Sugar Babies (musical)

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Sugar Babies
Sugar Babies 1979 cast.jpg
Cast of first production of Sugar Babies, 1979 musical. Center, top to bottom, are Ann Miller, Mickey Rooney, Ann Jillian.
MusicJimmy McHugh
LyricsDorothy Fields
Al Dubin
BookRalph G. Allen
Harry Rigby
Productions1979 Broadway
1987 Australia
1988 West End

Sugar Babies is a musical revue conceived by Ralph G. Allen and Harry Rigby, with music by Jimmy McHugh, lyrics by Dorothy Fields and Al Dubin and various others. The show is a tribute to the old burlesque era. (The show's name is taken from one of many shows on the old Mutual Burlesque wheel of the Roaring Twenties.) First produced in 1979 on Broadway and running nearly three years, the revue attracted warm notices and was given subsequent touring productions.


Left to right: Ann Jillian, Ann Miller, Mickey Rooney, Peter Leeds in the first production of Sugar Babies, 1979

Sugar Babies opened on Broadway at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on October 8, 1979 and closed on August 28, 1982 after 1,208 performances. Staging and choreography was by Ernest Flatt, with sketches directed by Rudy Tronto, musically directed by Glen Roven, scenic and costume design by Raoul Pene Du Bois, lighting design by Gilbert Vaughn Hemsley Jr., vocal arrangements and lyrics by Arthur Malvin, additional vocal arrangements by Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane, and orchestrations by Dick Hyman.

The revue starred Mickey Rooney in his Broadway debut, Ann Miller, and featured Ann Jillian and Peter Leeds. After the original stars left, successors included Juliet Prowse, Anita Morris, Joey Bishop, Eddie Bracken, Jeff Dunham and Rip Taylor.

The revue subsequently had a short-lived National tour which starred Carol Channing and Robert Morse, from August through November 1980.[1][2] The 1982 Bus and Truck Tour starred Eddie Bracken and Jaye P. Morgan (who was succeeded by Mimi Hines).[3] The 2nd National Tour, in 1984 and 1985, reunited Rooney and Miller.[4][5]


Norman and his wife conceived of a modern Broadway musical combining all the elements of burlesque. He then came to the conclusion that the only person alive who could pull this off as a headliner was Mickey Rooney
- Richard Lertzman and William J. Birnes, in "The Life and Times of Mickey Rooney"[6]

Norman Abbott, nephew of famed straight man Bud Abbott, and his wife, conceived the idea of a Broadway musical based on burlesque after inheriting his uncle's "treasure trove of burlesque material, including written gags, props, music and posters".

After two weeks of rehearsals, however, Abbott, who was directing the show, was fired, when Rooney told him "this isn't going to work out." Although Abbott didn't have a contract, he sued producer Harry Rigby and received a six-figure settlement.[6]

(Ralph G. Allen) visited theaters around the country, sitting with elderly comics and taking down their routines. He amassed a collection of some 5,000 comedy sketches. He considered writing a book, but Dr. Allen realized it would be much more fun to put on a show. He wrote a revue, based on the sketches, which was performed at the University of Tennessee. Some time later, Dr. Allen gave a talk in New York at a conference on early-20th-century popular entertainment. As part of his lecture, he read the script of his revue. Afterward, he was approached by a member of the audience, Mr. Rigby, a producer.[7]

In 1977, at a "scholarly four‐day conference[8][9][10][11] to study the History of American Popular Entertainment" at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Ralph G. Allen, a theater professor and historian fascinated with burlesque, presented a lecture, from a prior College of Fellows of the American Theatre[12] Address, with pieces of a revue he wrote, that borrowed material from long-forgotten burlesque routines, "At My Mother's Knee (and Other Low Joints)".[13][14] Rigby was in the audience and approached Allen about the material, and together they wrote the book for the show. Sugar Babies debuted two years later.

