Of all the singers and comedians who leapt to prominence in the early 1960s, none was more successful than Allan Sherman, whose Jewish-inflected song parodies convulsed a nation. But Sherman never succeeded at one of his greatest ambitions, which was to write a popular Broadway musical. Now comes “The Fig Leaves are Falling,” Sherman’s big Broadway flop, which will be revived this month by a theater company called Unsung Musicals.
The original production, which premiered on Jan. 2, 1969 with the legendary George Abbott at the helm, closed after only four performances on Broadway, despite a stellar cast that included Dorothy Loudon (who received her first Tony Award nomination), Barry Nelson and a young David Cassidy.
Directed by Ben West, “The Fig Leaves are Falling” is based on Sherman’s own experience of leaving his wife for a younger woman. The main character, Harry Stone (Jonathan Rayson), living in Larchmont with his wife, Lillian (Natalie Venetia Belcon) and two children, has a midlife crisis that leads him into the arms of his secretary, Jenny (Morgan Weed), who is 20 years his junior. The songs, with music by Albert Hague and lyrics by Sherman, include “Did I Ever Really Live?” and “All of My Laughter,” some of which have gone on to be recorded by other artists.
West told The Jewish Week that he is staging the musical as a variety show, and is restoring some of the songs that were cut from the original production; one is “Man,” a tune about the male difficulty with monogamy, which he changed from a Gilbert and Sullivan-type patter song to a “quasi-Frank Sinatra Vegas number.”
Mark Cohen has a new biography, “Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman,” that is due out in April from Brandeis University Press. Cohen told The Jewish Week that while Sherman wrote other shows (including “The Golden Touch,” set in a Jewish deli), “Fig Leaves” was his only one to make it to Broadway. But it failed, Cohen said, because of the “smirking, winking misreading of youth culture” by Sherman — his “shallow, self-interested, dismissive attitudes” toward the young, whom he saw as mindless and sex-obsessed.
Sherman’s best song parodies, Cohen noted, “dissect the foibles of the community — both the Jewish community and the overlapping American society.” But with “Fig Leaves,” Sherman lost his touch. “He couldn’t find the pressure points. He just presented an un-thought out reprise of his own life.” However, West sees much redeeming value in the musical, which he says has “wonderful music and a cohesive style” — a “cross-generational musical with an exciting and engaging subject.”
“The Fig Leaves are Falling” runs from Jan. 10-26 at the Connelly Theater, 220 E. Fourth St. Performances are Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets, $20, call SmartTix at (212) 868-4444 or visit www.smarttix.com.