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Classical 101

Reuben Reuben

Marc Blitzstein's "urban opera" Reuben Reuben died a quick death at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston in 1955.  Headed for Broadway, this show--based on the Faust legend set in Little Italy--never got past Boylston and Tremont Streets in my beloved hometown. It had a wonderful cast, a proven composer, and a ridiculous book nobody knew what to do with. Everyone liked Eddie Albert, who took the title role.  Blitzstein's opera Regina had been a big success a few years earlier. He had composed music for Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater, and he was back and forth to Hollywood. He was the real deal. I must be the only person left who has hung out with, chatted up, and interviewed two stars of Reuben Reuben, Kaye Ballard and Evelyn Lear. My interest was piqued while preparing broadcasts honoring Evelyn Lear, who died this past July. Kaye Ballard told me, "Honey, it was a show about a man who can't speak! Do you love that for a challenge? Eddie Albert was a good name then, but you can't pay an actor NOT to speak . So, of course, he had lines. He played a World War II vet on a medical discharge because he couldn't speak. There he was on stage, talking and singing away!" Audiences walked out. The critics weren't kind: "Reuben Reuben" provided one of the most bewildering nights I have ever spent in the theatre, and I am reasonably sure that goes for the big audience present."--Elinor Hughes, Boston Traveler "The music is neither melodious nor meaningful. Mr. Blitzstein shuns melody and embraces dissonance. Some of us would be willing to accept the harsh sounds if they seemed justifiable in the dramatic sense, if they gave some significance or new intensity to the play. This rarely happens."--Elliot Norton, Boston Record American But there are wonderful songs in Reuben Reuben. Evie Schulman got to sing several of them. This is her professional debut, before she changed her name to Evelyn Lear: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4bvTr0lNHQ Evie/Evelyn must have needed the $85/week from Equity. The mess in Boston  prepared her well for Strauss and Mozart in Vienna, Milan, Paris, and New York. "I played a lot of backgammon with Marc Blitzstein. It was very tense in the theater. Really tense. We played a lot of backgammon!" Kaye Ballard was a pro in 1955. She had an off-Broadway smash in 1954 with The Golden Apple, which gave her a hit song,  "Lazy Afternoon". The magic didn't last for Reuben Reuben. These recordings were made by Blitzstein himself in the wings during rehearsals. He taped the entire show in this way. And that's all that's left of Reuben Reuben. Everyone involved went on to greater things: Be it Hooterville and Eva Gabor, The Mothers-in-Law or Tosca at the Met.