50 Years Ago Darling Of The Day opened on Broadway with Patricia Routledge set to win a Tony

Having recently celebrated the musical career of Patricia Routledge and the world of flops on this site it seems fitting to concentrate on a show that starred the great lady and was, unfortunately, to become a Broadway flop. Co-incidentally the show “Darling Of The Day” opened just half a century ago on 27 January 1968 at the George Abbott Theatre.

Arnold Bennett’s class conscious novel Buried Alive was the inspiration for this musical. It was rather a good idea and the novel had previously been made into a play and a film. The plot is very theatrical: a successful painter fed up with the falseness of the art world decides to change places with his butler (who happens to have died) and follow through a relationship his butler had started by letter with a widow. The problem is – he can’t stop painting and eventually gets caught out – but by the time the curtain falls and he has found love and happiness.

Initially the book was allotted to Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall (they would write the book for another Bennett novel turned musical – The Card). While Waterhouse and Hall would go on to write other musicals, at this point they had little or no musical theatre back-ground. The score, however, was to be by Jule Styne and E.Y. (Yip) Harburg. Peter Wood (another Englishman) was to direct.

According to Ken Mandelbaum in his knowledgeable and highly readable book on Broadway flops ‘Not since Carrie’ the original team did not get on and, in particular, Yip Harburg was not happy – so they disbanded. The new book writer was to be S N Behrman and the new director Albert Marre. They did not last long either and then Nunnally Johnson came on board with director Steven Vinaver. By this time the show had been cast and an out-of-town pre-Broadway tour had commenced.

The stars of “Darling of the Day” were Vincent Price and Patricia Routledge (in the part originally cast with Geraldine Page). Price had made his name in the movies and had last appeared on Broadway in 1954 – but he was well known and could be considered a box office draw. The original cast recording shows him to be a quite adequate singer of the material he is given. Patricia Routledge had the reputation of being able to turn iron into gold which she did here but the gold stayed with her more than covering the entire show.

What Price and Routledge, and indeed the rest of the cast, did to keep their sanity during the out-of-town try-out is not documented but they had to deal with the changing of directors and constant re-writes. When the show did arrive in New York there was no billing for the book – the many who had worked on it had run for cover.

No show can survive an inadequate book and a rudderless production. Darling of the Day was no exception. There had also been a title change – in Boston it had been called Married Alive! Yet it did get some critical praise upon its Broadway opening – although the all-powerful New York Times sent its second stringer who did not like it. When their number one critic, Clive Barnes, saw it he was positive but that review was in his ballet column and was too late to save the show. The television and radio reviews were not good although all were ecstatic about Patricia Routledge. It ran for just 31 performances and Miss Routledge was to receive a Tony Award for her performance.

The show was one of the most expensive to be produced on Broadway at the time. The budget was $500k of which $150 came from the record sale to RCA. Luckily, that recording went ahead for it does reveal a score that has many joys.

There have been few revivals and London’s only staged version was at the Union Theatre in 2013 with Katy Secombe stepping into Miss Routledge’s shows. Previously it was seen as a Lost Musical.

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