Music by Robert and Richard Sherman. Based on the 1938 British Motion Picture, St. Martin's Lane (The Sidewalks of London).
Kaye Playhouse, Hunter College, New York - One night concert version 13th November, 2006
At a World War Anniversary Gala, staged in the closing decade of the twentieth century, a tribute is underway honouring the entertainers who tirelessly raised England's morale during the darkest days of the London Blitz. The most famous of these have already received their accolades as Dame Libby St. Alban - a major star of the English Musical Theatre - honours all the not-so-well-known performers by focusing on her own personal favourite.
As she names Charlie Baxter, we fade back to 1938. and meet that endearing - though far from young - street entertainer who had originally made a busker of her years before the Declaration of War.
Joining Charlie is an even older street 'artiste' - a reciter of poetry - Arthur, who introduces his paramour, Gladys - a woman in her sixties who is accompanied by her dog, Mate. Wearing a fringed shawl and paper leis. Gladys performs her comical Hula Love Song. When Charlie follows that Libby. a young and curiously attractive street waif, darts forward and snatches a sixpence from amongst the coins that passers-by have dropped into his cap on the pavement. Charlie catches her at it and during the ensuing struggle a passing Policeman - misunderstanding Libby's distress - intercedes on her behalf, warning Charlie "I'm not 'avin' any disturbance from you bloomin' buskers".
Libby slips away and into a nearby bar - a haunt of theatre people - where she attracts the attention of Prentiss James, a successful songwriter. While chatting with him, she surreptitiously steals his cigarette case. Charlie, hovering by the bar's entrance, sees this and tails Libby, eventually spotting her sneaking into a deserted mansion.
Through a broken window. Charlie watches Libby - alone - pretending to entertain an imaginary gathering of admirers with a fable of her triumphant rise to fame. As she waltzes around with an invisible Maharaja, Charlie climbs through the window and corners Libby, demanding the return of the stolen trophies. Libby, believes she deserves what she has pilfered.
Their ensuing quarrel is overheard by a Policeman on his beat who blows his whistle and calls out, "Who's in there?" Charlie and Libby race away soon stopping under a railway arch to catch their breath. Libby berates Charlie for causing her to lose her "bloomin' digs," while buskers beneath a nearby lamp post harmonise.
Charlie invites Libby to stay with him until she can find some other place. She reluctantly agrees and trails after him as he briskly heads home Once there, he offers her his bed, tactfully positioning an old Chinese screen between Libby and himself. "Don't worry," he assures her, "I only goes where I'm invited!", On the other side of the battered screen, he settles into his lumpy old armchair and nods off.
Elsewhere - in the moonlight - Arthur is trying to persuade Gladys to enjoy the "happy give-and-take" of married life. Gladys insists she's just fine as a 'solo,' but duets with Arthur anyway.
When Charlie awakens, he peers over at the sleeping Libby and wonders what to do with her. He resolves to send her packing but, when she awakens, she surprises him by doing a wonderfully cheeky imitation of Gladys' hula routine. Spontaneously, and against his better judgment, Charlie invites her to join his act. Taken aback by what she fears might be a gesture of charity, Libby mulls over Charlie's offer while he goes to get her a cup of tea.
She fixes her hair, using the shiny back of the frying pan that is Charlie's shaving mirror. On his return, Libby agrees to his proposition, and wasting no time, he begins teaching her his song: Moonlight In Brighton; she on the ukulele he'd used as a child - Charlie strumming on one that had belonged to his busking dad.
We move to the streets where Charlie and the impressively improving Libby are joined by other buskers, including Gladys and Arthur, all of whom perform a Busker Medley directly outside the stage door of the Garrick Theatre. Their routines end with Charlie and Libby triumphantly gathering the shower of coins they had earned from their audience, and as she draws close to the open stage door, Libby becomes transfixed by the coloured light and beautiful strains of music escaping from inside. She peers in awestruck, calling out to Charlie that she'd "give anything to be there in all that lovely light."
