LP0296. PRETTYBELLE, Original 1971 Boston Cast, w.Angela Lansbury, Mark Dawson, Peter Lombard. [The Show closed in 1971, but members of original cast were regrouped in 1982 for this recording.] Original Cast OC 8238
“The opening night audience was angered by the musical's story. ‘Clearly, Boston was not the place to open an unconventional musical like this one’. Oliver Smith noted that ‘the audience absolutely resented every moment of it, and just booed and hissed and carried on’. The critics were brutal. Critic Kevin Kelly said the it was ‘pretty bad’, and VARIETY wrote that it was ‘a collection of ethnic slams and four-letter words’. However, critic Elliot Norton praised the show, writing that ‘this bold new show...could become a memorable American musical play. It can and it should’. According to Steven Suskin, the musical was ‘rather fascinating if unconventional, and the score is not uninteresting. But the show's subject matter, back in the dark days of 1971, doomed it’.
PRETTYBELLE is a musical with a book and lyrics by Bob Merrill and music by Jule Styne. It was adapted from Jean Arnold's darkly comic novel PRETTYBELLE: A LIVELY TALE OF THE RAPE AND RESURRECTION (Dial Press, 1970). It starred Angela Lansbury, but never got to Broadway, closing in Boston in 1971.”
“What might prevent a musical from gracing a Broadway stage? One of the top ways to kill off a musical is to make it about something distasteful or musically inappropriate. Consider PRETTYBELLE (1971) – ‘a lively tale of rape and resurrection’ – with book and lyrics by Bob Merrill (who wrote the music and lyrics for Carnival, as well as other pop songs in the 1950s) and music by Jule Styne (GYPSY, BELLS ARE RINGING, and many other Broadway hits).
Briefly, PRETTYBELLE concerns Prettybelle Sweet, a semi-trailer-parky Southern belle, who is an alcoholic schizophrenic with multiple personalities. After her sheriff husband dies, Prettybelle discovers that he abused helpless local minorities, and so, aghast, she takes her husband’s fortune and begins to send checks to the NAACP. Seeking redemption from her sins-by-marriage, Prettybelle, courtesy of the Reader’s Digest, reads about ‘therapeutic rape’ and how ‘being debased and trampled underfoot is a first-rate cleanser of the soul’. All atwitter, Prettybelle proceeds to find every minority she can, so that she can be raped. (Of course, the running gag is that Prettybelle is never ‘raped’ – she initiates all the encounters and has a marvelous time.) The story ends with the town ablaze and Prettybelle seeking safety in an insane asylum.
Odd subject for a musical, yes… or, actually, for anything. Still, PRETTYBELLE – designed to be tongue-in-cheekly bizarre – had its droll points (it’s a cult classic), the music had some marvelous tunes, and Prettybelle was played by Angela Lansbury. Alas, Angela or no, the show was a disaster from the start, prompting jeers and walkouts from the audience. The show opened in Boston and closed a little over a month later.”
- How to ensure a musical doesn’t get to Broadway…
“Original Cast Records is a record label based in Georgetown, Connecticut, that specialises in obscure theatre recordings, primarily cast albums from little-known Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway and other stage productions, but also theatre-related film scores, cabaret, concert and solo artist recordings. It traces its origins back to 1975, when husband-and-wife theatre enthusiasts Bruce and Doris Yeko embarked on a venture ‘dedicated to the preserving of musicals that would not otherwise be recorded’.”