The Human Comedy (musical)

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The Human Comedy
Original Cast Recording
MusicGalt MacDermot
LyricsWilliam Dumaresq
BookWilliam Dumaresq
BasisWilliam Saroyan's
The Human Comedy
Productions1983 Off-Broadway
1984 Broadway
1997 York Theatre

The Human Comedy is a musical with a book and lyrics by William Dumaresq and music by Galt MacDermot.

William Saroyan's tale originated as a screenplay he had been hired to write and direct for MGM. When the studio objected to its length and an uncompromising Saroyan was pulled from the project, he rewrote the story as a novel with the same title that was published shortly prior to the film's release.


The Off-Broadway production, directed by Wilford Leach, opened on December 28, 1983 at Joseph Papp's Public Theater, where it ran for 79 performances.

The cast included Stephen Geoffreys as Homer, Bonnie Koloc as Kate, Don Kehr as Marcus, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Bess, Josh Blake as Ulysses, Rex Smith as Spangler, Gordon Connell as Grogan, Leata Galloway as Diana, Joseph Kolinski as Tobey, Caroline Peyton as Mary, and Laurie Franks as Miss Hicks.[1]

Like Hair and A Chorus Line before it, The Human Comedy garnered reviews favorable enough to prompt Papp to transfer it a larger, uptown Broadway house. After twenty previews, with the Off-Broadway cast and creative team, it opened on April 5, 1984 at the Royale Theatre, where it ran for 13 performances.[2]

Frank Rich's critique of the original production had been positive,[1] but The New York Times policy prohibited re-reviewing shows unless they were changed substantially, so his earlier comments were overshadowed by those damaging ones made more recently by Clive Barnes, among others. The general consensus was that The Human Comedy, with its intimate story staged in a semi-oratorio style with no scenery save for rear projections used to define each scene's locale, was not suited for a large venue with a conventional proscenium stage. Following Dude and Via Galactica, it was MacDermot's third critical and commercial failure, and proved to be his last attempt at a Broadway musical.

An original cast album was recorded but never released until 1997, when an 86-track, 2-CD set was issued by Original Cast Records.[3][4]

In 1997, the show had a partially staged reading at the York Theatre in New York City as part of the York's Musicals In Mufti series. The show was directed by Roger Danforth and featured Heather MacRae as Kate, Richard Roland as Spangler, Diane Sutherland (Fratantoni) as Diana, Alan H. Green as Tobey, Jennifer Rosin as Bess, James Ludwig as Marcus, Joe Hynes as Homer, Traci Lyn Thomas as Mary, Aisha DeHaas as Beautiful Music, Benjamin Stix as Ulysses and Ron Carroll as Grogan.[5]


The coming-of-age tale focuses on young Homer Macauley, a telegram messenger who is exposed to the sorrows and joys experienced by his family and the residents of his small California town during World War II. Homer's mother Kate is struggling to support her children following the death of her husband, his older brother Marcus is in the Army, his teenaged sister Bess daydreams about romance, and his younger brother Ulysses divides his attention between the passing trains and an unrequited desire to know why his father had to die. Other characters include Spangler and Grogan, who run the telegraph office, Spangler's girlfriend Diana, Marcus's orphaned army buddy Tobey and Marcus's sweetheart Mary.

Through-composed, The Human Comedy is far more an American folk opera like Porgy and Bess than it is a traditional book musical. Its score includes elements of 1940s swing, gospel, pop, folk music, and typical show tunes. John Beaufort noted that "The adapters have provided a generous mix of musical idioms and rhythms: Love songs, jazzy upbeat numbers, a gospel hymn, and a variety of other compositions in the MacDermot manner. The moods range from jubilation to quiet reverie."[6]

The CurtainUp reviewer of a 2006 regional production wrote: "MacDermot and Dumaresq's sung-through vignettes are, like 'Porgy and Bess', best defined as an American folk opera...The absence of dialogue and the opera tag -- as well as an oratorio style staging (the absence of a musical's usual colorful scenery and choreography) no doubt helped to relegate 'The Human Comedy' to the status of "worthy flop." " [7]

Song list[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Geoffreys, nominee)
  • Theatre World Award (Geoffreys and Koloc, winners)
  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical (Koloc, nominee)
  • Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music (nominee)


  1. ^ a b Rich, Frank. "Stage: Saroyan Set to Music" The New York Times, December 29, 1983
  2. ^ The Human Comedy Playbill (vault), retrieved February 14, 2017
  3. ^ "Human Comedy". 10 August 2012 – via Amazon.
  4. ^ Lefkowitz, David. " 'Willows' & 'Human Comedy' Now Available On CD" Playbill, December 8, 1997
  5. ^ "Musicals in Mufti Production (1997)", retrieved February 14, 2017
  6. ^ Beaufort, John. "Saroyan novel becomes charming pop opera" Christian Science Monitor, January 6, 1984
  7. ^ Sommer, Elyse. "A CurtainUp Berkshires Review. 'The Human Comedy' ", May 30, 2006


Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops by Ken Mandelbaum, published by St. Martin's Press (1991), pages 339-41 (ISBN 0-312-06428-4)

External links[edit]