Dance Party: Turkey Lurkey Leftover

Had enough turkey for one weekend? I don't think so. To kick off the holiday season on the Friday Dance Party, let's take a look at an interesting clip from the 1969 Tony Awards. It is the clip which represented a show which, though very much a traditionally structured book musical, provided some interesting firsts and innovations. Promises, Promises was the musicalization of the hit Billy Wilder film from 1960, The Apartment. Neil Simon provided the book, and the score marked the Broadway debut of one of the most successful composing teams in recording history, Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The duo brought a pop sensibility to Broadway, and were the first to enhance the onstage voices with back-up singers in the pit. One of Bacharach and David's favorite singers, Dionne Warwick, recorded the title tune and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," both of which became pop hits (Bobbie Gentry's version of the latter song hit #1 in Britain). Star Jerry Orbach won the Tony for his leading performance, and the show had a very healthy run of over three years.
The recent revival, starring Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth, received mixed reviews but has maintained strong crowds due to its star power; the show will be closing at the first of the year when the stars complete their contracts.
As for the show itself, well, the supporting role of Marge is clearly the part to have: Marian Mercer won the Tony for her performance in the original, as did Katie Finneran in the revival.
I saw a summer stock production of the show many decades ago, starring Donald O'Connor, who was a bit long in the tooth for it even then; that production was swiped by a comic actor named Bill McCutcheon playing the doctor who lives next door. I do not remember the number presented below. This clip represents what I think is the major reason Promises, Promises should be admired today. The choreographer was the great Michael Bennett, who was just stepping up the gas on his career, and the three leading dancers here went on to substantial careers. Of course, you recognize Donna McKecknie, who at this time was becoming the perfect instrument for Bennett's choreography; she would go on to create another star-dance turn in Company, and of course, win the Tony for the original A Chorus Line. Speaking of that ground-breaker, another of its original stars is in this clip as well. Baayork Lee (playing Miss Wong in this clip) created the role of Connie in A Chorus Line, and in fact has made a career of recreating Bennett's choreography. The third dancer in this clip is Margo Sappington, whose background and subsequent career was in ballet, though her biggest claim to fame at the time was her involvement (as choreographer and co-star) with the nudie revue Oh, Calcutta!; she has since become a respected choreographer on international ballet stages.
The song is called "Turkey Lurkey Time," and if you can figure out a meaning to it, be my guest. The story goes that the authors were having some trouble bringing Act One to a close, and turned to Bennett to jazz things up. Neil Simon reports that the number Bennett created "didn't just solve the problem, it was a sensation." It takes place at the office Christmas party, and incorporates many of the moves seen in the dance clubs of the day. It's said that the gyrational aspect of the steps kept the chorus at the chiropractors throughout the run. (The current revival does not end Act One with "Turkey Lurkey Time"; instead, another Bacharach and David song,"'A House is Not a Home," was interpolated to give Chenoweth the closing number.) For this day of turkey leftovers, enjoy this week's Dance Party. I worked 15 years in an office, and our Christmas parties were just like this: