Jule Styne's "Subways Are for Sleeping"
Jack Viertel, Artistic Director of City Center’s Encores! series, recently said that the overture was the only material worth performing from Jule Styne’s 1961 flop musical “Subways Are for Sleeping”.
Styne, of course, was legendary for his overtures—and this one opened act two of City Center’s recent “Hey, Look Me Over!” revue—but I hope Mr. Viertel made it to the concert staging of “Subways Are for Sleeping” that played its final performance today as part of the York Theatre Company’s annual Musicals in Mufti series, because there are a few more gems to be found in this bizarre, long-forgotten flop musical.
Based on a 1956 book of true stories, “Subways Are for Sleeping” concerns an underground network of “addressless” (read: homeless) people who sleep, work, eat, and live wherever and however they can, “right under your eyes”, never accepting handouts and always taking care to look presentable.
When an intrepid reporter, Angie McKay (the lovely Alyse Alan Louis, channelling Carol Burnett), infiltrates their world to write an expose, she falls in love with the ringleader, Tom Bailey (a magnetic Eric William Morris); a B-plot follows a wannabe cabaret star, Martha Vail (Gina Milo), who lives in a hotel and only wears a towel, and her penniless suitor, Charlie (David Josefsberg), intent on helping her out. Shenanigans follow—including an act one closer featuring a chorus of singing Santa Clauses—leading to an “everything is magically resolved” happy ending.
Despite a lush, classic musical comedy score by Styne (give “Subway Directions/Ride Through The Night” a listen) and punchy book and lyrics by the venerable comedy duo Betty Comden and Adolph Green (“Singin’ in the Rain”, “On the Town”), “Subways Are for Sleeping” ran only 205 performances, landing Phyllis Newman a Tony Award for playing Martha Vail (“I Was A Shoo-In” is her breakout song) and giving Judy Garland another standard in “Comes Once in a Lifetime”. Lost to history, the show hadn’t been seen in New York since closing in 1962.
The mission of York’s Muftis (concert stagings of musicals done "in street clothes, without the trappings of a full production") is to perform shows that are in danger of not being done “unless people like us do them”, as sardonic artistic director James Morgan puts it. “Subways Are for Sleeping” marked the 110th production since 1994, and the third and final offering in this year’s celebration of composer Jule Styne (“Gypsy”, “Funny Girl”)’s lesser-known musicals, following “Hallelujah, Baby!” and “Bar Mitzvah Boy”.
For die-hard fans of musical theatre (like me), these lovingly produced, low-budget concerts are pure joy and provide a rare chance to see forgotten shows from the past that are likely to never receive full-scale revivals, but nevertheless deserve to be seen and heard again. Stay tuned for next year’s season.
Running Time: two hours (one intermission)
Final Performance: March 4, 2018