Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Out of Town Tryouts - "Sing Out, Sweet Land"

One aspect of New England’s rich tradition in theatre lies in its proximity to New York City. We are sometimes the land of the Out of Town Tryouts for new Broadway plays.

This could have been more than unusually daunting back in the day, since New Englanders had the reputation (much more then than now, I expect), of “sitting on their hands” or not being very generous with applause.

However one out of town tryout was well received on November 9, 1944. A brand new musical came to The Bushnell in Hartford called “Sing Out, Sweet Land.” Starring Alfred Drake, who had just enjoyed enormous success starring in “Oklahoma!” the previous year, this new musical was compared to “Oklahoma!” in its folksy examination of American history through popular music.

Among its featured performers was Burl Ives, who sang his trademark “Foggy, Foggy Dew,” “Blue Tail Fly”, and “Rock Candy Mountain.” Negro spirituals, folk music, Tin Pan Alley tunes all flowed through this musical which opened on Broadway the following month, and ran 102 performances, closing in March 1945.

Time Magazine, however, panned the show when it was on Broadway, writing in January 1945, “What should have been an exciting show remains, at best, a pleasant song recital.”

But Hartford loved it, according to the New York Times review of November 10, 1944, which compared the show favorably to “Oklahoma!”

“A delighted audience of more than 3,000” enjoyed the musical parade of history through “energetic singing and dancing.” The book was by Walter Kerr, the score by Ellie Siegmeister. Hartford did not sit on its hands this time, if Time Magazine did.

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