I've been looking for the cast album of Twang!! for a long time, but haven't had any luck thus far.
"Twang!!??," I hear you cry? "What in the world is Twang!!??"
Twang!! is the infamous 1965 flop London musical written by Lionel Bart that was so disastrous that it caused him to lose pretty much all his movie from having written Oliver!
There is a line in The Producers where Max tells Leo that there are two rules in the theater. The first is, "Never put your own money in your own show." And what is the second rule, Leo asks him? Max puts his put right up to Leo's ear and in as loud a voice as he can possibly manage, screams at the top of his lungs, "NEVER PUT YOUR OWN MONEY IN YOUR OWN SHOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Lionel Bart put his own money in his own show.
When it was clear that the musical -- which is a tale about Robin Hood -- was foundering, Bart tried to prop it up by pouring more and more money into it. It didn't work. And Bart himself was left foundering, and ultimately had to sell off his rights and royalties to Oliver!.
The show was done in a somewhat satirical style, and ran for six weeks on the West End, largely to empty houses at the Shaftesbury Theatre, as word of what a mess it was got out. (It transferred from its tryout without the book settled and the orchestration finished for the second act.) The show apparently closed when the pit musicians took their sheet music home, insisting that they wouldn't bring it back until they got paid. Which didn't occur.
(Remarkably, there's a nice addendum to all this. In 1994, when Cameron Mackintosh staged a revival of Oliver! that starred Jonathan Pryce, he gave a percentage of the royalties to Lionel Bart, even though he was under no obligation to do so. A pretty remarkable and generous act.)
Anyway, back to Twang!! I still haven't come across the cast album, but I did mind a recording from it of the title song. And it's pretty terrible. In fairness, I've read that some of the songs in the show were quite pleasant, so this shouldn't be taken as an indication of the entire score. But as far as a single title song goes -- it's pretty terrible. Almost unlistenable, and it's only 1:47. It's worth watching, though, (if not listening), because there are some nice period photos from the show and program. (Sorry, "programme.")
Hopefully I'll be able to track down some more songs from the show, some that offer at least a semblance of charm, tunefulness and wit. And if so, I'll be sure to post it. For now, however, we'll have to be happy with this, if only as a part of theatrical history.
But the tales doesn't quite end there.
Remarkably, for reasons I'm not quite sure of, though apparently from a sense of history and an idea how to fix things, in 2013 the Guilford School of Acting (whose graduates include Bill Nighy, Brenda Blethyn, and Michael Ball who was in the original London production of Les Miserables, as Marius.) According to this review here, the show went through a major overall, with a brand new book, the worst songs dropped, and several Bart songs from other shows added, along with a new song written by the production's music director, and some other music, and the whole thing done with a deep sense of camp. And apparently it worked well, with the critic Jeremy Chapman noting, "Any connection between the newly-minted version of Lionel Bart’s gigantic 1965 flop Twang!! and a sane, normal evening at the theatre is purely coincidental… but it is tremendous fun." You can read the full review here. .
Here's a "trailer" for that production in rehearsals. Without any of the songs or dialogue or (trusting the critic) sense of fun, it's a tough video to watch, looking pretty darn silly, and not in a fun, campy way. But that's not a fair judgment either, and I'll take Mr. Chapman's word that it worked far better than this --
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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