They faced down studio heads, gossip columnists and shorter leading men, and they always came back a star!
We bring you a cavalcade of stories and songs about the legendary women of Hollywood’s movie musicals from 1930 to 1960. Each studio had its own style and stars to match: MacDonald, Garland, Powell (Eleanor and Jane), Keeler, Rogers and Grable. Whether an MGM glamour girl or a Warner Bros. gold digger, these musical legends were made to be adored—and still are.
Read the co-creators’s note and see a sample of the song scheduled for the show
Created by Charles Busch and Carl Andress
Charles Busch, artistic director, co-writer & host
Carl Andress, stage director & co-writer
John McDaniel, music director, arranger, orchestrator & piano
Nancy Anderson, vocals
Andréa Burns, vocals
Cady Huffman, vocals
Erin Maguire, vocals
Zakiya Young, vocals
Robert Osborne, special guest (Sat and Sun)
Jack Bashkow, woodwinds
Sean Harkness, guitars
Tom Hubbard, bass
Ray Marchica, percussion
"Here's to the Girls! Hollywood's Leading Ladies" is underwritten by Gilda and Henry Block.
Explore the Music
(Click the names below to expand info.)
by Charles Busch & Carl Andress
How wonderful it is to be a part of a grand tradition! That’s how we felt when we were asked to create a show for the Lyrics & Lyricists series. We knew we didn’t have the background and knowledge (or frankly the enthusiasm) to explore the influence of the Bulgarian Mezzo on Tin Pan Alley, but we both do have a lifelong fascination with the Hollywood musical.
But what an enormous subject! There are many ways to approach this kind of program. We decided to focus on the extraordinary women who sang and danced and made the Hollywood musical film one of the great cultural achievements of the 20th century. Even narrowing it to these women, we still could have more installments than the Star Wars series. So we’ve chosen to explore the music of original film musicals rather than adaptations of Broadway shows. The crème de la crème of composers from Broadway and Tin Pan Alley created some of their finest work for the Hollywood studios. In the case of Irving Berlin, numerous original films were built around his vast songbook.
The question was “Do we tell the history of the Hollywood musical in chronological order?” Well, that could be a bit ponderous. What did interest us was how each of the major Hollywood studios had their own unique “house style.” This style derived from the background and aesthetic interest of the heads of the studio. Except for Darryl Zanuck of 20th Century Fox, all of the great moguls were European Jewish immigrants, and their early experiences informed the kind of films they chose to make.
The four Warner brothers came to this country as very young children and grew up in a hardscrabble American urban atmosphere of social protest. It was only natural that they saw film as a vehicle for social change. Even their early musicals, such as 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933, were very much Depression-era stories of struggling theatrical hopefuls. These stories demanded a tough, scrappy kind of musical lady, and Warner Bros. found this in Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell and the young Ginger Rogers.
Darryl F. Zanuck, a boy wonder executive who spearheaded many classic Warner Bros. films of the early ‘30s, moved to 20th Century Fox and turned that troubled studio into a first-rate Hollywood dream factory. Under his leadership, Fox turned out films in every genre that emphasized technical polish and visual gloss. Their musical films exploded off the screen in vivid Technicolor that perfectly showcased a succession of beautiful and legendary blonde actresses such as Alice Faye, June Haver, Betty Grable and, ultimately, Marilyn Monroe.
Founder Adolph Zukor and production head Ernst Lubitsch of Paramount Pictures retained a nostalgia for the Europe they had left behind. The Paramount musical had a naughty, sophisticated European ambience. Among the worldly ladies who flourished in this hothouse atmosphere were Mae West and Marlene Dietrich, and a saucy Jeanette MacDonald before MGM transformed her into a grande dame.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was the biggest, richest and most prestigious of the Hollywood studios. With generous budgets at their disposal, studio head Louis B. Mayer and production chief Irving Thalberg were able to create a sumptuous product unequaled by the other studios. Mayer’s traumatic Russian shtetl youth made him reject stark realism or films of social protest. He developed a pantheon of glamorous, talented women, who with a few notable exceptions, exemplified an All-American, wholesome elegance. He promoted a young Tin Pan Alley songwriter named Arthur Freed to the role of producer; Freed created at MGM a studio within a studio devoted to the development of the musical film. Among the many women whom the Freed Unit and MGM raised to the level of musical screen goddess were Cyd Charisse, Jane Powell, June Allyson, Leslie Caron, Ann Miller, Esther Williams, Debbie Reynolds and their greatest star, Judy Garland.
