Around the World (musical)

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Around the World
Around-the-World-Playbill.jpg
The Playbill for the Adelphi Theatre (May 31, 1946)
Music Cole Porter
Lyrics Cole Porter
Book Orson Welles
Basis Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
Productions 1946 Broadway

Around the World is a musical based on the Jules Verne novel, Around the World in Eighty Days, with a book by Orson Welles and music and lyrics by Cole Porter. It involves an around-the-world adventure by Phileas Fogg. The expensive musical extravaganza opened on Broadway in May 1946 but it closed after 75 performances.

As he had for his aborted 1938 stage production of Too Much Johnson, Welles shot motion picture sequences that were integrated into Around the World. The film is lost.

History[edit]

Sheet music cover

After he finished shooting his 1946 film, The Stranger, Orson Welles decided to make a musical out of one of his favorite childhood books, Around the World in Eighty Days. He wanted an entire circus on stage, a train running through the West, and had other extravagant production ideas. He raised money from Mike Todd, the producer William Goetz, and the holder of the European rights to the title, Alexander Korda. However, he had no money left for a star cast and used performers who were not well known. According to Charles Higham (writer of a highly critical Welles biography) "Porter wrote the songs far too quickly and badly".[1]:228–29, 232

The show had a cast of 70 and included four mechanical elephants and 54 stage hands. Mike Todd pulled out, and Welles put up his own money. He also borrowed from Columbia Pictures president, Harry Cohn, on a promise to write, produce, direct and star in a film for Cohn for no fee. The result was the 1947 film, The Lady from Shanghai.[2]

Playwright John van Druten described the musical as "enormous fun" and Joshua Logan said it was "fresh, witty, magical, exciting". However, with no story and unclear relationships between the characters, the show closed quickly, with Welles losing his savings, and the investors losing "large sums".[1]

Synopsis[edit]

Phileas Fogg bets that he can go around the world in 80 days. Fogg is accompanied by his assistant, "Pat" Passepartout. They are pursued on this adventure by a police officer, Inspector Fix, who is persistent but incompetent. Inspector Fix believes that Fogg has possession of stolen money.

Production[edit]

Around the World was a Mercury Production by Orson Welles. The show began pre-Broadway tryouts at the Boston Opera House, Boston on April 28, 1946, moved to the Shubert Theatre, New Haven on May 7, 1946, and then transferred to the Shubert Theatre, Philadelphia on May 14, 1946.

The production premiered on Broadway at the Adelphi Theatre on May 31, 1946, and closed on August 3, 1946, after 75 performances.[3]

It was produced and directed by Orson Welles with circus sequences created by Barbette, choreography by Nelson Barclift, costumes by Alvin Colt, set design by Robert Davison, and lighting by Peggy Clark. The show had 38 sets, which Welles asked to be designed in the style of the films of Georges Méliès.[4]:111

"Some of the more spectacular scenes included a giant eagle snatching an actor from the stage, an authentic Japanese circus troupe, a live elephant, a train crossing the rocky mountains and a troop of Marines", wrote Welles scholar Bret Wood. "Motion picture footage was shot and integrated into the play to heighten its mad, vaudevillian qualities."[5]:61

Technical problems were largely resolved before the New York opening. Welles performed various roles throughout the play's run, and he once was required to play the lead.[5]:62 On the last night of the Boston run, when Arthur Margetson lost his voice, Welles read the part of Fogg and an understudy sang the songs. "The audience felt blessed," wrote biographer David Thomson. "It was a spellbinding night, with Welles talking everyone — audience included — through their parts."[6]:270–271

Although audiences reportedly loved Around the World, its precarious finances — and the theatre's inadequate air conditioning — could not sustain the show through the summer doldrums and Welles was forced to close it. Welles personally lost an estimated $320,000 ($3.87 million as of 2014)[7] on Around the World. Due to bad legal advice he was unable to claim the loss on his taxes, and it took him many years to pay the debt.[4]:395–396

After the failure of the New York production, Welles was keen to stage the show in London, where Alexander Korda predicted it would be a great success, but British trade union rules would not allow the use of the elaborate props and sets built for the American production, and they were burned. The sets proved too expensive to construct again, and the show never again received a full-scale staging.[4]:109

Program[edit]

This is the order of the program as it appears in the The Playbill for the Adelphi Theatre production beginning Friday, May 31, 1946 (pp. 17–19):

Due to the size and cope of the production, the play ran approximately three hours with one intermission.[5]:61

Film sequences[edit]

Five scenes in Around the World were motion pictures shot and edited by Orson Welles, in silent-movie style with title cards. The film is lost.[4]:395

"These sequences are virtually forgotten in discussions of Welles' cinema," wrote Welles scholar Bret Wood. "The motion picture segments of Around the World, probably long since destroyed, would provide cineastes with an important piece of Wellesian history."

