Oh Captain! (1958)

Oh Captain! (1958)

Music by Jay Livingston
Lyrics by Ray Evans
Book by Al Morgan and Jose Ferrer

Directed by Greg MacKellan
Musical Direction by Dave Dobrusky
Choreography by Jayne Zaban

Playbill Notes

Oh Captain! sailed into the 1958 Tony Awards with six nominations, including Best Musical. The Music Man was the frontrunner and won the major award, beating West Side Story and New Girl in Town as well. However, Oh Captain!'s nominations reflect the show's popularity at the time.

The show was based on a celebrated 1953 movie comedy from England's legendary Ealing Studios, The Captain's Paradise. Alec Guiness starred in the film as Henry St. James, a sea captain with a run between Gibraltar and Kalik, Morocco. The Captain is a bigamist with a cheery but unexciting wife, Maud (Celia Johnson) tending to his home in Gibraltar while the lusty Nita (Yvonne De Carlo) keep the home fires burning in Kalik.

Jose Ferrer loved the film and set out to create a Broadway musical version. When his original composer-lyricist team, Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, had to drop out of the project, his wife Rosemary Clooney insisted he speak with Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. Evans relates that he and Livingston wrote a few songs on spec for Jose including the opening, "and we got the job" - the first Broadway show for the Oscar-winning movie duo responsible for hits like "Buttons and Bows," "Mona Lisa," "Tammy,'" and "Que Sera Sera."

Retitled Oh Captain! with the settings changed to London and Paris and Nita renamed "Bobo," the musical opened in Philadelphia with Tony Randall, Jacquelyn McKeever, Abbe Lane, Ed Platt, and Susan Johnson in the leads. The out-of-town reviews were across the board raves with Variety suggesting that the show would join the long-run ranks of Oklahoma! Several reviews commented on the fact that Livingston and Evans had smoothly made the transition to writing for the stage.

The gala New York opening (on Ray Evan's birthday, February 24th), seemed to crown a new hit with many of the Broadway reviews echoing the out of town huzzahs. The notable exception was Brooks Atkinson whose New York Times pan dimmed some of the luster of the many positive notices. The show played to sold outhouses for six months before the departure of Abbe Lane (Dorothy Lamour was her replacement) and off-stage financial shenanigans by the producer led to its early closing.

Oh Captain! is truly a "lost musical" with few productions since the original. (A student production at Stanford in the early 1960's starred Laurence Guittard as the Captain). We're delighted to bring back this 1958 "deluxe model" musical comedy-accent on the comedy-and than Mr. Ray Evans for his encouragement and anecdotes about the Broadway version.

---Greg MacKellan

Plot Summary

The action begins in "A Very Proper Town," a splendidly British suburb of London, where Captain Henry St. James lives with his wife Maud. The Captain is a ghastly example of self-satisfaction and punctilio, while Maud is a charming woman somewhat beaten by her husband's ways. She would like to go out once in a while and have some fun, but the Captain feels that fun is not for people like them. "Life Does a Man a Favour " he feels, allowing him to have a strictly-run home and a tightly-run ship. The Captain's run with his ship gives him a week-end in London, five days at sea, a week-end in Paris, and then back again. His week-end at his suburban home over, the Captain returns to his ship, aglow with conceit ("Life Does a Man a Favour"), and is greeted by his crew ("Captain Henry St. James"). Aboard the SS Paradise the captain explains to Manzoni, his mate, that he has "Three Paradises": one his home, one his ship and the third, an establishment in Paris. Meanwhile, Maud has won first prize in a recipe contest - a trip to Paris - and impulsively decides to fly over to see her husband ( "Surprise").

His arrival in Paris produces an astounding change in the Captain ("Life, Does a Man a Favour"), who sheds his priggishness for wild gaiety ("Hey, Madame"). It further shows that he shares his Paris apartment with a splendid young woman named Bobo whose "Femininity" is so staggering that she is forced to be a sex symbol rather than the retiring woman she would like to be. Back on the ship, the crew asks Manzoni why he never goes ashore, and he replies that "It's Never Quite the Same" when one returns to old scenes. Maud turns up looking for the Captain, having spent a discouraging weekend, and is induced to go off on a sight-seeing tour on her last night. In the bus, she meets a dangerously amorous Spaniard and surprises him with her reactions to his advances ("We're Not Children"). The tour takes them to a night-club run by Mae who welcomes the customers ("Give It All You Got") and then introduces her ladies of the ensemble ("Love Is Hell"). The next artist on the program is Bobo, who is performing her number ("Keep It Simple") when the Captain enters. He is furious to find Maud and the Spaniard in a wild flirtation, and she is amazed to find him involved with Bobo, while Bobo is equally incensed.

After the rigors of the night before, Mae is glad to relax to "The Morning Music of Montmartre." Maud, on the other hand, is determined to confront Bobo, and does, but although each feels she has the stronger claim to the Captain ("You Don't Know Him") they also find a firm bond of friendship in the fact that he has deceived both of them. Hiding on his ship. the Captain seeks Manzoni's advice, and Manzoni urges him to give up his duplicity ("I've Been There and I'm Back"). Thereupon the Captain goes to Bobo's flat to confront the women, who accuse him of operating on a "Double Standard," and Bobo, tired of the whole thing, walks out with Manzoni ("You're So Right for Me"). The Captain urges Maud to stay with him ("All the Time"), but she too decides to leave him. The Captain, broken by the sudden dissolution of his three paradises, gives Bobo and Manzoni his once-beloved ship.

At the "Finale", the forgiving Maud returns, and is reconciled with her foolish Captain