Who's Who in Musicals: A to Ba
Abbott, George (Francis)
Abbott gave musical comedy a faster pace and a refreshing dose of modern sophistication. Despite the overall emphasis on speed, the quiet moments in his shows were many and usually quite effective. His musical comedy hits included Call Me Madam (1950), Wonderful Town (1953) and Fiorello (1960). Abbott helped to expand the role of dance in musical theatre, allowing George Balanchine, Gene Kelly and others to redefine the genre from the 1930s onwards. He collaborated with choreographer Jerome Robbins to create On the Town (1944) and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1962), and worked with choreographer Bob Fosse on such hits as The Pajama Game (1954), Damn Yankees (1955) and New Girl in Town (1957)
Abbott directed the top musical stars of his day, including Ethel Merman, Zero Mostel, Chita Rivera, Gwen Verdon, John Raitt, Carol Lawrence and Ray Bolger. He was known to dictate specific line readings to actors, a practice frowned upon today but sometimes necessary in an era when actors had little if any formal training. Abbott helmed his share of flops, especially as tastes changes and his career waned in the 1960s and 70s. He managed a dazzling comeback by staging an acclaimed revival of On Your Toes (1983) that out-ran the original. Abbott continued to make special appearances and develop new projects. At the time of his death at the age of 107, he had just assisted in revising the book of Damn Yankees for its 1994 Broadway revival.
Strouse and Adams musicalized the life of Queen Victoria for the ill-fated London production I and Albert (1972). Their A Broadway Musical (1978) closed on its opening night, and their final collaboration was Bring Back Birdie (1981) an ill-advised Bye, Bye, Birdie sequel that lasted one weekend. Adams teamed with composer Mitch Leigh on Ain't Broadway Grand (1993), a short-lived musical inspired by the life of producer Michael Todd.
The following season, Adler and Ross provided the score for the equally popular Damn Yankees (1955), including "Whatever Lola Wants" and "Heart." With Abbott and Fosse once again at the helm, this show garnered nine Tonys, including Best Musical, and brought top rank stardom to actress Gwen Verdon. Ross died of leukemia several months into the run of Damn Yankees. Adler went on to single-handedly compose several well-received musicals for American television, but his solo theatrical efforts were plagued by poor reviews and short runs. His African-themed Kwamina (1961), starring his then-wife Sally Ann Howes, was roundly dismissed despite some remarkable music, and the Bea Arthur vehicle A Mother's Kisses (1968) closed before reaching Broadway. Adler produced the short-lived Rex (1972), then co-produced and composed the score of Music Is (1976), an ill-fated musical version of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Adler remained active in his later years, writing an enjoyable autobiography entitled You Gotta Have Heart, and taking part in preparations for Broadway revivals of Damn Yankees and The Pajama Game.
After the disappointing reception for their adaptation of My Favorite Year (1992), Ahrens and Flaherty spent several years developing a stage version of E.L. Doctorow's epic novel Ragtime (1998). One of the finest Broadway scores of the late 20th Century, it brought the duo a well-deserved Tony for Best Score. They created a charming score for the animated film Anastasia (1997), and a rich but underrated score for the poorly received Seussical (2000). Ahrens contributed the lyrics to Alan Menken's A Christmas Carol (1994), which was revived annually at Madison Square Garden for a decade -- a lavish 2004 TV production starred Kelsey Grammar. Ahrens & Flaherty's A Man of No Importance (2002), Dessa Rose (2005) and The Glorious Ones (2007) had limited runs at Lincoln Center. Ahrens also teamed with composer Michael Gore to write two songs for the feature film Camp (2003). Among the few songwriters who understand how to use songs as dramatic tools, Ahrens remains one the brightest talents for the musical theater.
Albee, Edward Franklin
As public tastes changed in the 1920s, Albee made several key misjudgments. He wasted a fortune building lavish new theaters, forced many acts to invest in expensive new productions, and increased the number of required daily performances. As a result, the quality of material and performances declined, which only fed a decline in attendance. Businessman Joseph P. Kennedy lured Albee into a partnership with a film company, then used legal maneuvers to take control of the resulting corporation. The newly formed Radio Keith Orpheum (RKO) turned the once proud Orpheum vaudeville circuit into a chain of movie houses. Wealthy but embittered, Albee died soon afterward and his funeral drew few mourners. His grandson (by adoption) was acclaimed playwright Edward F. Albee.
Arnold returned to acting, enjoying decades of popular success on stage and screen. He starred in Irving Berlin's Broadway musical Miss Liberty (1949), introducing the popular "Let's Take an Old Fashioned Walk." Arnold earned two Academy Award nominations for his screen work, but his only major musical screen appearance was as Ali Hakim in Oklahoma (1955). He appeared in various straight plays and films through the next decade, returning to Broadway to take over the role of Harold Hill in The Music Man (1960). The star of many TV series and specials, he is probably best remembered for the 1960s farm-life sitcom Green Acres, co-starring Eva Gabor. Albert's last Broadway appearance occurred when he and Gabor joined the hit revival of You Can't Take It With You (1983). Active in television into his final years, Albert died of pneumonia at age 97.
