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Original Cast Recording
Music Jule Styne
Lyrics Bob Merrill
Book Bob Merrill
Basis Prettybelle by Jean Arnold
Productions 1971 Boston

Prettybelle is a musical with a book and lyrics by Bob Merrill and music by Jule Styne.

Adapted from the Jean Arnold novel of the same name, its central character is a Southern woman who, long abused by her recently deceased law officer husband, turns to alcohol for comfort, becomes a nymphomaniac prostitute, and eventually is institutionalized.


Bob Merrill and Jule Styne met with director Gene Saks for several weeks to work on the musical, but Saks eventually decided not to do the show. Merrill then suggested Gower Champion, who agreed to tackle the project because "It grabbed me." Angela Lansbury liked the idea of an intimate show for a small theatre.[1]

The show was plagued with problems from the start. Merrill's and Champion's intent to bring to the stage the techniques and abstractions of avant-garde films never was fulfilled. Champion wanted a "no-glitz approach" and so the set design was a unit set that had to "take on...different aspects...and wasn't complex"[2] Producer Alexander H. Cohen was dissatisfied with director/choreographer Champion's approach to the material and his dictatorial treatment of the cast, and the latter ultimately banned him from rehearsals. Leading lady Angela Lansbury pledged to boycott a move to Broadway unless everything was fixed during the out-of-town tryout in Boston.[3]


Cohen scheduled the Broadway opening at the Majestic Theatre for March 15, 1971, the last day of Tony Award eligibility, in order to get publicity for the show.[4] The Boston tryout opened on February 1, 1971 at the Shubert Theatre. In addition to Lansbury, the cast included Jon Cypher and Charlotte Rae. Champion was the director, scenic design was by Oliver Smith and costumes by Ann Roth.[5] Much to Lansbury's relief, Cohen closed the show in Boston on March 6, 1971.

Although bootleg recordings of the entire show are known to exist, no original cast recording was ever released at the time. In 1982, record producer Bruce Yeko (who headed the Original Cast record label) reunited the principal members of the original cast (Angela Lansbury, Mark Dawson, Peter Lombard and Bert Michaels) to record a new studio album of the show. The LP was re-issued on CD in 1993 by Varèse Sarabande.


Prettybelle Sweet is the alcoholic wife of a bigoted southern sheriff. After his death, she learns that he and his friends have been unjust to the local minority people. However, as Prettybelle attempts to make amends, she discovers that the people of the small town do not approve. She permits the minority men to rape her and she becomes involved with Mason, a liberal lawyer. As the townspeople riot, Mason betrays her and she retreats to an asylum.

Song list[edit]

  • "Prettybelle"
  • "Manic-Depressives"
  • "You Ain't Hurtin' Your Ole Lady None"
  • "You Never Looked Better"
  • "To a Small Degree"
  • "Back from the Great Beyond"
  • "How Could I Know?"
  • "I Never Did Imagine"
  • "In the Japanese Gardens"
  • "Individual Thing"
  • "I Met a Man"
  • "God's Garden"
  • "The No-tell Motel"
  • "I'm in a Tree"
  • "When I'm Drunk I'm Beautiful"


The opening night audience was angered by the musical's story. "Clearly, Boston was not the place to open an unconventional musical like this one." Oliver Smith noted that "the audience absolutely resented every moment of it, and just booed and hissed and carried on."[6] The critics were brutal. Critic Kevin Kelly said the it was "pretty bad", and Variety wrote that it was "a collection of ethnic slams and four-letter words." [7] However, critic Elliot Norton praised the show, writing that "this bold new show...could become a memorable American musical play. It can and it should."[8]

According to Steven Suskin, the musical was "rather fascinating if unconventional, and the score is not uninteresting. But the show's subject matter, back in the dark days of 1971, doomed it."[9]

Ken Mandelbaum wrote that "it did not work and was a serious turn-off to the audience. Angela Lansbury was never better than in the title role."[10]


  1. ^ Gilvey, pp. 208-211
  2. ^ Gilvey, p. 201
  3. ^ Gilvey, p. 217
  4. ^ Chapin, Ted, Everything Was Possible: The Birth of the Musical Follies. Hal Leonard Corporation 2005. ISBN 1-55783-653-1, p. 127
  5. ^ "Off-Broadway/Regional, 'Prettybelle' (1971)", accessed July 30, 2010
  6. ^ Gilvey, p. 214
  7. ^ Gilvey, p. 214
  8. ^ Gilvey, p. 215
  9. ^ Suskin, Steven. Show Tunes (2010 ED. 4), Oxford University Press US, ISBN 0-19-531407-7, p. 224
  10. ^ "Ken Mandelbaum's Musicals On Disc: Remembering Bob Merrill", March 1, 1998


Gilvey, John Anthony, Before the Parade Passes By: Gower Champion and the Glorious American Musical. Macmillan 2005. ISBN 0-312-33776-0

Additional reading[edit]

  • Gottfried, Martin, Balancing Act: The Authorized Biography of Angela Lansbury. Little, Brown and Company 1999. ISBN 0-316-32225-3

External links[edit]