About 15 years ago, husband-and-wife friends of mine Arlene Sarner and Jerry Leichtling were working on a stage musical adaptation of a big hit movie they'd written, Peggy Sue Got Married. They did the show's book adaptation, and Jerry wrote the lyrics with the music composed by Bob Gaudio. That name may not be familiar to you, or perhaps ring a bell -- but his work will be hugely familiar: he was a member of and wrote most of the hit songs of The Four Seasons. ("Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," "Rag Doll," "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You"...okay, you get the idea.)
I first heard a demo of four songs from the score at their home, which were wonderful. Later, when they finally were about to mount a production, it happened to be at the Marriott Lincolnshire Theater, a popular venue north of Chicago, and overlapped with a visit I was making home, so I got to see the world premiere. Given that it was the first performance, there clearly needed some work, but what was also clear was that the show was very good, and a very thoughtful and hugely entertaining adaptation of the movie. The '50s-style songs fit the show's sensibility wonderfully, though the score wasn't just a '50s pastiche, but had a richness. They also heightened some of the emotional content, and actually reworked the ending (about how Peggy returns to the present) which never seemed completely successful in the movie.
Eventually, the musical attracted enough attention to get a real, serious, major production in London's West End. And with one of the biggest female stars of the London stage, an actress named Ruthie Henshall (one of my dad's top faves, from his vacations there with my mom) -- she was in the original London productions of Chicago (which she later performed on Broadway), Cats and She Loves Me, for which she won the Olivier Award. As well as Les Mserables as Fantine (if you saw the 10th anniversary Dream Cast production on PBS, that was her), and the London revival of Oliver! as Nancy.
The show didn't get raves, but generally had positive reviews. (Again, this was only its second production, so work was continually going on during its pre-London tryout.) But alas, there's a reason you haven't heard of the musical and that it didn't make it to Broadway, which was their hope. The musical opened on August 20, 2001 -- and three weeks later, 9/11 hit. And the tourist trade to England, especially from the U.S., was pounded. Most shows on the West End got impacted, and Peggy Sue Got Married was one of those. It closed after a two month run.
The show deserves to have a life. It's good enough to succeed or fail on its own merits on Broadway. But at the very least, it would make a great production for high schools, colleges and community theaters.
There's no cast album available, but happily I was able to find a short video of Ruthie Henshall on a TV show singing a strong ballad, "This Time Around," after Peggy realizes she has a second chance. The video quality is terrible, but the sound is just fine. As is the song --
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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