Do I Hear a Waltz?
Do I Hear a Waltz? is a musical with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Richard Rodgers, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It was adapted from Laurents' 1952 play The Time of the Cuckoo, which was the basis for the 1955 film Summertime starring Katharine Hepburn.
|Do I Hear a Waltz?|
Original Broadway Cast Album
|Basis||The Time of the Cuckoo |
by Arthur Laurents
1999 New Brunswick, New Jersey
2001 Pasadena, California
Laurents originally conceived the production as a small chamber musical with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, and Mary Martin in the lead role of spinster Leona Samish. By the time the project began to jell, however, Hammerstein had died, and Stephen Sondheim was asked by Laurents and Mary Rodgers, Richard Rodgers' daughter, to write the lyrics. Even so, Rodgers felt that the original play did not lend itself to musicalization; Sondheim agreed. According to Peter Filichia, "Sondheim didn’t want to do the musical in the first place, but given that Laurents sought him – and had recommended him for 'West Side Story' when he was a novice — he accepted. Also a factor was that his now-deceased mentor Oscar Hammerstein had recommended that he succeed him as Rodgers’ lyricist."
Rodgers, who was producing the Broadway production, rejected Martin as too old for Leona.
Franco Zeffirelli was the first choice for director, and he met with Laurents, Sondheim, and Rodgers, who fell asleep during their discussion. Laurents suspected Rodgers had been drinking, and when he discovered a bottle of vodka secreted in the toilet tank during a later visit to the Rodgers apartment, he realized he had been correct. The composer's chronic drinking proved to be a major problem throughout the rehearsal period and pre-Broadway run at the Colonial Theatre in Boston and the Shubert Theatre in New Haven.
Laurents suggested that John Dexter direct the show, but later regretted the choice. Dexter insisted on giving the lead role of Leona to Elizabeth Allen, who Laurents felt could manage the acting and singing but had a cold personality too contrary to that of the character. Rodgers' mistreatment of Sondheim left the lyricist feeling apathetic if not outright sour about the project, but he maintained his professionalism. The first run-through was disastrous, and Dexter immediately lost interest, leaving most of the work to his assistant-cum-choreographer Wakefield Poole. Herbert Ross was called in to work on the dance routines and brought with him his wife Nora Kaye, who served as a mediator among the warring factions. She was faced with an arduous task, given Rodgers' open dismissal of Sondheim's lyrics as "shit," as well as his eventual ban of Laurents from rehearsals completely.
The musical opened on Broadway on March 18, 1965 at the 46th Street Theatre and closed on September 25, 1965 after 220 performances. It starred Elizabeth Allen and Sergio Franchi; other principal cast members included Carol Bruce, Madeleine Sherwood, Julienne Marie, Stuart Damon, Fleury D'Antonakis, and Jack Manning. Choreography was by Herbert Ross, with scenery and costumes by Beni Montresor and lighting by Jules Fisher.
Laurents rued the casting - he felt Allen was too young and colorless and Franchi couldn't act - and ignored all the ongoing problems in favor of making his dream a reality, but most of all he regretted the break in his friendship with Sondheim after the show.
The musical received three nominations for the Tony Awards: Elizabeth Allen was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical; nominated for Best Original Score; and nominated for Best Scenic Design, but lost in all three categories.
In May–June 1966, the play was performed at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, with a cast that included Dorothy Collins as Leona Samish and Ron Holgate as Renato Di Rossi, as well as Dorothy Stinette, Joel Fabiani, and Gay Edmond.
In 1997, Sondheim was sent a recording of a concert version of the show that had been presented in London. It was then he realized the original play did lend itself to musical adaptation, but the score Rodgers composed wasn't very good. He enthusiastically contacted Laurents and the two discussed changes that could be made to improve the show.
A revised production was staged at the George Street Playhouse, New Brunswick, New Jersey from October 13, 1999 through November 14, 1999. For that production, the dropped song "Everybody Loves Leona" was restored, lyrics were altered or added, and Laurents "revamped quite a bit of the book."
A 2001 revival of the musical was staged at the Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena, California, where it ran from July 15 through August 19. The cast included Alyson Reed as Leona, Anthony Crivello as Renato, and Carol Lawrence as Fioria. The production was well received by the critics, and a cast recording was subsequently released on the Fynsworth Alley label.
The musical was presented by Encores! at New York City Center in May 2016. It was directed by Evan Cabnet and starred Melissa Errico (Leona), Claybourne Elder, Sarah Stiles and Richard Troxell (Renato De Rossi).
