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Music Review: Original Cast-What Makes Sammy Run?

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Masterworks Broadway has just re-released the original cast recording of the 1964 musical adaptation of Budd Schulberg’s 1941 novel, What Makes Sammy Run?. The novel which tells the story of the rise of Sammy Glick a driven young man from a poor family to a position of prominence in the movie industry by ruthlessly using any and every one he comes across to get ahead. He starts as a copy boy on a New York newspaper and cheats his way to the heights of Hollywood. Schulberg, perhaps best known today for the screenplay of On the Waterfront, and his brother Stuart wrote the book for the Broadway production. Ervin Drake, creator of such pop classics as “I Believe” and “It Was a Very Good Year,” composed the music and wrote the lyrics.

The musical starred pop singer Steve Lawrence as Sammy. Robert Alda played Al Manheim, the older and wiser newspaper veteran who follows Sammy’s career, even while being taken advantage of. Sally Anne Howes is Kit Sargent a screenwriter whose work Sammy has passed-off as his own but who still finds herself attracted to bad boys. Bernice Massi plays Laurette Harrington, the spoiled daughter of the mogul who will control the movie studio. She serves as a kind of female version of Sammy. The production was directed by Abe Burrows and ran for over a year despite mixed reviews.

Some of the critics felt that the adaptation softened the character of Sammy from that described in the novel. Perhaps, the creative team felt that back in the sixties before the days of shows like Sweeny Todd, audiences were not ready for downright nasty villain heroes. Lawrence’s nice guy image probably didn’t help in his portrayal of the character. In general the critics didn’t care for the lighter tone of the show. Interestingly, there was a revival of the show in 2006 which used a new book and some additional new Drake songs as well as some not used in the ’64 production.

The cast album has fifteen songs from the show and the overture. Perhaps the distinguishing quality of the music is how well integrated it is with character. From Sammy’s very first song, “A New Pair of Shoes,” where he celebrates his first success with a brand new pair of “imitation alligator shoes” to the final song in the show, “Some Days Everything Goes Wrong,” in which he vows to keep on running after the material goals he has always been after, despite the loss of his friends and his loveless marriage, the songs come right from the heart of his character. Even the ironic “I Feel Humble” which begins the second act is a classic take on the kind of faux humility that is so often apparent in the thank you speeches of celebrity award winners.

It is not only Sammy’s songs that grow out of character. Kit’s “A Tender Spot,” her first song explains her attraction for Sammy; it is always the strange ones she has a soft spot for. “Kiss Me No Kisses,” her short tirade at the end of the first act grows out of her frustration with Sammy, only to find herself caught up again in the second act, thinking once again she has “Something to Live For.” Laurette’s parallels with Sammy are developed in her torchy seductive “The Friendliest Thing” and their duet, “You’re No Good.” Al’s duet with Sammy on “You Help Me” begins with some nice ironies until Sammy blows up and shows his teeth. His duet with Kit “Maybe Some Other Time” is their wistful regret for something that more than likely could never have been some other time or not.

Perhaps the best known song from the show is “Room Without Windows” which is attached to Sammy’s invitation to Kit to join him on a trip to Tijuana. It has a nice swinging Latin beat that was well to suited Lawrence’s crooning voice. “Wedding of the Year” is an ensemble number that combines clever lyrics with choral sections layered almost like a fugue. Clever lines and inventive rhymes in the tradition of Cole Porter are the hallmarks of Drake’s lyrics. “The Friendliest Thing” offers some of the best examples: “take and boast of it/make the most of it” and “the sin that’s sweetest/no doubt the indiscretest.” “Lights! Camera! Platitude!” takes a satiric look at the clichés that run through the standard Hollywood movies. This is a score that deserves to be heard. Kudos to Masterworks Broadway for the reissue.

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About Jack Goodstein