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LogoARCHY & MEHITABEL

(Music by George Kleinsinger: Book by Joe Darion and Mel Brooks: Lyrics by Joe Darion: Based on stories by Don Marquis: Produced on Broadway as Shinbone Alley)
Broadway Theatre 13 April 1957 (49 perfs)

Synopsis

The cartoon characters of Archy, the prim and proper cockroach, and his idol the hedonistic alley cat, Mehitabel, whom Archy is trying to reform, are the main protagonists in this cool, jazz look at the seamier side of the big city. 

Story

ACT ONE

The place and time are arbitrary. It's here and now or there and then, but definitely the wrong side of the tracks in a big town. There's a set. Sort of. That comes and goes. Maybe an office. Maybe an alley. And the cast? Cats! An invisible newsman-narrator. A cockroach. And several ladybirds thrown in for good measure. And the point of view? Down here. Way down here ... as seen through the eyes of the somewhat vertically challenged "Archy," the rather shy and sensitive cockroach. The desk, the chair, the telephone, the typewriter are enormous ... as though we were dropped into a newspaper office the size of Mount Rushmore.

The voice-over describes the place in the first song and we see little Archy dancing from key to key on the enormous typewriter keyboard. (Surely, somewhere in the Warner Brothers' archives there's a Busby Berkeley sequence we can consult for reference.)

Archy and the newspaperman exchange notes. Archy addresses him as "boss" and the voice-over journalist, with respect and appreciation, encourages his little correspondent to leave samples of his literary output (in exchange for a few apple peelings left in the waste paper basket) in the free verse tales that the tiny insect "hops out" on the typewriter keys - all in lower case, mind you, since Archy or "archy" finds it impossible to manipulate the cap and the letter keys simultaneously. What is left in the newsman's typewriter each morning is the saga of the sensitive Archy and his sensual friend Mehitabel, the disreputable alley cat.

The first episode sets the scene in Shinbone Alley where Mehitabel and her feline friends are throwing a party, dancing among the rubbish bins and cardboard boxes, singing about their freewheeling life style. Mehitabel admits she's had her ups and downs, but she's still game; a plucky puss is she.

The sound of police sirens breaks up the party and the cats scatter. But with a lilting grin, despite her occasional limp and her tattered fur, Mehitabel sings her philosophy. In the midst of the song, Archy wonders if she might not be a bit too toujours gai for her own good but she responds defending her life style.

Next we see Archy diligently at work on the typewriter keys pouring out his heart on such issues as philosophy, politics, ethics, and "The Bragging Flea," but his major concern is Mehitabel who admits she's in love again. "Not again" cries Archy as Big Bill, the tom cat, as tough as they come, and obviously the focus of Mehitabel's affection, arrives on the scene and gives the gentle poet-cockroach a hard time. If a cat could bark, Big Bill would bark. But Mehitabel comes to Archy's rescue as Big Bill merely tosses the little critter aside and warns him to keep his distance. His song lists the delights of sexually compulsive cat life on the wild side!

Archy leaves the newspaperman a note to the effect that he tried his best to make a respectable cat out of Mehitabel but has failed miserably. To get his mind off her, he composes the "Ballad of Broadway, The Lightning Bug" but the newsman knows Archy's thoughts are still on Mehitabel. No sooner has she run off than she's back in Shinbone Alley, and Archy sings out the joyous news. A rather bitter and bedraggled Mehitabel, jilted by Big Bill, is offered consolation by Archy who now is determined to reform the naughty cat.

But she's in no mood for reform. She's in the mood for a song and dance, so they join forces with "Flotsam And Jetsam." Mehitabel outlines her life history in the song, a tale of woe, and Archy describes how unfortunate it is to be an insect at the bottom of the food chain, "lower than the lowly worms," where the only things lower are germs. Both admit they are just drifting and dreaming of something better than what they've got. Meanwhile at least they have each other.

Perhaps determined to reform, Mehitabel decides to get herself a respectable position as a housecat. Archy is overjoyed just as the debonair old tomcat Tyrone T. Tattersall, a revered figure of the theatre, saunters by, warming up his vocal chords with a bit of "me, me, me... me-ow." Tyrone's gallantry turns Mehitabel into a smitten kitten, all blushes and giggles, and he promises to make her a star. Archy attempts to block the seduction - getting a whiff of Mehitabel's old bent toward decadence - but Tyrone is brimming with charm, and she buys it hook, line and sinker. Off they go.

Forlorn, the little cockroach confides again in the "boss," typing out "Archy's Suicide Song" in which, to his frustration, the heavy-hearted but lightweight bug relates his attempt to leap out the window of the sixth floor, only to find himself floating up weightlessly to the eighth.

Meanwhile the thespian Tyrone endeavours to turn Mehitabel into a legitimate actress, but all is not going well. She gives him "fish and affection," but talent? No! To salve his wounded pride, he sings "The Actor Cat," recalling his glory days in the theatre when, in a pinch, he was called upon to play a bloodhound, and on another occasion, coming to an actor's rescue, once played a beard.

