The boys from Syracuse, 1938

Musical numbers
Lyrics by Lorenz Hart
Music by Richard Rodgers
Produced by George Abbott
Book by George Abbott from Shakespeare's The Comedy Of Errors
Directed by George Abbott
Choreoghraphy George Balachine
Starring: Eddie Albert, Ronald Graham, Jimmy Savo, Teddy Hart, Muriel Angelus, and Burl Ives
It ran for 235 performances.

 Plot:   
Jimmy Savo
We are in the ancient Asia Minor city of Ephesus, whose Duke has taken a novel approach to the balance of payments situation: anyone from the rival trading city of Syracuse caught in Ephesus is put to death, unless he can pay a large ransom. (Syracuse apparently does the same, so there.)

Sure enough, an aged merchant from Syracuse has been found and brought before the Duke, but all we hear of them, in a brilliant bit of musical theater, are two clarinets, an E flat and a bass (backed with other orchestration here). In "I Had Twins", a Sergeant of Police reports the action to us and to a loony mob-chorus right out of Duck Soup, who can't wait for the axe to fall ("There's going to be a killing, hurrah, hurroo!").

The old merchant's story is a sad one: years before, in a storm at sea, he lost his wife and one of his twin sons (both of whom, with a remarkable lack of creativity, he had named Antipholus). One of the twin servant boys (both named Dromio; those wacky Syracusans) was also lost. More recently, the son who was saved has gone off in search of his lost brother, taking with him the other Dromio, and has failed to return. The old man, who now has no one, has come after them.

The Duke is unmoved; the merchant has no money; the execution is set for noon the next day, which provides the suspense. And for those who haven't already guessed, both Antipholuses and both Dromios happen to be in Ephesus right at this moment. The twin who was lost at sea is now a prosperous merchant with his servant; both are married, not unhappily, really, but not faithfully, either. The other two have just wandered into town, weary from their searches and about ready to give up. This Antipholus only wants to go back to "Dear Old Syracuse". He tells his Dromio (Carroll) to book passage on the next ship out.

Across town, the other Dromio and his fat and otherwise insatiable wife, Luce are having another domestic squabble ("What Can You Do With A Man?")

The other marriage in the house, that of Antipholus and Adriana, won't win any prizes either. Antipholus ignores his wife and dallies with courtesans, leaving her to complain to her sister Luciana about the crumbling of her illusions: "Falling In Love With Love". Tired of waiting, Adriana sets out to drag him home.

The mistaken identities now begin to multiply, with a lot of Groucho-Chico business between the respective Antipholuses and Dromios; the Dromios get hit over the head with Punch-and-Judy frequency. Adriana finds the wrong Antipholus, and he - afraid to be unmasked as a Syracusan - reluctantly goes home with her. As we consider what might happen there, the other Antipholus reappears, with friends and courtesans, and makes it clear that he really does love his wife: "The Shortest Day Of The Year". Back at the house, the complications increase: Antipholus of Syracuse, while fending off Adriana's advances, sees her sister, and for both of them it's love at first sight. As soon as Adriana is out of the room, they try to figure it out: "This Can't Be Love".

As night falls, Adriana and Luce go off to bed with the wrong Antipholus and Dromio, just as the two husbands finally return home to find the doors already locked. Another crazy crowd forms, Adriana won't let the husbands in, and as the first-act curtain comes down, the rightful Antipholus and Dromio are going off to spend the night with courtesans.

Act Two begins the next morning, with the emergence of the courtesans ("Ladies Of The Evening") to tell their troubles to the cops, who have nothing better to do at this hour than to arrest them. At the home of Antipholus, Luce and the wrong Dromio have only just got out of bed when she catches him flirting with the housemaids, and the now-arguing couple archly imagine a very modern marriage in which both partners go off and do as they please: "He And She".

Adriana and the wrong Antipholus, however, have not consummated anything: he complained of a headache and went off to sleep alone; Adriana is therefore uncompromised. The unhappiest couple in Ephesus are now Luciana, in love with a man she believes is her sister's husband, and Antipholus of Syracuse, in love with a woman who pushes him away, pursued by another who claims to be his wife, and generally lost in the Twilight Zone. Fed Up, he tells Luciana he's getting on a ship and never coming back, however much he may miss her: "You Have Cast Your Shadow On The Sea".

