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By MARK PEIKERT
Even when Broadway musicals go unrecorded and unrevived, the original reviews live on. So while it may be almost impossible to hear a song from the 1969 flop The Fig Leaves Are Falling, one can easily go online to read Clive Barnes' take on the show in The New York Times. There was nothing wrong with the show, Barnes wrote, "that a new book, new music, new lyrics, new settings, new direction, new choreography, and a partially new cast would not quite possibly put right."
For many, a review like that would condemn a show to permanent obscurity, but not for Ben West, Artistic Director of Unsung Musicals. He revised and directs a production of Fig Leaves that runs through January 26 at the Connelly Theatre.
"[Barnes] does acknowledge it was a good idea for a show to begin with!" West says, adding that he was so taken with the musical's central story and stylistic concept that he was undeterred by its reputation.
With a book and lyrics by Allan Sherman and music by Albert Hague, the satire of suburbia is today remembered solely (if at all) for Dorothy Loudon's Tony-nominated performance as a housewife whose husband is torn between their marriage and his infatuation with his young secretary. The original production, according to West, involved "socio-political commentary"---including a love-in at Central Park---that he dropped in order to focus on the core story.
"I try to treat it as a different show, so we're not trying to fix or comment on the original," says West, who got permission to mount his revival after explaining his concept to the creators' children. "It's really more like a piece that adapts and is inspired by the original."
West was helped by a treasure trove of archival material that included three different drafts of the script. He ultimately used one version as a template and culled scenes and moments from the others. "It's sort of like putting a puzzle together," he says. "You have lots of pieces, and you know how you want it to look, and it's just a matter of finding the pieces that contribute to it." In addition to restoring scenes that added texture to the relationships, West has added three songs, cut several others, and excised several characters.
However, while West drops most of the extraneous subplots to focus on the married Harry and Lillian, he does emphasize the presentational aspects of the 1969 production. The show originally opened by introducing Lillian and Harry's secretary---then called Pookie, now called Jenny---as contestants on a game show, with Harry telling the audience his dilemma in choosing between them. West's revision now takes place within a variety show, with Harry and Lillian's friend Charlie serving as the host.
"It's not something that came from nowhere for me," West says. "The reason I have more clearly defined it as a variety show is that in the original, you had direct address, specialty numbers, audience interaction… I just took what they had been hinting at a couple steps further. Now it's almost like 1960s musical comedy by way of a 1940s revue."
Mark Peikert is N.Y. Bureau Chief at Backstage Magazine
Photo by Dixie Sheridan