As was the Too Much Johnson footage, the Around the World film was black and white without sound in homage to the breathless chases and adventures of the silent era. Viewing the latter footage would be of great interest because by this time Welles had considerable experience in filmmaking and had acquired a definite cinematic style, drawn largely from other films.[5]:205–206

The "Movies" scenes provided a silent introduction (with orchestral accompaniment) to each act of the play. Other sequences included a scene inside the bank and the rescue on the S.S. Tankadere, filmed in one day at the Edison Studios; and a chase through San Francisco. The chase was filmed in Boston and, like that in Too Much Johnson, featured actual locations.[5]:206

The edited film sequences comprised about 30 minutes of projection time in the play.[8]:387

Featured cast[edit]

These actors were featured in the "Who's who in the cast" section of The Playbill for the Adelphi Theatre production beginning Friday, May 31, 1946 (pp. 26–32):

Songs[edit]

This is the musical program as it appears in The Playbill for the Adelphi Theatre production beginning Friday, May 31, 1946 (pp. 21–23):

Reception[edit]

Critic Lewis Nichols of The New York Times calling the musical "only fitfully amusing", noted that the production "has spared no expense in gadgets and effects. There are movies of the flicker era, a miniature train crossing a bridge ... and desperate men and bold clinging to the rails of pounding ships at sea. In other words, Around the World has the making for an hilarious evening. It does not come off because it lacks unity. There are too many styles fighting among themselves ... the dances generally are miles removed from Mr. Welles' burlesque. Finally, Cole Porter has written an inferior score, the songs being on the usual musical comedy subjects and delivered without the zest brought to the show by its mainstay. … Perhaps the best part of the show is a circus, with acrobats, a rope walker and with Mr. Welles, himself, as the magician."[9]

Life magazine called the show "the most overstuffed conglomeration of circus, magic, movies, old-fashioned spectacle and penny peep shows that Broadway has seen since the days of Barnum's Museum. … For part of the time Around the World is wonderful, noisy fun. But, handicapped by Cole Porter's disappointing music and a slapdash production, it ends up like a Victorian whatnot more cluttered with junk than gems."[10]

After New York drama critic Robert Garland wrote disdainfully that the show had "everything but the kitchen sink", Welles had a kitchen sink brought to him onstage during his curtain speech.[4]:395[6]:271

During the show's run, Bertolt Brecht went to see it, and went to congratulate Welles backstage after the show, declaring it to be "the greatest American theatre he had ever seen".[4]:112

Adaptations[edit]

  • During the show's run, Welles was also producing, directing, writing, presenting and co-starring in the anthology radio series The Mercury Summer Theatre on the Air. The show's first episode, broadcast on 7 June 1946, was a heavily abridged version of the musical, truncated to meet the radio programme's half-hour format. All of the principal cast participated, and the radio broadcast remains the only recording of any portion of Cole Porter's Around the World score. Songs include "Look What I Found" (Larry Laurence, Julie Warren), "There He Goes, Mr. Phileas Fogg" (Arthur Margetson) and "Should I Tell You I Love You?" (Mary Healy).[11]
  • The "Lost Musicals" series presented a concert version at the Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler’s Wells, London, in June–July 2007.[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Higham, Charles, Orson Welles: The Rise and Fall of an American Genius. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985 ISBN 0-312-31280-6
  2. ^ a b McSmith, Andy, "Orson Welles musical comes around again" The Independent, 9 June 2007, archived 2011-05-05 from the original at the Internet Archive. Retrieved 2014-02-01.
  3. ^ "Around the World". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2013-11-02. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Welles, Orson, and Peter Bogdanovich, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum, This is Orson Welles. New York: HarperCollins Publishers 1992 ISBN 0-06-016616-9
  5. ^ a b c d e Wood, Bret, Orson Welles: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1990 ISBN 0-313-26538-0
  6. ^ a b Thomson, David, Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996, ISBN 0-679-41834-2
  7. ^ Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
  8. ^ Brady, Frank, Citizen Welles: A Biography of Orson Welles. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1989 ISBN 0-684-18982-8
  9. ^ Nichols, Lewis. "The Play", The New York Times, June 1, 1946, p. 9
  10. ^ Around the World. Life, June 17, 1946, pp. 74–76. Retrieved 2013-11-03. 
  11. ^ "Around the World, The Mercury Summer Theatre on the Air". Internet Archive. Retrieved 2013-11-02. 

External links[edit]