The next complication involves a gold chain, bought but not paid for by one Antipholus and given to the other. In the confusion the hometown Antipholus is arrested for non-payment, and sings , as he is hauled off by the cops, the laugh out loud-funny "Come With Me" (to jail). Back at the house, Luciana finally tells his Adriana what's been going on, and Adriana is more resigned than angry; it' s just the way men are. Luce joins them, and all agree it's best to "Sing For Your Supper". Word arrives of Antipholus' arrest, and everyone charges to the rescue. One by one , the central characters wander into the market square , where we find the chief courtesan , who expected to receive the gold chain, complaining to everyone that she can't find an honest man ("Oh, Diogenes").

At the Temple of Justice, all knots are unravelled: the merchant is ransomed, his sons restored to him; Luciana and Antipholus of Syracuse have a clear path to the altar; Antipholus of Ephesus has learned to appreciate his wife, although we suspect he will still be no stranger to the courtesans; and Adriana, for her part, is told by a seeress, "The venom clamor of a jealous woman poisons more deadly than a mad dog's tooth." In case we missed this sole line retained from The Comedy Of Errors, one of the Dromios leaps out and cries, "Shakespeare!"

 Overview:   

As the story has it, Rodgers and Hart were on a train to Atlantic City, where their I Married An Angel was in rehearsal, when Rodgers proposed to Hart that they do something based on Shakespeare. Today of course, after West Side Story (arguably the best musical in history), Rockabye Hamlet (possibly the worst), and several shows in between, the idea has all the zing of, "How about a rock musical?", but in early 1938, no such musical comedy had reached Broadway, and Hart reportedly loved the notion.

He especially loved the idea of creating an opportunity for his younger brother, the comedian Teddy Hart. Teddy had a problem: he looked a lot like another better known comic, Jimmy Savo; but the resemblance could be put to good use in an adaptation of The Comedy Of Errors, in which the low-comedy roles of the twin Dromios steal the show.

Rodgers and Hart brought in George Abbott, who had been working with them on and off since Jumbo in 1935. For The Boys From Syracuse, Abbott would produce, direct, and adapt the play. "The book that he came up with was exactly what we wanted, " Rodgers recalled in the New York Herald Tribune at the time of the 1963 revival, "bright, fast moving, but, in its own wacky way, very much in the bawdy Shakespearean tradition." On November 23, 1938, The Boys from Syracuse became, amazingly, the sixth Rodgers and Hart show to reach Broadway in three years, but despite a pleasing cast that included Eddie Albert, Muriel Angelus and Burl Ives, the reviews were mixed, and the show ran for only 235 performances - not unusual for a "hit" of the day, but still something of a disappointment. "This Can't Be Love", however, reached the national top 10 twice in 1938-39, in recordings by Horace Heidt and then Benny Goodman; Frances Langford's 1939 "Falling In Love With Love" gave the show yet another hit record.

 Richard Rodgers' Comment:   

I knew Larry would like the idea immediately. Anything that was novel or offbeat was always sure to interest him. So early in 1938, when I suggested that we consider adapting a Shakespearean play into a musical, his eyes quickly lit up and I could almost see sparks coming out of his head. We promptly started tossing ideas back and forth about the possibilities of doing Shakespeare in song and dance. Since no one had ever done it before we had a pretty unlimited field to choose from.

One play, however, intrigued us from the start. And for a very personal reason. Larry had a younger brother named Teddy Hart, who was a very clever comedian. He was short and dark and looked a lot like Larry. But the man he was always being mistaken for was another gifted comic, Jimmy Savo. "What about using The Comedy Of Errors?" Larry said, excitedly rubbing his hands together as he always did when a good idea hit him. "Teddy and Jimmy Savo would be natural for the twin Dromios." I knew nepotism would be frowned upon, but I also knew this was an inspired idea. We went straight to work on the show that eventually became The Boys From Syracuse.

Originally, Larry and I thought we'd like to write the book ourselves. But since up to that time we had been exclusively a song-writing team, we prudently turned over the idea to a more experienced hand named George Abbott. He gladly agreed to take on the triple chore of librettist, director and producer. The book that he came up with was exactly what we wanted -- bright, fast moving, but, in its own wacky way, very much in the bawdy Shakespearean tradition.

Richard Rodgers - A Night Out With The Boys, New York Herald Tribune, April 14 '63
 
 Discography:   

Studio Cast - 1939 
Off-Broadway Revival Cast - 1963
Original London Cast - 1963
Studio Cast - 1997

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