There have been two revivals of On Your Toes on Broadway In 1954, Abbott and Balanchine put together a production starring Bobby Van, Vera Zorina (she had appeared in the role of the ballerina in London and in the movie version) , and Elaine Stritch (who played Peggy and sang the interpolated "You Took Advantage of Me"). The general verdict was that the musical was hopelessly dated and it remained only two months.
Twenty-nine years later, however, again staged by Abbott, it succeeded so well that it bested the original Broadway run, Natalia Makarova of the American Ballet Theatre made an impressive Main Stem debut in the show. She was replaced during the engagement by ballerinas Galina Panova and Valentina Kozlova, and Dina Merrill was replaced by Kitty Carlisle, The 1939 movie, with Eddie Albert as Junior, used music only as background and for the ballets.
|Ray Bolger, George Church and Tamara Geva dancing Slaughter on Tenth Avenue
Since dance was essential to the story, a strong choreographer was needed. Rodgers, Hart and their director and co-author George Abbott took the radical step of hiring a renowned talent from the world of classical ballet -- the Russian-born co-founder of the New York City Ballet, George Balanchine -- to create their dances. "He didn't speak much English," recalled Rodgers years later, "but he spoke an awful lot of ballet."
The jewel in this musical comedy's crown is the climactic Act II ballet Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. Ostensibly written by one of the characters in the show (a WPA-funded struggling composer), it is an American ballet in the jazz vernacular. In its storyline, a customer in a seedy Tenth Avenue strip joint falls in love with a stripper, is discovered with her after closing by the Big Boss and, in the violence that ensues, sees her killed by the Big Boss. Not merely a showpiece, however, "Slaughter" is linked directly to the musical through a plot device, thus forwarding two lines of narrative at once. A dancer jealous of the ballet's leading man has hired two hit men to kill him during a performance of "Slaughter"; the plot is uncovered and our hero alerted but, until help arrives, he is forced to keep dancing center stage and out of harm's way.
"Slaughter" is unique in the annals of American musical comedy; a recognized
ballet in its own right, it has entered the repertory of several leading
companies, particularly New York City Ballet. As an orchestral work, Rodgers'
superlative score for the ballet has become a staple with many symphony
and pops orchestras. Finally, while the musical has served to introduce
many theatre companies to the rigor of ballet, in 1990 the reverse was
true, when the world-famous Stuttgart Ballet of Germany premiered ON YOUR
TOES as the first musical in its repertoire
A few weeks later in New York we ran into Lee Shubert and [his show coordinator] Harry Kaufman. The thing that had been keeping them up nights was the unhappy business of finding a vehicle for Ray Bolger. They thought he was star material. We, too, thought he was star material. Standing on the corner of Forty-fifth Street and Broadway we told Mr. Shubert and Mr. Kaufman the story of the hoofer and the Russian Ballet. They liked it, and this time there were no associates to be consulted. We concluded the deal standing there on the corner.
When the first draft of the book was finished we surveyed our work and found it was not so good. Anyway, be it said to our everlasting credit, we took the step of our own volition, without coaching from the managerial sidelines, and called in George Abbott. That was a lucky day. George straightened out the story line and kept it straight through the turmoil of production and the upheaval of out-of-town tryouts till the show emerged on the stage of the Imperial Theatre. The name would be "On Your Toes.'"
Richard Rodgers from: Words Without Music NEW YORK TIMES, June 14, 1936