I love late-’60’s swinging Broadway flop musicals about cheating, so I was excited to hear that The Fig Leaves Are Falling–with a book and lyrics by Allan Sherman (“Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh”) and music by Tony Award winner Albert Hague (Redhead, Plain and Fancy)–was coming back.
The show was originally done at a time when married men thought nothing of playing around with their secretaries–and when they even had secretaries.
Using a variety show framework, it tells the story of middle-aged Harry straying from wife Lillian by falling for his dictation-taking free-spirited assistant, a liberated-gal-slash- homewrecker who wonders why Adam and Eve bothered to wear fig leaves when they were the only people around!
“Maybe they were cold,” comes the answer.
The 1969 George Abbott-directed production was such a flop that in Act Two they raffled off a barbecued chicken to the audience just to keep them from leaving. The wonderful Dorothy Loudon was Tony nominated as Lillian–an amazing feat considering the show ran for only four performances–but generally it was considered leering and lame.
This version has been worked on and reimagined, and it’s got a talented cast, nifty choreography, and a few good songs (“All of My Laughter” is a standout).
The problem with the material is that it starts spoofy, then tries to make you care about the relationships, which are too thinly drawn (even now, when more focus has been put on them than in ’69). Also, Sherman’s lyrics don’t rise to the giddy heights that popular audiences expected of him, and when a song that goes “Lillian, Lillian, Lillian…” keeps being reprised, it’s a little bizarre, bizarre, bizarre.
But even if Fig Leaves will never really fly, there’s some Mad Men-era kitsch appeal here, along with interesting reminders of what was considered racy then. I’m glad director/adapter Ben West goes to forbidden places, and with obvious affection.
And without that chicken, it’s probably way less of a turkey.