grass harp

We are speaking of love. A leaf, a handful of seed - begin with these, learn a little what it is to love. First a leaf, a fall of rain, then someone to receive what a leaf has taught you, what a fall of rain has ripened. No easy process, understand; it could take a lifetime, it has mine, and still I’ve never mastered it - I only know how true it is; that love is a chain of love, as nature is a chain of life.
—  Truman Capote, The Grass Harp
November 2, 1971 - "The Grass Harp"

Those who wish to return to the glory days of the musical when performers didn’t need microphones must travel back to this date in history. Today marks the opening of the last un-miked musical on Broadway, “The Grass Harp.” It is based on the novella of the same name by Truman Capote and after watching the show and having trouble hearing it himself, Capote told producers tartly “Mike it!”    History shows that musicals based upon Capote fiction haven’t had the best of luck:  “House of Flowers” (1954), “Breakfast at Tiffany's” (1966 – which never even made it to opening night), and today’s anniversary, “The Grass Harp” which lasted only a week.  Non-musical plays based on Capote works also have failed to catch on: “The Grass Harp” (1952) starring Mildred Natwick only played 36 performances and most recently “Breakfast at Tiffany's” (2013) was only able to muster 38 performances.  The closest Capote has had to a hit on Broadway was “Tru” (1989), a biographical play about the author by Jay Presson Allen which starred Robert Morse and ran 297 performances.   Now that the statistics are out of the way, let’s reminisce about “The Grass Harp” - the musical, that is.  The music was by Claibe Richardson, writing his first (and last) full score for Broadway.  Book and lyrics were by newcomer Kenward Elmslie. Simply put, it is the story of two southern women and a young boy in a battle over the sale of a home-made dropsy cure.  In 1967 the musical had a try-out at Trinity Rep in Providence, Rhode Island, with Elaine Stritch as the Evangelist Babylove.  Producers optioned the show, with the intention of starring Mama Cass in the role. Funding fell through.  In 1970, the project was revived with a ‘test’ for new producers at Michigan University with a student cast except for Celeste Holm (a friend of Richardson’s) as Babylove.  But Holm was deemed unable to carry the vocals and was replaced with Karen Morrow.  Broadway star Barbara Cook joined the cast in New York.  It is her last book musical on Broadway to date.  The musical had the mis-fortune to open during a newspaper strike, so there was no publicity or pre-sale to buoy the production.  At the end of a the show’s first week, the producers made the cast a proposition – finish the run and use the remaining funds for a cast album, or play out the Broadway engagement using what money was left.  They chose the album.  To save money, the orchestral tracks were laid down in Germany and the vocals in New York.  It would be a full year before the recording was commercially available.  Because of it, the show has a devoted cult following of fans.