Soon after this - along with Arthur and Gladys - Libby arranges a surprise birthday party for Charlie at which she presents him with a cane and a gramophone record of the song they had overheard at the Garrick's stage door. She proposes that the four of them become the Piccadilly Quartet and - with appropriate costumes and all - put together their own version of this song as a new busker act.
While the others are considering her idea, the doorbell rings. The visitor is songwriter Prentiss James, recently returned from America. He has come to thank Charlie for handing in his missing cigarette case to the police. Totally unembarrassed by the situation, but sensing an opportunity Libby impetuously invites Prentiss to the debut of the brand new act that she and the others will be launching outside the Garrick on the evening of his impending opening night there.
Later, Gladys and Arthur, aware that Libby has an eye for Prentiss, caution her to be careful with their Charlie's affections. While cleaning up after the party, Libby gently inquires about Charlie's lack of a love-life. As they separately prepare to retire for the night, their thoughts stray to one another. Then Libby, peering around the Chinese screen, softly murmurs, "It's all right, Charlie, you're invited."
When Charlie, Gladys, Arthur and Libby introduce their new act outside the Garrick, Prentiss James, true to his word, is there, accompanied by his producer, Max Beardsley and his show's beautiful blonde musical star, Elaine Claire. Miss Claire is plainly bored by watching what she considers "a form of begging," but Max and Prentiss are enchanted by Libby's style and invite her and the troupe to attend the party Max is throwing after their premiere that evening.
Libby is thrilled at the prospect of mingling with such a classy gathering, but the rest of the troupe - uncomfortable with this unexpected invitation to a fancy party - retire to their local pub for a celebratory party of their own. With a rousing toast, Charlie leads his fellow buskers in a joyous paean to Busker Alley - the territory where they entertain the queuing playgoers before they all head into their theatres.
Libby, believing that going to the party could well have been her entrée into a better life, sits alone in a corner, sulking. Charlie notices this and, although he tries to make light of turning down Prentiss' invitation. Libby is having none of it and she runs off to the posh party on her own.
Gladys tries to console - and even warn - Charlie, before leaving to take Mate for a walk in the park with Arthur. Charlie wonders how Gladys can possibly believe that he has fallen in love with Libby — but almost immediately realises that she is, of course, right!
Libby, who has been warmly welcomed to the opening night party, responds delightedly to Max's invitation to sing. Prentiss encourages Beardsley to audition Libby for the new show, and thrilled, Libby shows her gratitude by responding warmly to Prentiss's desire for a kiss... just as Charlie arrives at the party in search of her.
Libby - feeling spied upon - resents Charlie's turning up unexpectedly. She tells him of her invitation to audition for Max. taunting him that it will free her from "cadging for coppers" in the streets. Afraid that he might be losing her, Charlie passionately confesses his love and, with a colourful busker flourish, even asks her to marry him. A pall of embarrassment descends over the other guests as Libby - shocked, and almost laughing, at his proposition - begs Charlie to leave.
Back on the street, Charlie is heartbroken and humiliated violently smashes his ukulele to smithereens.
Some months later at the Garrick Theatre, we are watching a lavish production number. Libby, cast in the ensemble has rapidly worked her way up through the ranks and, through the influence of Prentiss, Max and Duchesi, has replaced the leading lady, Elaine Claire. Meanwhile, Charlie. true to his vow, has abandoned busking. Unable to read or write. he elicits Arthur's help in filling out employment forms and, through the intervention of a kindhearted clerk, Charlie finally gets a try-out as a bus conductor.
Achieving stardom hasn't brought Libby quite the happiness she had dreamed of and, leaving the theatre one night, she overhears someone nearby whistling Charlie's favourite song and wistfully realises that a tin whistle tune can bring haunting memories of what she's left behind. Gladys and Arthur interrupt her reverie to tell her that Charlie is no longer a busker and hasn't been seen for quite a while. They also tell her that Gladys' dog. Mate, has been run over by a sausage van. Gladys has learned that "livin' alone is lonely." and given Arthur her consent to join him in "connubial bliss".