The show consists of "traditional material ... routines going back 50 to 60 years. It contains standard songs such as "Don't Blame Me" and "I Feel a Song Comin' On", interspersed with newly created musical numbers, including "The Sugar Baby Bounce".[15]

The show had burlesque "tropes" such as the swing number, the sister act, the fan dance, the vaudeville dog act. "It was all fast and funny and it ended with a patriotic number...with the entire company in red, white, and blue with a flag background and Miller as the Statue of Liberty."[16]

Songs and scenes[edit]

Source: Script[17]


Time wrote that the show is a "happy send-off to burlesque", and "Rarely has so much energy been packed into so small a package. Rooney dances, he sings, he mugs, he dresses in drag."[18]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Original Broadway production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1980 Tony Award Best Musical Nominated
Best Book of a Musical Ralph G. Allen and Harry Rigby Nominated
Best Original Score Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields and Al Dubin Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical Mickey Rooney Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Ann Miller Nominated
Best Direction of a Musical Ernest Flatt and Rudy Tronto Nominated
Best Choreography Ernest Flatt Nominated
Best Costume Design Raoul Pène Du Bois Nominated
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actor in a Musical Mickey Rooney Nominated
Outstanding Actress in a Musical Ann Miller Nominated


  1. ^ Corry, John (August 7, 1980). "An Anomaly Is Born: Carol Channing As 'Babies' Burlesque Comic". The New York Times. p. C 15.
  2. ^ Lardner, James (November 4, 1980). "Theater Notes". The Washington Post. p. B8.
  3. ^ Richards, David (June 29, 1982). "Sugar Babies To End Tour". The Washington Post. p. B10.
  4. ^ Frank, Leah (July 7, 1985). "Theater Review;Rooney Triumphant In 'Sugar Babies'". The New York Times.
  5. ^ "O Calendar: 'Sugar Babies', Pantages Theatre". Orange Coast Magazine: 116–119. February 1984.
  6. ^ a b Barnes, Mike (July 13, 2016). "Norman Abbott, TV Director and Brainchild Behind Broadway's 'Sugar Babies,' Dies at 93". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  7. ^ Fox, Margalit (September 11, 2004). "Ralph G. Allen, Who Wrote 'Sugar Babies,' Dies at 70". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-16.
  8. ^ "Conference to Explore History of Entertainment". The New York Times. 16 November 1977. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  9. ^ American Society for Theatre Research; Theatre Library Association (1979). Matlaw, Myron Matlaw (ed.). 1977 Conference on the History of American Popular Entertainment at New York Public Library at Lincoln Center: papers and proceedings. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313210721. OCLC 4933528. Retrieved 16 April 2021. via: James Madison University Libraries
  10. ^ American Society for Theatre Research; Theatre Library Association. American Popular Entertainment: Papers and Proceedings of the Conference on the History of American Popular Entertainment. Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-21072-3. The Conference on the History of American Popular Entertainment (better known by its acronym, CHAPE), held at Lincoln Center in New York on November 17-20, 1977, was the first of its kind in the United States… It opened with an immense two-hour environmental 'happening,' live acts… and an audiovisual pastiche of concurrently performed activities… black and white Minstrel Shows, Burlesque Shows, Vaudeville, Ragtime, Ethnic Theatre, Tent Repertoire Shows, Circus, Wild West Shows, Medicine Shows, Dance, and other entertainments–a potpourri of the various topics covered in the Conference itself… This published version of the Conference events constitutes a unique history of such popular entertainments. Through the scholarly inquiries by academicians and through performances and reminiscences by members of the entertainment profession, it helps to re-create our cultural heritage by presenting an overview of popular entertainment and by sorting out the individual forms of the genre.
  11. ^ "Vaudeville Nation". New York Public Library. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  12. ^ "About Us". The College of Fellows of the American Theatre. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  13. ^ Allen, Ralph G. (August 17, 1977). "At My Mother's Knee (and Other Low Joints)" (PDF). American Theatre Association. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  14. ^ American popular entertainment: papers and proceedings of the Conference on the History of American Popular Entertainment. Greenwood Press. 1979. OCLC 4933528. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  15. ^ Klein, Alvin (March 1, 1987). "Theater; Understudy Becomes The Star In Darien's 'Sugar Babies'". The New York Times.
  16. ^ Mordden, Ethan (January 1, 2004). One More Kiss: The Broadway Musical in the 1970s (reprint ed.). Palgrave Macmillan. p. 236-237. ISBN 978-1-4039-6539-4. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  17. ^ 'Sugar Babies: The Burlesque Musical' script. New York City: Samuel French, Inc. 1983. pp. 8–9. ISBN 978-0-5736-8166-0.
  18. ^ "Show Business: Andy Hardy Comes Home"". Time. October 29, 1979. Archived from the original on April 22, 2010.

External links[edit]