Our evening will also tap into the films of studios such as Columbia and Universal; they didn’t have a strong commitment to the screen musical but still managed to develop beloved stars such as Deanna Durbin and Rita Hayworth.
So that is our gambit for this show. This is a very personal overview of an impossibly ambitious subject, which we have attacked with enthusiasm, a love for these fascinating women and respect for the brilliant songwriters who gave them their finest efforts.
It’s been a joy developing this show with the wonderful people at Lyrics & Lyricists who ascribe to the same motto as MGM: “Make it good. Make it big. Give it class.”
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Select Song List
As a special preview, here is a selection of songs from:
Here’s to the Girls! Hollywood’s Leading Ladies
AH SWEET MYSTERY OF LIFE (Jeanette MacDonald)
Lyrics by Rida Johnson, music by Victor Herbert & Rida Johnson Young
From Naughty Marietta (1935)
DIAMONDS ARE A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND (Marilyn Monroe)
Lyrics by Leo Robin, music by Jule Styne
From Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
DON’T SIT UNDER THE APPLE TREE (The Andrews Sisters)
Lyrics by Lew Brown & Charles Tobias, music by Sam H. Stept
From Private Buckaroo (1942)
DOWN ARGENTINA WAY (Betty Grable)
Lyrics by Mack Gordon, music by Harry Warren
From Down Argentine Way (1940)
FORTY SECOND STREET (Ruby Keeler)
Lyrics by Al Dubin, music by Harry Warren
From 42nd Street (1933)
GET HAPPY (Judy Garland)
Lyrics by Ted Koehler, music by Harold Arlen
From Summer Stock (1950)
THE LADY IN THE TUTTI-FRUTTI HAT (Carmen Miranda)
Lyrics by Leo Robin, music by Harry Warren
From The Gang’s All Here (1943)
ON THE GOOD SHIP LOLLYPOP (Shirley Temple)
Lyrics by Sidney Clare, music by Richard A. Whiting
From Bright Eyes (1934)
PUT THE BLAME ON MAME (Rita Hayworth)
Lyrics by Allan Roberts, music by Doris Fisher
From Gilda (1946)
SHAKING THE BLUES AWAY (Ann Miller)
Lyrics & music by Irving Berlin
From Easter Parade (1948)
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(Click the names below to expand info.)
Making his Lyrics & Lyricists debut, Charles Busch is the author and star of such plays as The Divine Sister, The Lady in Question, Red Scare on Sunset, You Should Be So Lucky and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom; one of the longest running plays in the history of Off- Broadway. His play The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife ran for 777 performances on Broadway; it received a Tony nomination for Best Play, and Charles won the Outer Critics Circle’s John Gassner Playwriting Award. In 2003 Charles received a special Drama Desk Award for career achievement as both performer and playwright, and he was given a star on the Playwrights Walk outside the Lucille Lortel Theatre.
Charles wrote and starred in the film versions of his plays, Psycho Beach Party and Die, Mommie, Die!, the latter of which won him the Best Performance Award at the Sundance Film Festival. He made his film directorial debut with the Showtime short film, Personal Assistant, starring Kathy Lee Gifford, followed by the feature film, A Very Serious Person, which won an honorable mention at the Tribeca Film Festival. For two seasons, he appeared as Nat Ginzburg on the HBO series “Oz,” and he also played Peg Barlow on “One Life to Live.”
Given his love and knowledge of film and theatre history, Charles has been invited to appear in numerous documentaries for Turner Classic Movies, including programs on Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo, and he has lectured and conducted master classes at many colleges and universities including NYU, Harvard, UCLA and Amherst. He is the subject of the acclaimed documentary film, The Lady in Question is Charles Busch, and he is the author of the auto-biographical novel Whores of Lost Atlantis.
Charles is a two-time MAC Award winner who has performed his cabaret act in New York at the Ballroom, Birdland and 54 Below, where he gave a special New Year’s Eve show this past December with his music director, Tom Judson. He has also presented his act with Tom in Provincetown, San Francisco, Palm Springs, Atlanta and New Orleans, as well as in London and Paris. Charles is also a painter and was recently commissioned by Turner Classic Movies to do a painting to celebrate their 20th year on the air. He sells his work through Broadway Design Exchange, shop.broadwaydesignexchange.com. A graduate of Northwestern University, Charles’s website is charlesbusch.com.
Photo: Michael Wakefield
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Carl Andress is an American theater director whose credits include the world premieres of Charles Busch’s critically acclaimed comedies The Tribute Artist; The Divine Sister; The Third Story, starring Kathleen Turner; Judith of Bethulia; the children’s musical Bunnicula: The Musical; and Shanghai Moon. He has also directed New York productions of the Busch plays Die! Mommie Die! And Queen Amarantha, plus the musical extravaganza Charles Busch & Julie Halston Together on Broadway—Featuring the 20th Anniversary Performance of “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” and annual productions of Times Square Angel.
