SUBWAYS ARE FOR SLEEPING at The York Theater (Musicals in Mufti) - New York City Article
“Subways Are for Sleeping”: A Musical by Jule Styne, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green
The York Theater Company at St. Peter’s
619 Lexington Avenue, 935-5820,
through March 4
Not exactly a cult show, but one that musical theater geeks have been inordinately curious about ever since it closed (following 205 performances) in 1962. It turns out that Subways is far from a bad show, but a strangely inappropriate one - in which the cheerfulness and earnestly optimistic nature of both the music and the book are almost diametrically opposed to the actual subject matter, which is a tale of the homeless in New York. You could say that, well before La Cage Aux Faux, this is the first musical about an alternative lifestyle: those who choose to live off the grid. The show was inspired by a well-received book of the same title from 1957, and though it was composer Jule Styne’s idea, the whole production bears the stylistic signature of book and lyric writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green. They had already written four successful shows about New York, two with Leonard Bernstein (On the Town and Wonderful Town) and, more recently, two with Styne (Bells are Ringing and Do-Re-Mi) and were clearly determined to come up with a decidedly different kind of Metrocentric musical.
Here’s the final result: everything is great about Subways Are for Sleeping except the basic idea of the show itself. If you can somehow get beyond that - the overall premise of the whole thing - Subways is a show for seeing, especially for the outstanding score by Styne, Comden, and Green. Some numbers, like its best known song, “Comes Once in a Lifetime” (which soon entered the repertoires of both Tony Bennett and Judy Garland), are essentially traditional upbeat show tunes. Other numbers, however, such as “Swing Your Projects” and “I Was a Shoo-In," are more like fully-developed musical monologues, in a way that presages more contemporary work by Jason Robert Brown, Adam Guettel, Richard Maltby and David Shire. Another good reason to catch this “Musicals in Mufti” production is that no one is likely to ever stage this show again, and the York’s cast, especially three-named leads Eric William Morris and Alyse Alan Louis, is excellent.
Author: Will Friedwald
Will Friedwald writes about music and popular culture for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, VANITY FAIR and PLAYBOY magazine and reviews current shows for THE CITIVIEW NEW YORK. He also is the author of nine books, including the award-winning A BIOGRAPHICAL GUIDE TO THE GREAT JAZZ AND POP SINGERS, SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU, STARDUST MELODIES, TONY BENNETT: THE GOOD LIFE, LOONEY TUNES & MERRIE MELODIES, and JAZZ SINGING. He has written over 600 liner notes for compact discs, received ten Grammy nominations, and appears frequently on television and other documentaries. He is also a consultant and curator for Apple Music.
SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU - NEW REVISED EDITION (Chicago Review Press, May 2018)