By Allison Singer, Associate Managing Editor
When I was eight, I saw my first Broadway musical—the 1994 revival of Grease. At twelve, I dragged my entire family to see Fosse. At seventeen, I watched Singin’ in the Rain over and over, until I had the entire “Good Morning” tap routine memorized. And at twenty-eight, I saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch not once, not twice, but four times.
You might say I’m a musical theater addict. You wouldn’t be wrong.
I’ve spoken to so many musical theater fans with similar stories. When we fall in love with a musical, it can be all-encompassing; the soundtrack will play on repeat for weeks while we hunt for as much information about the show as we can possibly find. DK’s Musicals: The Definitive Illustrated Story is your best new resource for just that purpose. It’s jam-packed with information about musicals and musical theater, including historical insights, behind-the-scenes knowledge, and all the plots, characters, songs, and stars.
Here are (lucky-number) 13 of my favorite lesser-known tidbits of information from the book about some of the most popular musicals of all time.
1. In A Chorus Line (1975), dancer Cassie auditions for director Zach, with whom she has a fraught, on-again/off-again relationship. Not at all coincidentally, their romance mirrors the real-life romance between Donna McKechnie, the actress who played Cassie in the original Broadway production, and the show’s director, Michael Bennett.
2. After viewing the rushes of Jean Simmons, who ultimately won the role of Sarah Brown in the 1955 movie version of Guys and Dolls, producer Sam Goldwyn reportedly told her, “I'm so happy that I couldn’t get Grace Kelly.”
3. The book for Anything Goes (1934) originally involved the sinking of the SS American, on which all of the action of the show takes place. But, when the SS Morro Castle sank off the New Jersey coast two months before the production was due to open, with heavy loss of life, the script was hurriedly revised to keep the SS American safely afloat (and good taste intact).
4. In keeping with its improvisational roots, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (2005) would invite audience members onstage to compete in the bee during each performance. At Kids’ Night on Broadway in 2007, Ms. Mary Poppins herself, Julie Andrews, was one of the invited guest spellers—and she was eliminated for misspelling “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
5. Despite a ten-minute-long standing ovation on opening night, the reviews of the original London production of Les Misérables (1985) were overwhelmingly negative. Critics referred to it as “witless,” “synthetic,” and “melodramatic.” Producer Cameron Mackintosh was devastated—until he called the box office the next morning and found out that a record-breaking 5,000 seats had already been sold that day. Obviously, audiences disagreed.
6. The first preview for Camelot (1960) ran for a cool four and a half hours. By the time the show arrived on Broadway, it had been cut down to a much leaner three hours.
7. Debbie Reynolds had no formal dance training prior to her appearance in the iconic 1952 movie Singin’ in the Rain. In order to keep up with her costars, Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, Reynolds went into a period of intensive training with screen dancing legend Fred Astaire as her teacher.
8. When lyricist Stephen Sondheim and songwriter Jule Styne first presented “Rose's Turn,” the climactic closing number of Gypsy (1959), to the cast late into the production, everyone involved broke down and cried.
9. The Little Shop of Horrors musical that premiered Off-Broadway in 1982 was based on a 1962 non-musical film, which director Roger Corman shot over a period of only two days.
10. The original design for the Phantom’s iconic mask in The Phantom of the Opera (1986) was a full face mask. Out of necessity, costume and scenic designer Maria Björnson came up with the idea of using a half mask instead; the original design was found to blur the actor’s vision and muffle his voice.
11. Mel Brooks originally tried to get Jerry Herman (who wrote the scores for Hello, Dolly! and La Cage aux Folles) to write music and lyrics for his smash hit The Producers (2001). However, Herman turned the tables on Brooks by strongly suggesting Brooks write the music and lyrics himself—which, of course, he eventually did.
12. In an interview, Tony Award-winner Jefferson Mays—who played all eight members of the D’Ysquith family in the original Broadway cast of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (2013)—revealed the secret to remembering which character he was playing next: Early on in the show’s run, his dressers would whisper his next character to him during each costume change (the quickest of which happens in only three seconds).
13. “Over the Rainbow” was almost axed from the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. After consulting with renowned lyricist Ira Gershwin, the producers ultimately decided to keep it in—luckily for them, as it went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song that year, and became an earworm for generations of Judy Garland fans.