Among Carl’s other New York credits, he staged the Broadway premieres of John Kander, Fred Ebb and Terrence McNally's musical, The Visit, starring Chita Rivera and John Cullum, and choreographed by Ann Reinking; and Sheldon Harnick and Joe Raposo’s A Wonderful Life, starring Judy Kuhn, Brian Stokes Mitchell and David Hyde Pierce, and named one of Time magazine’s top ten events of theater for 2005; both were concert performances benefiting The Actors Fund. Beyond Broadway, Carl has directed productions of Tenderloin, Harold & Maude, I Love My Wife and The Mad Show for the York Theatre’s “Musicals in Mufti” series; Carmen Pelaez's Rum & Coke; Douglas Carter Beane’s The Cartells, and his own It's Not My Fault, It Was On Fire When I Got There.
Regionally, Carl has directed productions of The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife at the Paper Mill Playhouse, Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami and Royal Poinciana Playhouse in Palm Beach; The Third Story at the La Jolla Playhouse; and Crush the Infamous Thing—The Adventures of the Hollywood Four at the Coconut Grove Playhouse. His other regional credits include the Bay Street Theatre on Long Island; Chicago’s Factory Theater and summer stock in theatres across New England.
Carl made his Lyrics & Lyricists debut in May 2011 as stage director for Phyllis Newman’s “Carried Away: Being Comden & Green.” He has led numerous galas and special events, including Nothing Like a Dame: A Party for Comden & Green and all-star performances of Valley of the Dolls and Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol as benefits for the Actors Fund, plus Broadway Unplugged at Town Hall and The Nightlife Awards. He is also the co-writer and costar of the award-winning independent feature, A Very Serious Person, which played at the Tribeca Film Festival and is currently available on DVD. His website is carlandress.com.
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Also making his Lyrics & Lyricists debut, John McDaniel is a Grammy and two-time Emmy Award-winning music director, composer, arranger, orchestrator, and theatrical and record producer. He currently serves as the artistic director of the O’Neill Theater Center’s Cabaret and Performance conference, and he was the bandleader of “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” for its entire six-year run, winning two Emmy Awards.
On Broadway John received a Drama Desk nomination for his orchestrations for Bonnie & Clyde, and that same year he was musical director and conductor of Catch Me If You Can. His other Broadway credits include producer and musical supervisor of Brooklyn: The Musical, and musical director/supervisor/arranger of Annie Get York Gun, Grease, Taboo, Patti LuPone on Broadway and Company—The Original Cast in Concert at Lincoln Center. He won a Grammy Award as a producer of the Annie Get Your Gun cast album.
Beyond Broadway, John wrote the arrangements for the national tour of Happy Days: A New Musical and Pirates! at the St. Louis Muny, and he conducted Daughter of the Regiment at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. John has been music director & arranger for concert appearances with such stars as Cab Calloway, Shirley MacLaine, George Burns, Tyne Daly, Joel Grey, Betty Buckley and most recently, Bette Midler. He has been a guest conductor at many orchestras, including the San Francisco, Indianapolis, Colorado, Baltimore and St. Louis symphonies. John has released several solo CDs, including the most recent, John McDaniel Live at Joe’s Pub. A native of St. Louis, he holds a BFA in Drama from Carnegie Mellon University. His website is johnmcdaniel.com.
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Nancy Anderson made her Broadway debut as Mona in A Class Act, and played Helen and Eileen in the revival of Wonderful Town. She was seen on PBS “Great Performances” as Lois/Bianca in the London production of Kiss Me Kate, earning her an Olivier Award nomination, and in South Pacific in Concert at Carnegie Hall, starring Reba McIntyre. She has appeared Off-Broadway in Far From Heaven at Playwrights Horizons and starring roles in Jolson & Co and Fanny Hill, plus all the female roles in Yank! at the York Theatre, among others. A frequent guest at Town Hall’s Broadway by the Year series, she returns in February for “The Broadway Musicals of 1916–1940.”
This past December Nancy was the Vocalist in The Tempest at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington DC, directed by her husband, Ethan McSweeny. Last September she played Sukie in Witches of Eastwick at the Ogunquit Playhouse, and during the summer she appeared in The Cottage at Theatre Aspen. Her many other regional credits include the title role in Peter Pan, Ilona in She Loves Me and Gloria in Damn Yankees at the Paper Mill Playhouse; and Side By Side By Sondheim at the Signature Theater in Virginia, earning her a Helen Hayes Award nomination.