Prentiss and Duchesi arrive to escort Libby to Max Beardsley's flat where they are to perform their "New Show" Audition. Max is so delighted by their presentation that - champagne glasses in hand - they decide to celebrate by going 'slumming on the town.'
They board the very bus that Charlie is working on as a conductor. Making his way down the aisle as he collects fares, Charlie catches a glimpse of Libby and, not wanting to be seen by her, turns back and jumps off the bus at the next stop.
He is, of course, fired for "desertion in the line of duty" and - jobless now - begins a gin-tinged downward spiral. He wanders the lamp lit streets of London with two fellow reprobates.
After spending 90 days in jail for 'drunken and disorderly conduct,' he is reduced to begging as a 'blind man'. Libby - who has been searching the streets for Charlie - stumbles on this pretence. Shocked, but - attempting to raise his spirits— she tells him that there might be a part for him in the show she will next be starring in. She succeeds in persuading Charlie to come to the Garrick to audition the next morning. He does, but is unable to
perform with his usual flair as the spotlight blinds him. Libby, who is watching with Prentiss, Max and the Stage Manager from the dimly lit auditorium, tries to encourage him but, for Charlie to be effective, he needs to be able to see the delight in the faces of his audience.
In his confusion we flashback to his childhood, and he relives one of his Dad's routines featuring a puppet of himself, as a young lad, sitting on his daddy's knee. By alternately imitating each of their voices, he re-enacts the banter that leads to his Dad's 'sign off' song. This number serves as a sort of epiphany for Charlie and results in his fully appreciating who he really is - Charlie, the Busker.
With a "thank you" to Max and Libby he heads off. Libby tearfully calls out "Charlie, don't leave! Where are you going?" "Outside, where I belong," says Charlie. He sends Libby his special 'tip-of-the-finger' kiss and proudly returns to his friends and his old busking life.
There is an overlapping time transition to the 1990s as we return to Dame Libby's moving tribute to the world of busking - Epilogue.
Looking upward with a bitter-sweet smile she sends her own delicate version of Charlie's signature kiss to the stars above.
- Dame Libby
- Charlie Baxter
- Elaine Claire
- Max Beardsley
- Victor Duchesi
- Prentiss James
- BBC Announcer
- Wilson, Keppel and Betty
- Mate (a dog)
Scenes and settings
- The setting is in London, Spring 1938, just prior to World War II
- Opening - Announcer and Dame Libby
- Blow Us A Kiss - Charlie
- Hula Love Song - Arthur and Gladys
- Never Trust A Lady - Charlie and Buskers
- When Do I Get Mine? - Libby
- Strays - Buskers (Street Quartet)
- Mates - Arthur and Gladys
- What To Do With 'Er? - Charlie
- He Has A Way - Libby
- Busker Medley:
Moonlight In Brighton - Charlie and Libby
Crazy Happy Tears - Buskers
A Million Miles From You - Arthur and Gladys
- He Has A Way / She Has A Way - Libby and Charlie
- Busker Alley - Charlie and Buskers
- When Do I Get Mine? (Reprise) - Libby
- How Long Have I Loved Libby? - Charlie
- Baby Me - Libby
- How Long Have I Loved Libby? (Reprise) - Charlie
- Ordinary Couple - Duchesi, Elaine, Keppel and Company
- I'm On The Inside - Libby
- Tin Whistle Tune - Libby
- Mates (Reprise) - Gladys and Arthur
- The "New Show" Audition:
All Around The Town - Libby, Prentiss and Duchesi
Beautiful Girls - Libby, Prentiss and Duchesi
- Where The 'Ell Is 'Ome? - Charlie and Drunks
- Where Are The Faces? - Charlie (also as his Dad and Puppet Young Charlie)
- Paddle Your Own Canoe - Charlie (also as his Dad and Puppet Young Charlie) and Buskers
- Charlie The Busker - Charlie
- Epilogue - Dame Libby
- He Had A Way - Dame Libby
Piano, Synthesizer, Drums, Trombone, Flute, Accordion, Baritone Saxophone and Saw