Back in the 1950-60s many Broadway shows went on the road and fortunately Toronto and the Royal Alexandra Theatre was a frequent stop on the circuit. On January 1, 1957 my long-suffering father took my friend Bruce and I to see a matinee of Li’l Abner at the Royal Alex. That afternoon began my love affair with Musical Comedy.
Not only did we get road companies but every summer 7 or 8 musicals were presented at the Music Fair tent at Dixie Plaza. I reminisced about those summer stock productions on a previous Mercoledi Musicale back in 2018. Every Saturday afternoon during the summers of 1958/59/60 I would be taken away to Paris, Oklahoma, the South Pacific, Scotland, Siam, Manhattan or some other exotic destination. I thought that over the next few months I’d revisit those three summers and set up my own summer stock season.
In 1956 Judy Holliday had a surefire hit with Bells Are Ringing created for her by Betty Comden and Adolph Green with music by Jule Styne. The story centres around Ella Peterson who works at Suesanswerphone – an answering service in Manhattan. In that Music Fair production Ella was played by well-known Broadway and Summer Stock favourite Rae Allen. Ella becomes involved in clients’ lives and adds some spice to her own boring existence by adopting different characters and voices. Amongst the clients is playwright Jeff Moss, who suffers from writer’s block and with whom Ella has fallen in love. Although she has never met him, she considers it the “perfect” relationship because “I can’t see him; he can’t see me.”
Of course as can only happen in musical comedy they do meet – Ella assumes the persona of Millicent – and she snaps him out of his writer’s block. And of course, in true musical comedy fashion, they fall in love. In the movie version Jeff was played by Dean Martin, which was a big improvement over Broadway’s Sydney Chaplin. Dean, of course, went on to record and perform one of Styne’s classics as a signature solo number.
After a party to meet all of Jeff’s New York crowd, Ella realizes that their relationship is all based on fantasy and decides that “The Party’s Over”.
But every good musical comedy needs an “eleven o’clock” number that displays the vocal – and in this case comedic – chops of its star and Bells are Ringing was no exception. Ella decides to leave Suesanswerphone and all the deceptions and go back home to work for The Bonjour Tristesse Brassiere Company.
Of course we know that won’t happen – this is a Broadway musical comedy!
The word for June 22nd is:
Answering Service /ˈans(ə)riNG ˈsərvəs/: [compound noun]
A telecommunications service provider that is employed by a business to process incoming telephone calls. A message is taken and then delivered per the customer’s instructions. Real human beings process these calls.