Nancy was the 2011 winner of the Noël Coward Cabaret Award Competition. She sings with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, the Bob Hardwick Sound, and Ross Patterson and His Little Big Band, and her debut album, Ten Cents a Dance, is an homage to the Depression-era songs of the 1930s. Her website is nancyanderson.name.
Photo: Lee Cherry
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Andréa Burns has just completed her run playing the starring role of Judy Holliday, to much critical acclaim, in the world premiere of Smart Blonde by Willy Holtzman at Pittsburgh’s City Theatre. She co-starred with Nathan Lane in Douglas Carter Beane’s Broadway play, The Nance, which was recently broadcast on PBS’ “Great Performances”. Andréa is a Drama Desk winner, having originated the role of Daniela, the saucy Latina hairdresser, in the original Broadway company of In the Heights. She has also appeared on Broadway as Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Vicki Nichols in The Full Monty and the Roundabout Theatre revival of The Ritz.
Off-Broadway, Andréa was in the original company of Jason Robert Brown’s renowned Songs for a New World, and she created the role of Celeste in Stephen Sondheim’s Saturday Night at Second Stage Theatre. She appeared as Lucille Frank in the national touring company of Parade, directed by Harold Prince, and received a Joseph Jefferson Award nomination for best actress for her portrayal of Dot in Sunday in the Park with George at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Other recent regional credits include Diana in Next to Normal at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca.
Andréa’s debut solo album, A Deeper Shade of Red, received tremendous praise and is available on iTunes. She appeared on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play charts with “100 Stories,” a dance single she co-produced with her brother Mike Burns. Her film and television credits include the upcoming Akron, “The Electric Company,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Rescue Me” and “Smash.”
Photo: Beau Alluli
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Making her Lyrics & Lyricists debut, Cady Huffman won Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for her performance as Ulla in The Producers. She received an Outer Critics Circle nomination for Douglas Carter Beane’s The Nance, which was broadcast on PBS “Great Performances,” and she received a Tony nomination for The Will Rogers Follies. Her other Broadway credits include Steel Pier, Dame Edna: The Royal Tour, the original La Cage aux Folles and Bob Fosse’s last original musical, Big Deal. She was most recently seen in New York this past fall in the Icelandic indie-rock musical, Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson, Furniture Painter, at the Minetta Lane Theatre.
Cady has had recurring roles in HBO's “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” where she almost became Larry David's 10th anniversary present; “The Good Wife” and “One Life to Live.” She has been a guest on “Law & Order: SVU,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Frasier” and “Mad About You.” She served as a judge at the Food Network's kitchen stadium on “Iron Chef America” for ten consecutive seasons. On the big screen Cady appeared in The Company Men, Romance & Cigarettes and The Nanny Diaries, as well as numerous independent films. She also produced and starred in the film festival favorite, Sunday on the Rocks.
Cady often lends her talents and resources to several charitable causes. As an advocate for the arts, she has traveled to Washington to speak to senators and congresspersons and has spoken on several panels focusing on the arts and first amendment rights. Her website is cadyhuffman.com.
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Erin Maguire recently starred Off-Broadway in the Drama Desk Award-nominated new musical revue, Til Divorce Do Us Part, at the DR2 Theatre. She had previously appeared there in Charles Busch’s children’s musical, Bunnicula: The Musical, directed by Carl Andress. She has also appeared in The 101 Dalmatians Experience, directed by Jerry Zaks, at Madison Square Garden; Forbidden Broadway: Special Victims Unit; Flight of the Lawnchair Man for the New York Music Festival and later at the Goodspeed Opera House; That Time of Year at the York Theatre; Five Course Love at the Minetta Lane Theatre, and I Love My Wife in various venues. She participated in workshops for Meet John Doe and … in the absence of spring.
Erin was cast in the national tours of Seussical with Cathy Rigby, NEWSical and Forbidden Broadway.
Regionally, she was nominated for a Carbonell Award for best supporting actress in a musical as Hortense in The Boyfriend for the Maltz Jupiter and Riverside theatres in Florida. She starred as Rhetta in Pump Boys and Dinettes at the Geva Theatre Centre and Cape Playhouse; Sally Bowles in Cabaret at the Gateway Playhouse, North Carolina Theatre and Saugatuck Center for the Arts; and Nellie Forbush in South Pacific and Christine Colegate in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Maine State Musical Theatre.
