The award-winning Musical Theatre Guild, a company of professional performers who present concert staged readings of seldom seen musicals, will open its 15th season with a 40th anniversary staging of 70, Girls, 70, at the Alex Theatre on Sept. 20.
Veteran stage director John Bowab heads the production. He saw 70, Girls, 70 opening night on Broadway. “I was a guest of Onna WhiteÂ who staged some very inventive musical numbers.Â Â And about five years ago as an exercise in fun we did a cold reading of it around the piano in my living room.Â We did the same with So Long 174th Street.
“That was about the extent of my work with MTG but I am on their advisory board and some of their original members had been in my Broadway in Concert series at Town Hall in New York in 1976 or so when I did She Loves Me with Madeline Kahn, Rita Moreno and George RoseÂ and then Knickerbocker Holiday with Richard Kiley just prior to my coming out to California to direct for the TV sitcom world.”
Breaking from rehearsals for a few minutes, Bowab comments on the schedule. He says, “It may seem crazy but not insane compared to the TV schedules I’ve had.” He has directed over 400 television episodics. “I am blessed the entire cast reads music.Â Since the piece is extremely presentational I am doing it more concert version, keeping the very funny book scenes but having certain action scenes narrated in the same tempo as the action.Â We only had about 15 actual hours of rehearsal before opening day.Â Thanks to [producer/director] David Lee we have a nine-piece orchestra and double pianos.Â Great arrangements. It seems as though every song is an 11 o’clock number.”
With music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, book by Ebb and Norman L. Martin (based on the play Breath of Spring by Peter Coke, adapted by Joe Masteroff), it is ostensibly about the residents of a senior citizens hotel who become shoplifters to buy the building before it is sold to developers. What it is really about is staying alive and enjoying every minute. First produced on Broadway in 1971 and playing just 35 performances, the show functions both as a frame to hold the Kander and Ebb honky-tonk vaudeville score and as a valentine to showbiz troupers.
“I think the Kander and Ebb score is contagious,” says Bowab. “Very show bizÂ and really one of those shows where you tap your feet and, to use an old cliché, you can actually hum the songs on the way out.”
Starring in 70, Girls, 70 are MTG members Chuck Bergman, Christopher Callen, Helen Geller, Pamela Hamill, David Holmes, S. Marc Jordan, Paul Keith, Marsha Kramer, Michael Shepperd and Susan Watson with guest artists Sylvia MacCalla, Erik McEwen, Barbara Minkus and Steven Smith. Bowab mentions two MTG performers in particular. “I worked with Paul Keith in Call Me Madam for Reprise and, in many companies of Mame, with Marsha Kramer as Agnes Gooch.Â She has stepped into leading lady stature with the role of Ida in this.Â Her audition floored meÂ and, yes, they all audition.”
The musical direction is by Smith, with Tom Greip conducting; tap choreography is by Jeffrey Polk who serves with Maura M. Knowles as MTG production coordinators. Bowab says, “Steven was my musical director for Molly Brown with Debbie Reynolds, one of the happiest experiences in my career. He is the most fun to work with.Â In this production he plays Lorraine, the onstage piano player. We were going to change his name to GermaineÂ but the cast vetoed it so good sport that he is, he will play Lorraine sans wig or dress.”
Any stories he wishes to tell about some of the legendary ladies he has directed? He pauses a moment, “When you have been fortunate enough to have worked with Angela Lansbury, Debbie, Susan Hayward, Lana Turner, Patricia Morison, Janis Paige, Jane Powell and Jane Russell, to name a few and I really mean a few, you would be foolish to pull out anecdotesÂ but I would really be remiss in not mentioning Ann Miller whose stories are legendary. Every time I hear one it seems they happened to me or around me during our days on Mame.Â I owe a great deal to her since she starred in the first production of Mame I directedÂ prior to her turn in New York.Â I have a thousand stories but best told at a dinner party or after a few drinks.Â Oh yes, I did direct Joan Collins and Linda Evans in Legends or so I’ve been told …Â but another time, another place.”
He mentions his latest endeavors. “I have been working on a musical version of Please Don’t Eat the Daisies which was set for La Jolla last November but was a victim of the money crunchÂ and now on hold.Â And I did a production of a funny and insightful play called Rest in Pieces which is aiming for New York but waiting for a starÂ which seems to be the only way to get on Broadway these days.”
MTG’s 15th anniversary 2010-2011 season continues with Hello Again, One Touch of Venus, Little Me and Bat Boy: The Musical. For complete schedule call 818.848.6844 or visit musicaltheatreguild.com.
Feature image:Â John Bowab andÂ Lee Roy Reams. Production photos byÂ Shauna Markey
70, Girls, 70, Musical Theatre Guild’s Broadway in Concert production. Tickets: $40.
Mon., Sept. 20 at 7:30 pm; Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; 818.243.ALEX or alextheatre.org or musicaltheatreguild.com. A second performance is on Sun., Sept. 26 at 3 pm; Janet and Ray Scherr Forum at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks; Ticketmaster: 800.745.3000 or civicartsplaza.com or ticketmaster.com.