Allyson co-starred with Peter Lawford in the hit screen version of Good News (1947), and with Jimmy Stewart in The Glenn Miller Story (1954), making her last musical film appearance in You Can't Run From It (1956). As screen musicals became rarer, she appeared in numerous non-musical films. Allyson and longtime husband Dick Powell made numerous joint television appearances. After Powell's death in 1963, Allyson continued appearing on TV into the early 2000s. She died of respiratory failure at age 88.
Alton's techniques proved to be even more effective on film. He made his screen debut with the choreography for Strike Me Pink (1936). In the 1940s, he worked frequently for MGM, staging "On The Atchison Topeka" in The Harvey Girls (1946), most of the musical numbers in Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), "Be a Clown" in The Pirate (1948), and "A Couple of Swells" in Easter Parade (1948). He also staged the dances for The Barkleys of Broadway (1949) and Show Boat (1951). His later work for other studios included Call Me Madam (1953), White Christmas (1954) and There’s No Business Like Show Business (1955). In the 1950s, Alton choreographed several Broadway productions, winning a Tony for a revival of Pal Joey (1952) before working on Hazel Flagg (1953) and Me and Juliet (1953). Alton's fresh, stylish dances showcased such stellar dancing talents as Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Ray Bolger, Marge and Gower Champion, Danny Kaye, Marilyn Monroe and Donald O’Connor. He died while working on the film version of Pal Joey, and was buried in his native Vermont. His contribution to musical theater and film is long overdue for a serious reconsideration.
Andrews portrayed Maria Von Trapp in the record-setting film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music (1964). When her marriage to set designer Tony Walton ended in an amicable divorce, Andrews married director Blake Edwards. Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) was a clever if uneven spoof of the 1920s, saved by the delicious performances of Andrews and co-stars Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Channing, and Bea Lillie. Nothing could not save the overblown musical vehicles Star (1968) and Darling Lilli (1969), and Andrews withdrew from big screen projects for several years. Her 1972 ABC-TV variety series garnered twelve Emmy Awards, and included guest appearances by Robert Goulet, Sandy Duncan, and Baroness Maria Von Trapp. Andrews starred in several big screen comedies before winning rave reviews playing the dual title role in Blake Edwards' Victor/Victoria (1982), the last great live-action musical film of the 20th Century. Andrews also starred in the 1996 Broadway version of the same vehicle, but the demanding run took a punishing toll on her vocal chords. Although surgery compromised her ability to sing, she provided the pre-recorded voice of the parrot Polynesia for the London stage production of Doctor Doolittle (1998). She re-united with Sound of Music co-star Christopher Plummer for a live TV version of On Golden Pond (2001), and received the Kennedy Center Honors that same year. She directed a well-received touring version of The Boyfriend, and has served as host for various concerts and documentaries on PBS. One of the most beloved musical stage and screen stars of the 20th Century, she has co-authored a series of popular children's books with daughter Emma Walton.
Arlen returned to Broadway to compose House of Flowers (1954), with lyrics by himself and novelist Truman Capote. The score for this ill-fated cult favorite included "When a Sleepin' Bee." Arlen then teamed with Yip Harburg and Fred Saidy to create the popular Lena Horne vehicle Jamaica (1957). The costly failure of the much-anticipated stage musical Saratoga (1959) -- with lyrics by Johnny Mercer -- left Arlen unwilling to develop more stage projects. After composing the score for the animated big-screen musical Gay Puree (1962), he went into an extended retirement. Arlen’s stylish gift for sophisticated melody placed him at the forefront of America’s popular 20th Century composers. From the optimism of "Ac-cen-tuate the Positive" to the heartbreak of "One for My Baby," Arlen’s melodies remain a source of timeless satisfaction and delight.
After her starring vehicle A Mother's Kisses (1968) closed on the road, Arthur turned to film work, including a hilarious performance in the hit comedy Lovers and Other Strangers (1970). A one-time guest appearance as Edith Bunker's liberal cousin Maude on the TV sitcom All in the Family was such a sensation that CBS gave Arthur her own series, Maude (1972-76). Arthur played a suburban housewife who hid a vulnerable heart behind a domineering facade, winning an Emmy in 1976. She found even greater success as the acerbic but loving divorcee Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak on NBC-TV's The Golden Girls (1985-1992), which brought Arthur her second Emmy in 1988. This top-rated series ended when Arthur withdrew from the cast, but remained extremely popular in syndication. A longtime champion of civil rights, she made occasional concert and benefit appearances through the 1990s, and scored a personal triumph (and garnered a special Tony nomination) when her one-woman show came to Broadway in 2002. After Arthur's death due to cancer at age 85, Angela Lansbury said of her, "She became and has remained my bosom buddy."
