Golden Boy (musical)
Original Broadway Poster
|Basis||Play Golden Boy by Clifford Odets|
Based on the 1937 play of the same name by Odets, it focuses on Joe Wellington, a young man from Harlem who, despite his family's objections, turns to prizefighting as a means of escaping his ghetto roots and finding fame and fortune. He crosses paths with Mephistopheles-like promoter Eddie Satin and eventually betrays his manager Tom Moody when he becomes romantically involved with Moody's girlfriend Lorna Moon.
Producer Hillard Elkins planned the project specifically for Sammy Davis, Jr. and lured Odets out of semi-retirement to write the book. The original play centered on Italian American Joe Bonaparte, the son of poverty-stricken immigrants with a disapproving brother who works as a labor organizer. Elkins envisioned an updated version that would reflect the struggles of an ambitious young African American at the onset of the Civil Rights era and include socially relevant references to the changing times.
In Odets' original book, Joe was a sensitive would-be surgeon fighting in order to pay his way through college, but careful to protect his hands from serious damage so he could achieve his goal of saving the lives of blacks ignored by white doctors. In an ironic twist, the hands he hoped would heal kill a man in the ring.
Following the Detroit tryout, Odets died and Gibson was hired to rework the script. The ideals of the noble plot were abandoned in a revision in which Joe evolved into an angry man who, embittered by the constant prejudice he faces, uses his fists to fight his frustrations. His brother became a worker for CORE, and the subtle romance between Joe and the white Lorna developed into an explicit affair capped by a kiss that shocked audiences already having difficulty adjusting to a heavily urban jazz score and mentions of Malcolm X. This was a far cry from the comedies Hello, Dolly! and Funny Girl, both popular holdovers from the previous theatrical season.
After twenty-five previews, the Broadway production, directed by Arthur Penn and choreographed by Donald McKayle, opened on October 20, 1964 at the Majestic Theatre, where it ran for 568 performances. In addition to Davis, the cast included Billy Daniels as Eddie Satin, Kenneth Tobey as Tom Moody, Jaimie Rogers as Lopez and Paula Wayne as Lorna Moon, with Johnny Brown, Lola Falana, Louis Gossett, Al Kirk, Baayork Lee, and Theresa Merritt in supporting roles.
An original cast recording was released by Capitol Records. One song from the score, "This Is the Life", later became a hit in a cover version recorded by Matt Monro. Art Blakey recorded a jazz version of the score in 1964.
Necco (New England Confectionary Company) created a short-lived candy bar inspired by Davis and the musical. It was called "Golden Boy".
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
|1965||Tony Award||Best Musical||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical||Sammy Davis, Jr.||Nominated|
|Best Choreography||Donald McKayle||Nominated|
|Best Producer of a Musical||Hillard Elkins||Nominated|