‘Merrily He Rolls Along’ by RF Brown is a complete novel in manuscript. Anybody want to publish? Rep? Here is an excerpt from novelette #2:
Musical Comedy 2: THAT GREAT COME AND GET IT DAY
[Performed in two acts. Inspired by the Broadway musicals of E.Y. Harburg from 1937 to 1957]
The curtain rises on the drop of Times Square, New York City, a daytime scene, summer of 1994. Downstage are interior sets of the Hell’s Kitchen apartment (stage left) and Murray Hill job placement office (stage right).
(music in, ‘THAT GREAT COME AND GET IT DAY’ from Finian’s Rainbow)
ALL THE CITIZENS OF NEW YORK CITY (singing) ON THAT GREAT COME AND GET IT DAY / I’LL GET MY GAL THAT CALICO GOWN / I’LL GET MY MULE THAT ACRE OF GROUN’ / THE EARTH BENEATH YOUR PLOW IS A-BUDDIN’ GLORY TIME’S COMIN’ FOR TO STAY
The cat up on the Times Square billboard is dressed only in her unmentionables. Dick stares at her in odd reverie. She is bigger than Dick’s mother’s entire house back in Connecticut and he is a grown man only the weight of a schoolgirl. Standing still on the Broadway sidewalk, he crams his hands in the pockets of his suit so to not get clobbered by the army of pedestrians in t-shirts. It is a tropical day in the city and Dick’s black feathers of hair constrict into seaweed. The catlady on the billboard is crawling over a snowdrift in a white, frosted forest. Her brassiere is made from feline pelt, as is the bikini on her jutting hip. A kinky tail spirals from her furry underpants. Maybe the corporate billboarders plotted some exotic fantasy to possess Dick, but their snow job is a flop with him. Under the catlady another smaller billboard reads Bloomer Girl- The Musical Revival.
New York City, New York is a colony of eight million flashing messages, and Times Square is the national gateway for confusion. Dick cannot size a wrench on what has gone wrong with this once wonderful place he has admired, from far away and up close, all of his twenty-four years. He is not ashamed to tell the catlady just what he thinks, “Gee whiz, I think a lady ought to show some class, you know?” The catlady does not answer back or break from her steamy character.
Dick crosses Broadway at 51 Street and guards with his hand the red carnation in his buttonhole against the crush of tourists. The sidewalk looks like the import fair at Bloomingdale’s with a thousand international products. Some faces are nervous, others seem amazed or even mental. The sidewalk parts like a grand drape as pedestrians step aside for an instant performance. Five youngsters costumed as separate mechanical gears organize into one complex, dancing robot. Nearby a hobo lies prostrate on the curb, ignored. Above the body of the hobo is a kingsize display of a fairy-like little boy blowing pixie dust over the hobo and the oblivious robot spectators. The ferry’s blue eyes and gentle black hair curls remind Dick of how he must have to looked to adults in his own magic childhood, not so long ago.
Whenever Dick goes on his dopey detours among the horde in Times Square he sees the human species accelerating. Folks down here are evolving faster than the New Yorkers Dick knows uptown at Knickerbocker College. Down here they are shrewder. Their skin pigments form a rainbow. Dick is a short man no matter where he travels, but in Times Square even little kids are taller.
Dick’s neck sweats in the wide apertures of sunglare between buildings, but it is alternately cold within the sharp shadows from construction overhead. He pulls the sides of his suitjacket together against sudden wind whirling through the canyon of skyscrapers. The wind blows the smells of kabob cart propane, overstuffed garbage cans and Bonwit’s perfume sample. He listens. The underscore is idling truck engines, a chorus of tourists cheering, “Get a snapshot of it!” and an old, buzzed shoeshiner at his antique pedestal trumpeting, “We take credit cards!”
Dick strolls by where the automat was at Broadway and 46. He remembers once the place was called World’s Friendliest Food. On childhood theater excursions into the city his auntie took him there to eat after the shows. He would get a grilled cheese sandwich with hot cocoa. His auntie, who was a librarian back in central Connecticut, would bring a split size bottle of fino sherry in her purse because that is what she read Hart Crane drank all night here while he was sitting in a booth and writing the lyrical poems of White Buildings. Today World’s Friendliest Food has the brand name of a national Mexican cantina. From a certain angle on the sidewalk Dick can still see the handle of the giant metal coffee cup-and-saucer sign that pumped realistic steam from hot looking imaginary java. The steam is turned off now and over the rest of the old sign they have draped a wide plastic canvas that reads: $15 Fiesta Del Tamale!
At 44 Street Dick walks under the famous neon sign of the Hotel Longacre. He just read in a backnumber of Look magazine at the New York Public Library about a once famous actor with a lady-killing mustache who snuck his underage male escort up to a suite. The scene was a career ending scandal for both of them when the boyfriend was found cold on a drug overdose. Mister Longacre must have had a crystal ball view of crummy hotel occupancy years when he leased an entire side of their building to a permanent mural, which declares walnuts the fun subway crunch.
“In my book, New York City is a kingsize walnut!” Dick tells the mural out loud. “I see a hard wrinkled shell on the outside that you need a special tool or thingamajig to crack. Even when you make it to the nut, it’s so chewy you can’t ever swallow it. I know, National Board of Walnut Farmers,” Dick says. “I know because I’m a trained dramaturge trying to squish out a living here in New York City, New York.” There is no reply from the mural or the Walnut Farmers who underwrote the message.