Erin is also a standup comedian who was a member of the cast of Bedtime Sketch Comedy at the Westbeth Theatre Center and has appeared in comedy clubs around New York City. Her website is erinmaguire.com.
Photo: J. Demetrie
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Zakiya Young made her Broadway debut in The Little Mermaid as a Mersister and can be heard on the cast recording; she returned to Broadway as the female understudy for the play Stick Fly. Last year she appeared Off-Broadway in the new musical The Lightning Thief for Theatreworks USA, joined in a live broadcast of the radio program “This American Life” at BAM, and participated in two major readings: Sheldon Harnick’s Tenderloin, as part of the York Theatre’s “Musicals in Mufti” series; and the new musical, The War Department, at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center. Last October she participated in the York Theatre’s 45th anniversary celebration at 54 Below.
Zakiya made her Off-Broadway debut in 2013 in the York Theatre’s production of another new musical, Storyville, earning an AUDELCO Award nomination for best female in a musical, and she appeared in Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular. She made her Lyrics & Lyricists debut in the 2011 salute to Comden & Green, led by Phyllis Newman, and she was female soloist for the New Haven Symphony’s “Americana” concert series.
Zakiya’s regional theater credits include Good People at the George Street Playhouse and Seattle Repertory Theatre; Irving Berlin’s White Christmas at the Syracuse Stage; Little Miss Sunshine at the La Jolla Playhouse; and It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane … It’s Superman at the Dallas Theater Center; there she became the first black actress known to have played Lois Lane in any Superman project. Her television credits include “Orange is the New Black,” “Made in Jersey” and various commercials. Her website is zakiyayoung.com.
Photo: Deborah Lopez Photography
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Woodwinds player Jack Bashkow was most recently heard on Broadway in Motown: The Musical. His other Broadway credits include Shrek: The Musical, Jersey Boys, Grease, The Wedding Singer, Brooklyn: The Musical, Annie Get Your Gun, Hairspray and Footloose. Off-Broadway, he performed for The Fortress of Solitude, Standup Shakespeare, directed by Mike Nichols and the Shakespeare in the Park production of Richard III, starring Kevin Kline. He received a Helen Hayes Award nomination for best musical direction for the Washington, DC, production of Standup Shakespeare at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Jack has performed and/or recorded with such jazz and pop stars as Bette Midler, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Keith Richards, Lionel Hampton, Natalie Cole, Peter Allen and Queen Latifah.
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Sean Harkness is both a musical artist and guitarist-for-hire. He composes music for solo guitar and small ensembles and supports an exhaustive list of singers, musicians and theatrical productions. His awards include a 2011 Bistro Award for Outstanding Instrumentalist; a 2011 MAC Award for his solo show; a 2012 MAC Award for Best Recording for his CD, H2: Home for the Holidays; and a 2013 MAC Award for Ensemble Instrumentalist. Sean endorses Walden acoustic guitars and DR Strings, and he has six commercial releases as an artist, many on Windham Hill Records [BMG/RCA/Sony]. He gives private house concerts, guitar master classes and music clinics, one of which takes place on the remote Caribbean island of Bequia. His website is seanharkness.com.
Photo: Takaka Suzuki Harkness
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Tom Hubbard is a bassist, composer and arranger in New York City. Tom wrote arrangements for and performed on seven of Freddy Cole’s CDs and contributed arrangements for recordings by Grover Washington, Jr., George Mraz and the Milestone Jazz All-Stars. He has performed with many of jazz’s finest players, including Kenny Barron, Jay McShann, Charlie Rouse, Dewey Redman, Beaver Harris, Dannie Richmond and Ron Affif. He has accompanied a long list of singers including Joe Williams, Mose Allison, Chris Connor, Sheila Jordan, Liza Minnelli, Marilyn Maye, and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. He has performed in some of the world’s top venues including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Sydney Opera House, Tokyo’s NHK Hall and Frankfurt’s Alte Oper. His website is tomhubbardbass.com.
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Ray Marchica has been an in-demand drummer in New York for more than 25 years; he is currently the drummer for Mamma Mia. Ray has played and recorded with such artists as James Brown, Barbra Streisand, Bernadette Peters, Liza Minnelli, Tommy Tune, Michael Feinstein, Marilyn Maye and the Gatlin Brothers. Ray is a member of The Ed Palermo Big Band, Gary Morgan & PanAmericana! Latin Jazz Orchestra and Mike Longo NY State of the Art Jazz Ensemble, and he was the drummer for “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” for its entire six-year run. He has recorded two CDs with his own group, In the Ring and A Different View, and they regularly play at Smoke and Iridium. His website is raymarchica.com.
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