Welcome to another Musical Theatre Monday and the continuation of our last original weekly series, in which I’m highlighting some of the final scores that I feel must be featured here before the year concludes. Today…
III. Pins And Needles (11/27/37 – 06/22/40)
Notable for being the only successful Broadway musical mounted by a labor union, Pins And Needles boasted a unique production history. This musical revue marked the first Broadway score by Harold Rome and was written (by a host of folks that included Marc Blitzstein, Arnold B. Horwitt, and John La Touche) to be performed by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, who were currently on strike and meeting at the Princess Theatre. Following an initial production designed to convince management of its viability, the production opened in late 1937 at the very theatre in which they were gathering, now renamed the Labor Stage, and the cast consisted entirely of non-professionals, one of whom was future character actor Harry Clark (whom my sitcom fans may remember from The Phil Silvers Show). Performances only used two small pianos and were initially scheduled just on weekends, so the performers could keep their factory jobs. When the show became a sensation, the schedule expanded.
Coming from a labor union, the revue’s take on current events was knowingly left-leaning, and the material was considered by many to be harsher than much of the other politically infused pieces of the era. Critics believed the show was too overwhelmed by its pro-Union sensibilities, while its champions noted compensatory moments of supreme levity and sharp satire, like in a sequence that featured Hitler justifying his Austrian Anschluss, Mussolini explaining his invasion of Ethiopia, a Japanese man rationalizing their war with China, and Anthony Eden detailing injustices within the British colonies. But the topical nature of the show — which earned it a performance at the White House for First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt — required that the material be consistently revised; its routine revamping kept audiences coming back and enabled the production to run over two-and-a-half years.
The material has been revisited several times since 1940 (by students and other small political groups), but the most notable revival occurred with a 1978 Off-Broadway production, a TV piece on which can be viewed below the article’s first paragraph. Fortunately, much of the score was recorded in 1962 — on the show’s 25th anniversary — with a cast that included Jack Carroll, Rose Marie Jun, composer Harold Rome, and a young Barbra Streisand. From that album, above is Babs herself leading the company with “Doin’ The Reactionary,” and below with “Status Quo.”
Even better: a few of the original cast members recorded their solos during the run of the initial production. Here’s Millie Weitz with the comical “Nobody Makes A Pass At Me.”
Evident of the union sensibilities influencing every fabric of the show, here’s Pins And Needles‘ principal love song, “One Big Union For Two,” performed by Kay Weber and Sonny Schuyler. As with the above, Harold Rome and Baldwin Bergerson are on the twin pianos.
But there was genuine charm too, as shown in the simple “Sunday In The Park,” performed below by Michael Vita.
Here’s Clarence Palmer and the chorus with “Mene, Mene, Tekel,” which was added in 1939.
And we’ll close with Weber and Schuyler singing my favorite number from this fantastic Rome score (and believe me, Pins And Needles features many other songs worthy of attention too), the classic, “Sing Me A Song With Social Significance.”
*All of the shows in this series are Musical Theatre Monday Essentials. Here’s the updated list!
Come back next Monday for another forgotten musical! Tune in tomorrow for my picks of the best episodes from the second season of Married… With Children!