Dick almost did not recognize the façade of the old Pompey Theatre on 41 Street. His auntie brought him here to see his first musical on Broadway when he was ten years old. The Pompey Theatre still stands, six stories of limestone in Corinthian architecture. Back then there were yellow marble columns and bronze capitals holding a sculpture of theatrical masks, flowered wreaths, and ribboned scrolls. Today the theater’s old face is obscured by a wall of spinning electronic signs. Dick sees crazy and looping images of endless energy-happy dancers from whatever new show is running. If his auntie were here she would say it’s like a vodou mambo’s nightmare. The theater’s name has been sold to a bigtime corporation. Now they expect a busy generation to call it the Connecticut Life and Accident Insurance New Pompey Theatre. Now tourists bring their children to the theater to see the Broadway musical version of the movie that was playing last year at Twin Cinemas.
Dick stands near the corner outside the Pompey. He can still see, if only in two dimensions, much of Her original face behind the mask of animated signs. He asks Her outloud, “Tell me something, oh great Pompey Theatre, as man evolves from monkey does theater wink out of existence?” The theater does not answer. Dick raises his hand in a gesture he learned as a kid at summer camp– thumb and two first fingers extended with third and fourth fingers closed– and recites a pledge aloud from the sidewalk. “Oh, Dear Pompey, forgotten gentlelady of Broadway, today I must temporarily mix up the plan for my life, not because I’m trying to deal around my promise to make it as a dramaturge. My roommates tell me I’m a flop so far and I have to go start earning some dough. Still, I pledge my loyalty. I won’t forget all the good, first rate things you symbolize. That’s why I raise my hand and swear my oath to you. Gee, I’m sure you don’t even remember my name, Pompey, but someday soon I know you will. I swear that not in words, or songs will I ever fail you or even come off crosseyed. I will tell the truth and always find my way back to you without a moral pimple on me. Gloriosky, when I make a pledge, Pompey, it’s the same as corked and wrapped. So long for today, Auntie Pompey. Long live the broad way of life!”
When he talks to buildings, Dick knows tourists of Times Square probably think he is a kook, but kooks probably are what a lot of tourists come all the way to see. He remembers something from a class at Knickerbocker College, Theatre and Surrealistic Theory Seminar 3025: logic is a guillotine that chops the head off a guy’s creativity. Just then a lady wearing goony sunglasses made to look like Mickey Mouse ears over her eyes tosses two dollar bills at Dick’s self-polished shoes.
A theatrical dramaturge like Dick could spend a bundle of time, or all his life, studying the sciences of tragedy and comedy. Opportunities to participate in his craft are limited. New York City is the worldwide headquarters of the theater, but some who work behind the curtains say competition to work is fixed by the musical-comedy cartel, the walnut crackers. Even if a theatrical artist’s only wish is to bring joy and wonder to the world, he may as well get busy doing something else. Dick spends most of his energy not playing his instrument, but securing a means of financial support. Recently separated from his wetnurse called Knickerbocker College, he will have to take on some temporary detail to underwrite his theatrical gifts, gigs that are unlikely to stimulate his creative process or employ his artistic talents.
If the truth be known, Dick no longer has the nerve for treading the theater boards himself. Although he came up as one of the new faces of central Connecticut in acting, singing, and dance, he never got square with public adulation. The adult Dick has no desire toward performing before an audience. He both loves applause and fears it. Three months ago he graduated cum duly, class of 1994, earning an undergraduate baccalaureate in Dramaturgy and Theatrical Theory. His post-collegium plan is to finally shine past his reputation as the boy with nectarine cheeks and licorice whip hair, to think out how to get recognized for something important, something. Dick knows they do not hand out Tony Awards for seeing musicals from rush seats or standing in line all night for free Shakespeare in the Park. Yet, certainly someone in this capital city of talent will take notice of Dick’s ear for a dynamite score or keen eye for the next Oklahoma. If the truth be known, he might maybe someday lead an artistic revolution in musical theater.
Lights up, interior set of the Hell’s Kitchen apartment, stage left
“Revolution, my Jew-lessie ass!” Teddi reminds Dick later that day back at their flat. Teddi is one of Dick’s roommates and his closest chum from Knickerbocker College. She is also a force of nature, most wisely from which one should flee. Her tidal wave of frizzy hair is permanent-temporarily compressed in the middle by a men’s black kippah she insisted wearing on her batmitzvah, despite the Conservative broyges of her temple, and has worn every day for years since, even today in the shower.
“You want everybody to think you subscribe to the acting techniques of Stella Adler, Dickie!” Teddi lectures from behind the curtain of the bathtub in their Hell’s Kitchen kitchen. “You’re trapped in Strasberg’s paternalistic method of channeling affected memory. Adler demands we live in the organic moment! Confront it, Dickie, you’re Strasbergian!”
Perhaps Teddi is not just saying. Dick remembers there was a ton of stuff in college about progressing past the male dominance of Strasberg and his group. Today Dick feels like he really knows where old, grumpy Strasberg was coming from. He could probably write a one man show about being forced to act like the father figure in this apartment. The theory of a twenty-four year old fresh undergraduate finding a paid dramaturge gig in New York City theater is beginning to look irresponsible in practice, even to person with childlike optimism such as Dick.