New York City secretary Leona Samish arrives in Venice ("Someone Woke Up"), where she is staying at the Pensione Fioria, where she is greeted by owner Fioria ("This Week Americans"). There she meets Americans Eddie and Jennifer Yeager, who are living in Rome and have come to Venice for a vacation, and the McIlhennys, an older couple on a package tour ("What Do We Do? We Fly!").
While shopping, Leona sees a ruby glass goblet in a store window and goes inside to inspect it. The owner, Renato di Rossi, tells her it is an authentic 18th-century piece, not a reproduction. He offers not only to find her a matching glass to make up a pair, but to show her the sights of the city, as well. Leona refuses his offer and leaves, but returns the next day to buy the goblet. Later that day, a package with a second goblet is delivered to the hotel. Soon after, Renato arrives to invite Leona to join him for coffee in Piazza San Marco that evening. When the McIlhennys show her their purchase of a set of glasses exactly like hers, Leona believes Renato misrepresented their value, but Signora Fioria assures her they are antiques.
Later in the day, Renato's son Vito comes to tell Leona that Renato will be late for their meeting because one of his children is ill and needs to see a doctor. Realizing Renato is married, she cancels their rendezvous. He comes to the pensione and explains he and his wife have not loved each other for years but divorce is not an option, not only because the country doesn't permit it, but because they have their children to consider as well. To Leona, his casual attitude about extramarital affairs is wrong, but she still finds herself attracted to him, and agrees to keep their date.
Meanwhile, the Yeagers are facing problems of their own. Eddie, finding himself enamoured with Signora Fioria, announces he wants to put distance between himself and the woman by returning to the United States.
Renato arrives with a garnet necklace for Leona, who is thrilled with his gift and agrees to extend her stay in Venice. She hosts a party in the garden of the pensione, and as the party is in progress, Renato's son Vito comes to tell his father that the jeweler wants his money; overhearing this, Leona happily gives him the money. However, when she discovers Renato has received a commission on the sale of the necklace, she accuses him of being interested only in her money, and he leaves.
Fioria and Jennifer attempt to comfort Leona, who drunkenly reveals Eddie and Fioria spent the previous evening together, only to immediately regret her words ("Everyone Loves Leona"). The following day both the Yeagers and the McIlhennys check out of the pensione as Fioria is happy that everyone is leaving and making way for the next group of guests ("Last Week Americans"). On hearing Renato had been there before she awoke, Leona goes to his store to make amends, but he tells her a relationship with her would be impossible because of her complicated outlook on life. His affection for her is gone, and they part as friends ("Thank You So Much").
Original Broadway castEdit
Paper Mill Playhouse cast (1966)Edit
- Dorothy Collins - Leona Samish
- Ronald Holgate - Renato Di Rossi
- Dorothy Stinette - Signoria Fioria
- Joel Fabiani - Eddie Yaeger
- Gay Edmond - Jennifer Yaeger
- Avril Gentles - Mrs. McIlhenny
- William Martel - Mr. McIlhenny
- Fleury D'Antonakis - Gionanna
- Andrew Amic-Angelo - Vito
- Jomar Cidoni - Mauro
- Hank Selvitelle - Alfredo
- Jacque Dean - Mrs. Victoria Haslem
- Nick Athos - Man on Bridge
- Cut songs
- "Two by Two" - Leona, Vito, girl, Eddie, Jennifer, Fioria, male companion, Mr. McIlhenny, Mrs. McIlhenny
- "We're Gonna Be Alright(original version) – Eddie Yaeger and Jennifer Yaeger
- "Everybody Loves Leona" - Leona (restored in the George Street Playhouse production)
The original production received mixed reviews. Howard Taubman of The New York Times observed, "The authors . . . have accomplished their conversion from the play with tact and grace. They have not attempted a complete transformation. On the other hand, they have not cheapened or falsified the play . . . They were wise not to overload the musical with production numbers; their taste was unexceptionable when they chose not to turn their work into a brash, noisy affair, which would have been out of keeping with their theme. At the same time one cannot suppress a regret that they failed to be bolder. For there are times, particularly in the early stages, when the songs are merely a decoration. They give the impression that they are there because a musical requires music. They do not translate the story into the fresh and marvelous language that the rich resources of the musical stage make possible."
William Ruhlmann wrote: "Despite the pedigrees of the creators, the show opened to negative reviews, which is explained only partly by the score as heard on this cast recording. Elizabeth Allen, in the lead role, was criticized with backhanded compliments for being too young and attractive for the part, flaws not apparent on the album. Sergio Franchi, as her romantic partner, also came in for criticism, but comes off much better here. And the small supporting cast, featuring Carol Bruce as the proprietor of a pension, is also impressive. But the songs, for the most part, are not memorable."
