The other day, I mentioned a flop 1968 musical that Vincent Price starred in called Darling of the Day, and posted the video of Price performing a song from the show. I thought I'd dive in a little deeper and also post a few songs, since it's an interesting musical. It has an excellent pedigree, and one of the best scores I've heard for a flop musical. But it was a flop. And a big one only 31 performances..
Darling of the Day is based on a fun 1943 movie, Holy Matrimony, worth checking out, that starred Monty Wooley and the legendary Gracie Fields. The writer of the film, Nunally Johnson,, had a long, acclaimed which included such movies as The Grapes of Wrath (for which he got an Oscar nomination), The Three Faces of Eve, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, The Dirty Dozen and The World of Henry Orient -- and he got an Oscar nomination for the screenplay of Holy Matrimony. And he also wrote the original script for the musical, though apparently it got rewritten a lot, and he took his name off. What I’ve read is that the show was fun, but it had some book problems, and that Price is better on the album than on stage where he wasn’t as comfortable. Though a friend saw it on Broadway and said it was a lot of fine. I also saw a local production in Chicago and had a good time, as well. But also, the show was badly hurt by opening during a newspaper strike, so no one saw the reviews which was crushing. It also opened in 1968, when Broadway musicals were slowly transitioning into rock, and this was not that in the slightest, so it likely hurt.
Still, although it got mixed reviews, the fact that it got as many raves as it did (many quoted on the cast album) speaks well for such a major flop. Which points to being hurt by the newspaper strike. For instance, there's this one from the well-regarded critic Richard Watts of the New York Post who wrote -- ‘…thoroughly delightful. It has charm, tunefulness, humor, imagination, a good book, impeccable taste and a handsome production. Mr Price is convincing and charming as the artist in hiding… a superior musical comedy!’ Not bad for 31 performances.
As for its pedigree, the score is by Yip Harburg (who wrote the lyrics to Finian's Rainbow and The Wizard of Oz) and Jule Styne (Gypsy, Funny Girl, Bells are Ringing and much more), and it’s terrific. To be clear, it's not a classic score, and has its flaws, But for a flop musical that ran only 31 performances, it’s especially impressive.
Besides which, the show starred Vincent Price. And also Patricia Routlege. Her name may not be especially well-known, and though she was famously in a lot of Broadway flops, she was good enough to keep getting hired for them. And had a strong career in her native England. Furthermore, even though Darling of the Day only ran for 31 performances...she actually won the Tony Award as Best Lead Actress in a Musical. And today, a lot of people know her as the star of the BBC/PBS series, Keeping Up Appearances, playing 'Hyacinthe."
(On purely personal level, one thing I also like about the cast is that a supporting role of a Cockney friend of Routledge's character is played by British actor Teddy Green. As people who read this site a lot know, I'm a major fan of the British musical Pickwick that starred Harry Secombe. Teddy Green was in that original production, as Pickwick's valet, Sam Weller.)
The main character in Darling of the Day is a famous artist in Victorian England who hates high society and moved far away to a South Seas island years earlier. When the Queen decides to knight him, he has to return to England, much to his annoyance. But on the trip back, his butler dies, and there’s a mix-up, since no one knows what the artist looks like, and people think the butler is the artist who died, and that he’s the butler. There’s a romance, and suspicion he’s alive when a new painting he’s done shows up. And other folderol, including the artist's romance and then marriage to a lower-class woman who doesn't realize she's actually married to a member of the aristocracy. It’s fairly enjoyable. The book it’s based on it called Buried Alive.
As I said, I saw a local 2005 production in Evanston, which has a bit of an interesting background. It turned out that a director got the rights from the estates to rework some of the issues in the book, cut a couple songs, add a new one that had originally been dropped from the how, and use alternate lyrics that Harburg had written for one number. I thought most of the changes were fine, though I prefer the original lyrics of the song that had its words changed. And the courtroom scene at the end isn't great -- but then, it's not great in the movie either. If you’re interested in the full story of the updated version, I came across article on it in Playbill, and it turns out that that production I saw was the very first one of the new adaptation.
Which finally brings us to the score. As I noted, I posted one of the song previously, video of Vincent Price singing "I've Got a Rainbow Working for Me" in costume here. These are five other selections.
The overture is so enjoyable that it convinced my dad to join me at that Evanston show. Much as he liked musicals and loved the work of Styne and Harburg, he wasn't anxious to drive out to Evanston to see a very small community theater production of a flop show. And my mother wasn't able to go that night. But I asked them to listen to just a few minutes of the overture -- and they ended up listening to the whole thing, and my dad said he was much better than he expected, so he agreed to go.
This song basically introduces the plot conflict, where Vincent Price sings about his idea to switch places with his now-dead butler, “To Get Out of This World Alive” (with some wonderful Harburg rhymes). And I still think it's a hoot to write the phrase , "where Vincent Prince sings..."
This is a lovely waltz sung by Patricia Routledge, who plays the lower-class woman that Vincent Price falls in love with. “Let’s See What Happens.”
I particularly love this song because it has several of "Yip" Harburg’s most-clever rhymes in any of his songs (which is saying A LOT, since he was renowned for writing clever rhymes). It’s sung by an art dealer (played by Peter Woodthorpe) explaining to a couple about the value of art, “Panache.” He becomes the plot’s antagonist, when he suspects the artist is still alive.
Over time, I've posted videos that I've been looking for over decades. This is the audio of one of them -- and it's a holy grail for me to find because I saw it when it was performed at the time on The Ed Sullivan Show. So, I know it exists, and I know that material from the Sullivan program do get released over time. So, I live in hope.
He had Vincent Price and Patricia Routledge on that night, promoting Darling of the Day. Together they sang a ballad, and then she -- with the company -- sang this HUGE showstopping production number. It was a total joy. Indeed, even without seeing it, you can tell how big it would be onstage. And from the audio alone, you can can a sense why Patricia Routledge won the Tony Best Actress Award even though in a flop. The point of the song is that this woman – who has married the artist, thinking he was lower class like her – discovers that he’s actually a famous artist and knighted, making her a Lady. She goes to a bar and gets drunk, and sings “Not On Your Nellie.” It's really a fun song…which just when you think it’s reached its peak, modulates up another notch and goes on from there. And I'm sure it was this number that likely helped solidify her Tony win.
And that's just a hint of the score of Darling of the Day. Again, it’s not that the show is great – it’s not. But it’s got a truly wonderful score for a flop show, written by two legends. With an impressive, if unlikely cast. And it was a treat to finally get a chance to see it, even in just a small local production.
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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