Ashman collaborated with Marvin Hamlisch on the short-lived Broadway musical Smile (1986), a backstage look at beauty contests that included the showstopping ballad "Disneyland." The folks at Disney must have liked it, because they soon hired Ashman (a lifelong Disney fan) to produce animated features. The success of his Oliver and Company (1988) encouraged the studio to undertake more ambitious projects. Ashman re-teamed with Menken to create the score for The Little Mermaid (1989), winning Oscars for Best Song ("Under the Sea") and Best Score. Ashman and Menken then set a new standard for animated film with Beauty and the Beast (1991), the first cartoon feature to be nominated for Best Picture. It brought them a second set of Oscars for Best Score and Best Song ("Beauty and the Beast"), but Ashman was not one hand for the acclaim. He died of AIDS at age 40, shortly before the film's triumphant premiere. His last lyrics were heard in Aladdin (1993), which he was working on at the time of his death. Tim Rice stepped in to help complete the project, which won another Oscar for Best Score.
After a few minor film appearances, Astaire caused an unexpected sensation dancing "The Carioca" with Ginger Rogers in Flying Down to Rio (1933). RKO Studios quickly planned more projects for Astaire and Rogers, co-starring the duo in nine musicals over the next five years and making them the most popular dance team in show business history. Seven of their pictures were produced by Pandro S. Berman, and five were directed by Mark Sandrich. These Astaire-Rogers films had scores by outstanding songwriters Irving Berlin for Top Hat (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936) and Carefree (1938), Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields for Roberta (1935) and Swing Time (1936) and George and Ira Gershwin for Shall We Dance (1937). A meticulous craftsman, Astaire would keep rehearsing even after his feet bled. Rogers shared this dedication, a rare quality which kept their partnership going until both stars sought new challenges.
When Rogers decided to concentrate on dramatic roles, Astaire went on to a series of outstanding screen musicals, including Paramount's hit Holiday Inn (1942) with co-star Bing Crosby. At MGM, he starred in such classics as Broadway Melody of 1940 with Eleanor Powell, Easter Parade (1948) with Judy Garland, a reunion with Rogers in Barkleys of Broadway (1949), the underestimated gem Three Little Words (1959), Royal Wedding (1951) with Jane Powell, The Band Wagon (1953) with Cyd Charisse and Funny Face (1957) with Audrey Hepburn.
Astaire appeared in several critically acclaimed TV dance specials during the 1960s, and played the title role in the screen version of Finian's Rainbow (1968). He also narrated and sang the title tune for the popular animated TV special Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970). Nominated for an Academy Award for his non-musical performance in The Towering Inferno (1974), Astaire made his last musical screen appearance dancing with Gene Kelly in That's Entertainment Part 2 (1976). Astaire's virtuoso dancing and elegant singing voice made him one of the most acclaimed performers of his time, and it is no accident that America's greatest popular composers wrote some of their most memorable songs for him. The embodiment of seemingly effortless sophistication, Astaire was one of the definitive personalities of the 20th Century.
After the decline of musical films, Bailey made several pop recordings and concert tours in the early 1960s. When producer David Merrick decided to energize his long-running production of Jerry Herman's Hello Dolly! with an all-black cast in 1967, he cast Bailey in the title role. Her ad libs and humorous asides to the audience were hell on her co-stars, but kept audiences cheering for two years. More popular than ever, Bailey became a frequent guest on television specials and talk shows, and starred in her own short-lived ABC variety series. After a triumphant farewell tour of Hello Dolly in 1975, Bailey worked for various humanitarian causes, and was briefly named special US ambassador to the United Nations. She continued performing in concerts and on television until heart problems curtailed her activities in the mid-1980s.
Balanchine's dances won acclaim in the Broadway productions of Cabin in the Sky (1940), The Merry Widow (Revival - 1943), Dream With Music (1944), Song of Norway (1944), Where's Charley? (1948) and House of Flowers (1954). From 1946 on, he served as artistic director of the prestigious New York City Ballet, cementing his place as a living legend in the world of classical dance. At the time of Balanchine's death at age 79, an acclaimed revival of On Your Toes had just opened in New York, showing a new generation the dazzling ballets that had opened the way for great choreography on Broadway.
Returning to vaudeville, Bayes introduced Norworth's popular "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." In the Broadway hit The Jolly Bachelors (1910), she popularized the British music hall song "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly," which became one of the most frequently demanded songs in her repertoire. In her vaudeville act, Bayes appeared in a series of spectacular gowns and sang several songs while Norworth "assisted and admired" her. After enduring her tantrums for years, Norworth filed for divorce in 1916. All told, Bayes would marry five times, telling reporters that the wedding march was her national anthem. George M. Cohan selected Bayes to introduce his World War I hit "Over There," and cast her in several of his Broadway musicals. One of America's first recording stars, her postwar hits included "How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?").
A natural brunette, Bayes often changed her hair color to platinum blonde or red as her mood dictated. She commanded fees of up to $5,000 a week, but her temperamental behavior eventually alienated many powerful managers. Her last Broadway musical was the short-lived Queen O' Hearts (1922). When she refused to follow Sophie Tucker at a 1924 Palace benefit, the Palace management refused to ever book her again. Bayes continued performing in vaudeville until just weeks before her death due to cancer at age 48. She was buried in a silver casket at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York. Her grave is unmarked. Bayes was portrayed by Ann Sheridan in the musical bio film Shine On Harvest Moon (1944).
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