The production did not recoup its investment, but several songs, including the title song, received radio play. RCA released a single (RCS 47-8552) of two of the songs recorded by Sergio Franchi ("Someone Like You" and "Take The Moment"); and he sang them on several televised shows. Franchi generally received excellent reviews of his singing performance on this show, his Broadway debut.
With the passage of time Sondheim, the longest surviving member of the original creative team, has reflected on what went wrong with Do I Hear a Waltz? To begin with, his reasons for collaborating with Rodgers were prompted out of obligations to others rather than a belief in the material. In his final meeting with Hammerstein, the dying lyricist recommended that Sondheim collaborate with Rodgers. Additionally, Mary Rodgers (the composer's daughter) was a good friend of Sondheim's and forcefully urged him to consider a collaboration. In getting to know Rodgers, Sondheim found a "funny, dour, difficult fellow" who was plagued with self-doubt, thinking that his musical abilities were failing him. This manifested itself in the composer's adamant unwillingness to consider rewriting anything. Sondheim considered "What Do We Do? We Fly" and "Bargaining" to be repetitive songs, victims of the lack of desire to rewrite, a type of song he named "mechanicals." Sondheim felt that Rodgers need not have been so self-doubting "as songs like "Take the Moment" and the show's title tune attest." Eventually Rodgers' self-doubt grew into paranoia with his thinking that Sondheim and Arthur Laurents were plotting against him.
Optimistic at a chance to do something unusual, Sondheim thought that Leona--the lonely and uptight American--should not sing until the end of the show. Rodgers refused to consider such an innovation, bringing Sondheim to recognize that in the Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration, it was Hammerstein that was the pathbreaker, because Rodgers was an "archconservative" whose innovations were restricted to superficial gimmicks (for example, no string instruments in No Strings). Sondheim felt that Rodgers was not able to write a story in song so he ended up writing many of the lyrics first. Unlike his other partnerships in which composers responded with a collaborative give-and-take between lyrics and music, Sondheim felt that working with Rodgers was like "a set of assignments, either from me to Rodgers or Rodgers to me."
One particular incident involved an infamous lyric change referring to a married couple in the song We're Gonna Be All Right. Sondheim's lyrics for the song tended to lean toward a more cynical view of marriage and his suggestion that the husband and wife might find consolation by having separate affairs, even a homosexual one, was quite revolutionary for 1965. He recalls, "I wrote lyrics which had some bite to them and Dick Rodgers thought the song was wonderful. Next day he called a lunch and kept slamming the lyrics against my forearm and saying, 'This will not do, this will not do,' and I kept asking, 'Why?' The truth was, he'd shown the lyrics to his wife and she did not like it. He probably showed it to her out of enthusiasm. But you know, it's got stuff about sexuality in it."
Ultimately Sondheim understood the failure of Do I Hear a Waltz? in the context of Mary Rodgers's formulation of what she called a "Why? musical". Such a musical is usually based on good source material but raises the question as to what the addition of music does to enhance the original. With rare exceptions (Sondheim cited My Fair Lady as such an exception because its creators loved and respected the story), "Why? musicals" gain nothing from having music added, usually resulting in a dilution of the original material. Sondheim accepted responsibility for being naive in thinking that his participation in Do I Hear a Waltz? was a quick way to make money off of good source material—an effort that failed.
The original cast recording was released by Columbia Records in 1965, and was chosen by Billboard as an Original Cast Spotlight Album. A remastered version was released on compact disc and cassette tape by Sony Broadway in 1992. A KeelanMusic review gives a very favorable review to the Original Cast recordings, irrespective of the Broadway criticisms.
A recording of the Pasadena Playhouse production was released by Fynsworth Alley in 2001. Musical excerpts (not included on the original cast recording) include the overture, Lezione in Inglese, We're Going to the Lido, Everybody Loves Leona.
Awards and nominationsEdit
Original Broadway productionEdit
|1965||Tony Award||Best Original Score||Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical||Elizabeth Allen||Nominated|
|Best Scenic Design||Beni Montresor||Nominated|
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- Secrest, Meryle, Stephen Sondheim: A Life (1998). New York: Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 0-385-33412-5, pp. 174-175
- Filichia, Peter. "Forgive Me, Stephen Sondheim" masterworksbroadway.com, March 23, 2015
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