Tuesday, March 8, 2011

No Applause for Lauren Bacall

For many years I have wondered about Applause, the late 1960s musical sourced from the classic film All About Eve. Listening to the Broadway cast recording is a mundane experience at best. The lyrics are simplistic and the melodies non-existent. My guess is that for a rasping vocalist like Lauren Bacall a melody would just get in the way.

The title tune is the most memorable song on the record but it's sung by Bonnie Franklin, not star Bacall. Fasten Your Seat Belts (alluding to the film's most quotable quote) is the horrifying first act closer with vocal "honks," if you will. And Bacall's plaintive ballad Hurry Back pains MY throat when I hear it. Bacall might have been good as Margo Channing (the grande dame of the theater famously played by Bette Davis on celluloid) but the cast recording does not give one much reason to hope.

So it was with trepidation that I watched the 1973 television adaptation of Applause. This special aired once on CBS, never to be seen again - and now I know why. It is not pretty. But for a television broadcast it was groundbreaking:

  • It portrays older woman Bacall in a relationship with younger man Larry Hagman. Hagman lip syncs to some vocal and does a little dance. His mother, after all, is...
  • The first big musical number But Alive is at a bar in Greenwich Village that only has male customers and where Bacall does her best dancing.
  • Ms. Channing and Eve are taken to said bar by Dwayne, Ms. Channing's openly homosexual assistant.

We get progressively cattier as the items continue.

  • According to the television title cards, there are six acts in this musical. SIX!
  • Fasten Your Seat Belts is still a horrifying number with vocal "honks," if you will, but with six acts it was no longer the first act closer.
  • Eve Harrington (you all know all about Eve) is portrayed devilishly by Penny Fuller who, with Bacall, originated the part on Broadway. Her big number One Hallowe'en is good despite the fact that it is just the opening number But Alive with some extra lines about her dad and Halloween. I don't even know why they had to use the apostrophe in Halloween.
  • Bonnie Franklin is NOT the Broadway dancer (or gypsy) who sings the title song Applause in the special although she was the gypsy who sang the song on Broadway. The girl who sings it on television was never heard from again and Bonnie Franklin went onto great success as the star of CBS' own situation comedy, One Day At A Time.
  • The movie is so much better.

  • This retelling of Eve's story paints her as a literal whore - thanks to the permissive 1970s television standards.
  • In one scene, Ms. Bacall as Ms. Channing is having pictures taken for a coffee advertisement; Ms. Bacall was famously paid (in the 1970s) for her High Point Decaffeinated Coffee television commercials.
  • They dropped a bunch of songs but not the sappy, lesbianic anthem The Best Night Of My Life.
  • Ms. Bacall's solo performance of Something Greater is one for the annals of histrionics.
  • Why wasn't Margo Channing (the character in the musical) made a musical comedy star rather than a dramatic actress? She speaks throughout Applause of the play she is in, the writer's new play, the play in which Eve wants the part, the play, the play, the play. Then why bring gypsies into it for one scene? Gypsies are in musicals.
  • The show ends with a very surrealistic curtain call.
Well, this 1973 television production does not give one much reason to hope that the Broadway production was any better. To be fair, Ms. Bacall was the least of this shows problems which began with Betty Comden, Adolph Green (I know!), Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (I know.)

But you can watch this television version of Applause right now and see for yourself. MikeyG0901 has edited the recording into ten minute clips. The first one is below. Just click through to the YouTube page and follow the part numbers.

Or email me for a download URL to an WMV file that contains the complete almost two hour special.

Here's the original review of the theatrical production reproduced from the New York Times. Clive Barnes loved it. Maybe it loses something on the small screen - or maybe he's tone deaf.

Right click to enlarge

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