To Broadway, to Life! The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick

By Philip Lambert | Go to book overview

8
HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A PRETTIER
LITTLE CONGRESS?
THE LATE 1960S AND THE ROTHSCHILDS

During the thirteen-month run of The Apple Tree at the Shubert Theater in late 1966 and most of 1967, Bock and Harnick could find titles of their major musicals on two Broadway marquees, something they had last experienced when Fiorello! and Tenderloin played simultaneously for six months in 1960 and 1961. Indeed, when Fiddler on the Roof shifted operations from the Imperial Theater one block down to the larger Majestic in February 1967, their two shows became close neighbors on West 44th Street, separated by only one other theater, the Broadhurst, where Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret had opened the previous November. (It moved to the larger Imperial in March.) Meanwhile, Fiddler ’s rival for Broadway longevity, Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly!, was playing across the street at the St. James. One imagines a stroll down 44th Street from Broadway to Eighth Avenue while all the shows were in performance, in a fantasy world where there is no street noise and all the doors have been left open, sampling the diverse flavors of the American musical theater at a pivotal historical juncture. As we progress down the block, Bock and Harnick in contemporary mode give way to Kander and Ebb recalling idioms of one part of European history while Bock and Harnick in historical mode explore the culture and traditions of another part, finally punctuated by Jerry Herman’s tuneful spectacle. An air of innovation permeates the first part of the trip, giving way to celebrations of traditions, Broadway and other, in the latter part. We need expand the stroll only by a few blocks, and by a year or so, and we would hear something quite different coming from the stage door of Hair. Stretch the time warp and geography a little further and we start to hear Sondheim and Company.

Bock and Harnick may have been in the vortex of the music-theatrical world there on 44th Street at that memorable time, but they were not inclined to stand around and look for ways to get both marquees in the same camera shot. Ideas for new major projects were always percolating. In general,

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