BY LEONARD PIERCE, DUNCAN PFLASTER, and BRODIE H. BROCKIE
PUDGY-WUDGY: This 1920 musical biography of former president William Howard Taft was a smash success in its day thanks to the star turn by then-popular 465-pound comic actor Flensie “Big-Pockets” O’Banlon in the lead role. The sight of a singing, shuffling Taft brought audiences before the reinforced stage at Midtown’s Hap Leakey Cough Elixir Revueitorium to tears of laughter, and the famed stuck-in-the-tub dance number was still a Broadway staple into the 1930s. Songs include “Bust the Trusts and Dust My Bust”, “Forty Whacks with an Income Tax”, and “That’s President Fatso to You.”
GAY GIRLS ON A JAUNT: (Gershwin) A trio of college girls from Wisconsin visit New York, finding love and danger, when one is mistakenly confused for a prostitute, and they are rescued from the police by the mafia. Songs include "If I Were a Working Girl" and "Pistol in your Pocket."
YOU'RE A BAD MAN, CHARLIE KONG: This 1967 musical was more thinly-veiled propaganda than art. Based on the Beetlenuts comic-strip, "You're a Bad Man..." was a plotless series of allegedly humorous sketches and songs about children suffering in a communist system. Songs include the title tune, "I've Got and Orange Crush on a Little Red-Haired Girl," and "Happiness is Shooting the Round Eye."
BOOMTOWN FOLLIES OF 1929: This upbeat, jazzy musical extravaganza opened in September of 1929 and closed about a month later. An all-star revue featuring some of the hottest acts of Vaudeville and the New York show scene, its loose plot centered on a handful of average joes lifted from drudgery by a booming stock market, plentiful consumer goods and easy credit terms. Songs include “Spend! Spend! Spend!”, “Tomorrow Never Comes”, and “I’ m Jimmy Chapel, and I Waste Apples.”
CARIBOU: (Rogers/Hammerstein) Billie Jo, daughter of a humble Kansas farmer, travels to Alaska and marries an Eskimo to save her family farm. She learns to respect her new husband and the native culture, but soon falls in love with UpChuck, the handsome and daring hunter of Caribou. Billie Jo must choose between security and her passion. Songs include "The Caribou Foxtrot", "I Love a Kansas Morning", and the haunting "Six Months of Darkness."
LOVE SPRINGS INTERNMENT: Life, love and the pursuit of happiness in a Japanese relocation camp are featured in this 1943 crowd-pleaser. Los Angeles baby photographer Curtis Fujikawa is forced to deal with his nagging wife, rambunctious son Jappy and nosey neighbor Seditious Pete as he adjusts to his new life, protected from justifiably angry white Americans. Songs include “Likee Likee”, “Thanks, Uncle Sucker”, and “Me So Solly (Me Bomb Pearl Harby).”
CATCHER!: A ill-conceived musical version of "Catcher in the Rye" in which the songwriters tried to make Salinger’s classic book more of a feel-good story. Fans of the novel dismissed it as being created by "a bunch of damn phonies." Songs include "I’m Holden on to Hope," "My Red Hunting Hat (Makes Me Feel Like That)," "Go Kill John Lennon," and "Now I Know Where the Ducks Go."
CAKE!: (Porter) A traveling troupe of actors are performing a play about the life of Marie Antoinette, when lightning strikes the theater and demolishes the building. The lead actress also gets amnesia from a flat falling on her head in the melee. A young local girl is quickly trained for the role, and is soon courted by most of the men in the cast, who don't realize she's only 15, and that her father is the deputy of the local police department. Songs include "Losing My Head (For You)", "Let Them Eat Cake!", and "Guillotine/Fifteen."
CONSTANT COMPANION: This 1952 musical about the warm friendship between a New York advertising executive named Bruce Gaylord and his omnipresent chum, a muscular blond tennis pro named Butch Topham, played before sellout crowds on Broadway despite the puzzling lack of a female lead. Audiences were willing to forgive the strangely oblique script and curious locations (including an empty movie theater, a utility closet and the restroom of a public park) because of the charismatic performances and the meticulous set and costume design. Songs include “Another Night Out with the Boys”, “Let’s Hit the Showers”, and “But I’m Married!”
PACMAN: THE MUSICAL: While premiere tickets were the hardest thing in town to get when this show went up in 1981, attendance quickly dropped as audiences learned that the authors chose to use the popular videogame as a heavy-handed metaphor to warn against the dangers of greed and consumerism. Songs include "No End to the Hunger," “High Score/Score a High”, "Your Power Pellets Make Me Blue," and "New Life (Same Mistakes)!"
HELTER SHELTER!: A 1959 musical about two feuding families who are forced to share space in a cramped bomb shelter following a sneak attack by the Russkies. While the dads squabble over power tool usage and the moms engage in recipe-related brinkmanship, the kids rugged track star Skip and lovely blonde Kathie-Koo may be the hope of the future as they fall in love against the backdrop of nuclear holocaust. Songs include “Freeze-Dried Follies”, “Better Dead Than Red”, and “You’ll Never Fallout of Favor with Me.”
FREAKS! (1933): This musical adaptation of Tod Browning’s controversial horror movie starred the same real sideshow attractions that appeared in the film. It turned out that audiences were not less likely to find the show exploitive and revolting if the actors were singing and dancing. Songs included “When I get to Paris, Schlitze,” “Koo Koo The Bird Girl, You Make My Head Whirl,” “Tap Dancing Hands,” “I Think She Likes You (But He Don’t),” “The Living Torso, All Man and Moreso.”
DUCKS: This cheap attempt to cash in on the popularity of Cats lasted only one week. Audiences found unconnected songs performed by actors dressed up in elaborate duck costumes to be even stupider than unconnected songs performed by actors dressed up in elaborate cat costumes which, let’s be honest, is pretty damn stupid to begin with. Songs included “It Rolls Off My Back”, “That Laid and Egg”, and “God I Feel Stupid in this Duck Costume.”