Quiz Shows

Because you've all listened so attentively, your reward is an extra research assignment, on a truly capricious and fascinating subject: Find out everything you can about the life of John Treville LaTouche (1914-1956), one of the more extraordinary figures to drift through the musical theater in the last century. Touche, as he was known for most of his adult life, was a lyricist who made brilliance seem offhand, and an idea man with an astounding knack for what would become insanely popular after he'd lost interest in it. He was also a born bringer-together of people, with a repressed Southern child's traditional enthusiasm for adult toys like sex, drugs, and alcohol. He first made his name with the 13-minute cantata "Ballad for Americans," for which he was duly blacklisted after it became a leftist byword. Next he turned to offbeat commercial musicals for stars like Ethel Waters and Eddie Cantor, all the while sneaking off to write cabaret material about surrealists who married bearded ladies, or girls with prefabricated hearts. He turned Homeric epic into American pop art with Jerome Moross, remade Gay's Beggar's Opera as a Harlem extravaganza with Duke Ellington, wrote a sizable chunk of Bernstein's Candide, and capped the lot, before his death, by writing the libretto for one of the few enduring American operas, Douglas Moore's Ballad of Baby Doe. His triumphs, few of which made money, alternated with searing disasters. (The usually genial Louis Kronenberger said, about the script for one of his quicker thuds, "This book could curdle the millennium.")

Michele Lee, Tony Roberts, and Linda Lavin in The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife: Rash behavior
Michele Lee, Tony Roberts, and Linda Lavin in The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife: Rash behavior


The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife
By Charles Busch
Manhattan Theatre Club
131 West 55th Street

By José Rivera
Based on Calderón’s La Vida Es Sueño
MCC Theatre
120 West 28th Street

Taking a Chance on Love
Lyrics by John LaTouche
Devised by Eric Haagensen
Theatre at St. Peter’s
619 Lexington Avenue

Only a few of us obsessives have ever heard of Touche, so the York Theatre's Taking a Chance on Love is a good and necessary thing. It ought to be better—it proves that he left enough material behind to fill a dozen lively revues—but the show seems to have a hard time keeping up with its facile-tongued hero: Though Janet Watson's choreography gives the cast some amusingly fancy footwork, the overall air is stodgy and static. Still, the evening proffers a lot of the incredible data of Touche's life (somebody had better publish his diaries, quick), and a reasonable selection from the treasure house of his songs. Each member of the four-person cast gets at least one number that's a perfect fit, but three of the four are also saddled with material far from their range. The glorious exception is Eddie Korbich, who, playing Touche, gets the steepest challenges and hurdles them all stupendously, without an instant of flagging energy or the slightest scrape on his gleaming vocal tones. Even if you knew all the data and hated all the songs—both of which are impossible—he'd be reason enough to stay through the show and cheer.

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