Jerry Tallmer: A Week of Musicals


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May 20, 1959, Vol. IV, No. 30

Musicals, Uptown and Down

By Jerry Tallmer

The week was given over to musicals. They were “THE NERVOUS SET,” an off-Broadway show on Broadway, and “ONCE UPON A MATTRESS,” a Broadway show off Broadway. The first is at the Henry Miller, if it lasts there, the second is at the Phoenix.

“The Nervous Set” should never have opened on Broadway in a million years. The producers are very proud of the fact that they brought it in at only $50,000 from the Crystal Palace in St. Louis, where it has been a big hit all spring. But the Crystal Palace is not Times Square. I’d guess it’s $50,000 out the window, which in a way is something of a tragedy (apart from it’s always being something of a tragedy) because “The Nervous Set” is a show with a lot of good ideas and fresh approaches-all of them gone wrong.

It is described as a “beat generation musical,” and the only hitch there is that it’s neither musical nor theatrical nor anything else that can succeed on stage. It’s an unholy mess of hipnesses and clevernesses thrown together in a hodge-podge of unplotted unacting with a little unmelodic song. The scene is the Village and environs, some of them reaching up to Sutton Place and even Connecticut; the central characters are like Kerouac, like Ginsberg, and like the playwright and his wife, Jay and Fran Landesman. Jay Landesman once ran the magazine Neurotica, and “The Nervous Set” is about a young Ivy Leaguer in Greenwich Village who publishes a magazine called Nerves. He meets and marries a girl in Washington Square, a cleaner type than the folk-singers around her, and most of the rest of the evening has to do with how his friends and fellow editors-his wife calls them “creeps”-almost wreck their marriage, but not quite…

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