Last December, Ben West, artistic director of UnsungMusicalsCo., wrote a guest Musical of the Month blog post to accompany both the first-ever publication of the libretto of Are You With It?and a remarkable reading performed in the Bruno Walter Auditorium at the Library for the Performing Arts. I enjoyed the reading so much that I immediately asked Ben if he would be willing to record part of the score with his incredibly talented cast. Given our almost non-existent budget, we could only record three songs (selected by Ben), but this little taste gives a tantalizing sense of this remarkable score. I have asked Ben, who has spent far more time with this material than I, to introduce the recording with another guest post. Enjoy!
Guest introduction by Ben West, Artistic Director of UnsungMusicalsCo
On November 10, 1945, the Century Theatre flung open its doors for the Broadway opening of a zany new musical comedy perhaps best identified as the nifty, frequently naughty brainchild of Emmy Award-winning scriptwriters George Balzer & Sam Perrin, Academy Award-nominated composer Harry Revel, and acclaimed lyricist Arnold B. Horwitt. Are You With It? was the show’s unquestionably questionable title, its rather flagrant racket being little more than great, gaudy fun. Celebrated by critics and audiences alike, the entertainment was an instant hit. Unfortunately, 264 instances later the colorful, cotton candy coated carnival folded up its tent, never to be heard from again; no cast album was recorded, the property was never published, and the 1948 movie adaptation retained virtually none of the musical’s material.
Gone but not forgotten, the decidedly dormant 1945 delight was exhumed this past December, nearly 70 years after it had last been performed. With a focus on investigating, revitalizing and giving new voice to obscure but artistically sound works, UnsungMusicalsCo. began exploring Are You With It? in a developmental reading at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
I should note that it was, in fact, Mr. Horwitt, the musical’s lyricist, who led me to the project in the first place. Not the man himself, mind you, for he died in 1977 at the age of 59; an untimely passing, if his extraordinary output is any indication. Rather, I was lured by his sweet, well-crafted body of work and my desire to dive into more of it. (I previously had the privilege – and pleasure – of revisiting his hit 1948 revue Make Mine Manhattan as well as his unproduced 1955 comedy, newly titled Sounds Like Love. It seemed to me that Are You With It? was a natural next step.)
And so, I began to slightly adapt this adaption of Slightly Perfect, the George Malcolm-Smith novel that follows an eager, young actuary who misplaces a decimal point, quits his job, and joins the circus. If it sounds as though this decidedly crazy conceit borders on theatrical lunacy, you are not far off. And what fun! Raucous swindlers, brassy vamps, sardonic secretaries lamenting the pangs of feminism: musical comedy burlesque at its sauciest.
When we were subsequently approached about making these recordings, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to preserve this sampling of the truly delightful score. Upon receiving a green light from Mr. Horwitt’s and Mr. Revel’s respective Estates, I immediately contacted Autumn Hurlbert, David Josefsberg, Kirsten Scott, and Kirsten Wyatt with the hope that their schedules might align and this fabulous quartet might be able to reprise their tasty performances from the 2013 reading.
I am thrilled to report that the scheduling Gods were with us.
Ms. Wyatt has returned to deliver her acerbic anthem to the over-worked women of post-war America. Mr. Josefsberg and Ms. Scott revisit their sprightly eleven o’clock lovefest as the brash and bawdy pair of stalwart carnival characters who live somewhere over the ‘rainbow’ and always over-the-top. And finally, Ms. Hurlbert joins the party as the perky, pert, and slightly off leading lady who chases after her actuary fiancé with guts, gumption, and more than a few swigs of alcohol.
As Are You With It? was never published or licensed, much of its material fell into disarray, or disappeared completely. The charts from which we worked to reconstruct and adapt the score were, in fact, 1945 originals, many of them handwritten and virtually unintelligible. (Benet Braun cleaned and copied the score.) The fresh musical arrangements for these recordings are the handiwork of musical director Fran Minarik.
Hopefully these three songs will give you a taste of the excitement that is Are You With It? It is a piece of which I have become terribly fond, and my aim is certainly to give it a full production in future. Until then...
All songs by Arnold B. Horwitt and Harry Revel. Recorded April 14 and 15, 2014 at Millrose Studios. Special thanks to Doug Reside, The Horwitt Family, Billy Revel, Fran Minarik, Peter Millrose, Benet Braun, Mark Eden Horowitz, Chamisa Redmond Nash, Ben Coleman, Geoff Josselson and the entire reading cast.