Next comes the Mehitabel dramatic lesson with readings from Shakespeare leading into her song reciting "Romeo, Romeo" to a jazz beat as the eminent Shakespearean scholar Tyrone, in horror, abandons her on the spot. Her reaction: "And to think... I gave that big bum the best two weeks of my life!"

ACT TWO

The voice of the newspaperman brings us up-to-date. Tyrone has gone on the road to fame and misfortune, and Mehitabel is back to her solo act among the alley cats downtown. But Archy tries to turn a deaf ear and declares he's through with that wayward puss and resorts to his literary pursuits to sublimate. And, of course, true to form, considers suicide again. Then he happens to read an item in the society column that Mehitabel is a mother. Kittens! Six! Archy, traumatized, rushes out in search of her.

The lady cats of the neighbourhood caterwaul a lullaby to the little ones, but Mehitabel is not a joyful mother. The kittens will interfere with her career. Archy arrives at the ash can nursery just as it's started to rain and water is collecting in the can. Archy pleads with Mehitabel to save the little things from drowning, but she turns a deaf ear. He continues pleading until she finally relents and rescues the brood. She softens ... a bit (sentimentality is not in Mehitabel's gene pool) and decides to go straight and answer a want ad for a house cat in the high rent district. She knocks at an enormous door and is ushered in for an interview.

Weeks go by. Back at the newspaper office Archy paces nervously. No mail. No word from Mehitabel.

The scene shifts to an indolent Mehitabel stretched out on a bear skin rug, a ribbon about her neck, sipping cream through a straw... but bored. The household that keeps the cat sings a "Pretty Kitty" ditty but Mehitabel treats all the attention with disdain.

Archy, missing her painfully, pays her a visit, gaining entrance through a keyhole. She levels her complaints about her luxurious but apathetic life, playing with a ball, rolling on a rug, and blames Archy for getting her into this situation. She runs him out then sings guiltily about mistreating him when she knows he's the best friend she ever had. Archy picks up the song walking alone along the lonely streets, regretting that the fire that once lit up her eyes has diminished in her current, comfortable and secure situation.

Back at the newsroom, the reporter is shocked to discover Archy there drinking. The little cockroach is drunk and staggers out of the press room and in a stupor encounters some ladybirds of the evening who sing the "Lady Bug Song," trying to seduce him and lure him into their den of iniquity. In his inebriated state, his pockets are duly emptied by the ladybirds during the course of a frolicsome dance. But all they discover are bits of verse.

The big thug, Big Bill, appears again on the scene and, hovering over a collapsed Archy, considers the fact that the little fellow really loves Mehitabel and proceeds to roar with laughter.

Archy is back at the newsroom. ‘How did he get there?’ he asks his writer-pal, ‘Did she bring him back?’

The newspaperman recognises a new depth in Archy's writing now, a sadder but wiser cockroach who sings the "Song Of The Moth," a haunting tale of one who could not resist the natural attraction of the flame and quotes variations on Alfred Lord Tennyson's "'Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all." And Archy recognises that the moth reminds him of Mehitabel, not the pampered housebound pet she is now, but the Mehitabel of the streets, the toujours gai Mehitabel.

Faintly, her voice is carried on the downtown breeze, first from a distance, then closer, and, yes! she's back declaring "It's cheerio, my dear-i-o, there's life in me yet!" All her feline friends welcome her back to the alley in a "Finale" as Archy (back in the newsroom) looks on at the joyful reunion. And Archy sees now that Mehitabel has to be what she has to be, and that happens to be wonderful. Curtain.

Musical Numbers

  1. What Do We Care? - mehitabel, Singing and Dancing Ensemble
  2. Toujours Gai (Cheerio My Deerio) - mehitabel
  3. Queer Little Insect - mehitabel, archy
  4. Big Bill - Big Bill, Ladies of Dance Ensemble
  5. True Romance - mehitabel, Big Bill (Dance by - mehitabel)
  6. The Lightning Bug Song - archy
  7. I gotta be - Broadway, archy
  8. Dog and Cat Ballet - Solo Dancer and Ensemble
  9. Flotsam and Jetsam - archy, mehitabel
  10. Come to Mee-ow - Tyrone T. Tattered
  11. Suicide Song - archy
  12. Shinbone Alley - Big Bill, Denizens of Shinbone Alley

Show Revision

Act 1 was shortened, and Act 2 totally revised. Added songs in Act 2:

  1. The Lullaby - mehitabel, Singing Girls
  2. Mehitabel's a House Cat (subsequently dropped) - archy, Big Bill, Ensemble
  3. Flotsam and Jetsam (reprise) - archy, mehitabel
  4. Shinbone Alley (Finale) - archy, mehitabel, Ensemble

Scenes and Settings

The entire action takes place in Shinbone Alley and its environs.

Act 1

Act 2