I'm reading an interesting, enjoyable book, Second Act Troubles from Broadway historian Steven Suskin. It's a collection of article, essays and letters about musical that flopped for any wide number of reasons. Some of the shows had somewhat-reasonable runs (like Golden Boy or How Now Dow Jones), but still lost a huge amount of money. many folded out of town or after paltry Broadway stays of a couple months or weeks or less.
(The book includes a discussion of my beloved Pickwick, though I haven't gotten to that yet. However, I do know a good part of its history. Actually, Pickwick wasn't officially a "flop," since it made its money back during a hugely successful pre-Broadway tour, after David Merrick brought the hit-London show to the United States. What happened is that they kept drastically tinkering with the show out-of-town -- as reported here by reader Jim Connor who was in the production -- perhaps to "Americanize" it, I'll find out more when I get to the chapter, and then two months into its run, its Tony-nominated star, Harry Secombe, came down with...the mumps. Since the show was in profit, Merrick decided to close it, even though the lucrative Thanksgiving and Christmas tourist season was about to start, which would have been aided by the fact that, being based on the Dickens novel, the holiday season is important to part of the show. Indeed, it's first big number is the song, "That's What I'd Like for Christmas.")
However this isn't about Pickwick (shocking, I know), but rather a big vaudeville-style production in 1977 called Hellzoppin, a sort of "revival" of a massive hit from the 1930s, which brought about battles between its producer Alexander Cohen and its star Jerry Lewis, hoping to make his Broadway debut. It closed out of town.
A few things sort of worked in the show, but never enough, and most things didn't. Throughout it all, there was only one part of Hellzapoppin that always -- always -- was singled out by the critics as great. Review after review raved about an act, Bob Williams and his dog Louie.
I have recollections of seeing Bob Williams and Louie on TV when a kid, and I suspect that he simply did his act in the middle of the show, since it was an act he did (largely unchanged) for probably 20 years. But then, there's not much reason to changed something that's near-perfection.
Here during an appearance on the Hollywood Palace is the one thing in Hellzapoppin that critics absolutely adored. Bob Williams and the wonderful Louie.
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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