A musical in One Act, 13 Scenes. Book by Jerome Kass (based on the television play Queen of the Stardust Ballroom. Music by Billy Goldenberg. Lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman. Directed and choreographed by Michael Bennett. Co-choreographer, Bob Avian.
Majestic Theatre, New York - 14 December, 1978 (116 perfs)
Bea Asher has been widowed for a year, but while her family has virtually enshrined her late husband, Bea won't accept "widow" as her designation for the rest of her life. She has opened a little shop, even though it's only a junk-shop that amounts to an ongoing garage sale of her own belongings. When her friend Angie urges her to get out of the shop and start living again and suggests that she visit a local dance hall, the Stardust Ballroom, Bea responds.
Outside the hall that night, Bea summons her courage and goes in. The Stardust, she sees, is no disco. Rather, it represents the American ballroom-dancing tradition that began with Vernon and Irene Castle, soared with the Astaires, and thrived with two generations of couples who learned their steps in formal dancing academies, often in order to be able to dance at their own weddings. At the Stardust, time has flattened out. The foxtrot co-exists with the hustle. The end is in sight — there are no young people here to carry on the tradition — but the Stardust regulars will keep the flame burning brightly, until each individual candle burns out.
On the Stardust floor, a foxtrot is in progress featuring the house-band and singers. Bea's friend Angie takes her around, introducing her to someone called Harry "the Noodle," who sambas Bea to the brink of collapse. Bea decides to watch for a while, as Angie and her partner show off their skill at the Lindy.
Now one spectacular dance succeeds another as Bea is drawn into the excitement of the Stardust. Appropriately, her romance begins here, as she meets Al Rossi, a mailman ("I'm in the government"). Like the other regulars, Al shakes off the tedium and the fear of daily life through an obsession with dancing, and he spins Bea through cha-cha, merengue, waltz and, finally, a fox-trot.
Bea hasn't felt this way in years. Al asks to drive her home, but Bea, still very much a product of her generation, says no. She goes home happy, however, and proud.
At home, though, the "agony column" begins: Helen, sister of Bea's late husband, waits for her, thinking something terrible has happened. When she discovers that Bea has in fact been out enjoying herself, she becomes out-raged, calling it an insult to her brother's memory. A moment after Helen furiously departs, Bea's phone rings, and of course it's Al, calling to say what a fine time he had and how much he hopes to see her again. Bea, her emotions in some disarray, is both flattered and embarrassed. She encourages Al to phone again — but at the shop, not at home.
A month later, we catch up with the ballroom regulars in the middle of the Tango. Nathan, the singer, lets us know what's happened with Bea and Al: "Dancing together for only one month and already they're joined at the hip!"
Tonight, Bea lets Al take her home and invites him in for coffee. Haltingly, Al tries to tell her how he feels about her, and Bea has what she feared she would never have again, the feeling of being loved.
But the next day, her family again intrudes. At the junk shop, Bea realises her plans to go back to the Stardust that evening conflict with an earlier promise to baby-sit for her daughter, Diane. Bea tries to get her sister-in-law to help, with no luck, then offers to pay for a sitter. When Diane tries to insist, Bea makes it clear that she has begun a new chapter in her life and that the ballroom will take priority.
That night, Al again waits for Bea at the Stardust, to Nathan's accompaniment. When she is late in arriving, some suspense builds, culminating in Bea's appearance, no longer gray-haired and simply dressed, but as a redhead in a beautiful gown. The transformation is Bea's brightest moment, and Al takes her around the floor in celebration.
Al and Bea return to her home, obviously very much in love, and it appears Bea's fairy tale has reached its happy conclusion, but Al can no longer keep back the truth: he is married, and while he and his wife do not love each other, he will never end the union. This is all of Al that Bea will ever have, and the scene ends as she tries to come to terms with that.
The next week at the Stardust, the regulars learn the "new" dance craze, the hustle; tonight, also, the dancers will nominate candidates for a new Queen of the Stardust Ballroom. Angie nominates Bea, but Bea is distracted because Al isn't there. Finally, as everyone departs, Al arrives, all apologies, but even though Bea thinks she has accepted that this is how things must be, she feels afraid and vulnerable. She runs off, with Al watching her go.
If this isn't bad enough, she returns home to find her family waiting for her: her sister-in-law has summoned Bea's son, David, from California to help them talk Bea out of her new way of life. Everyone except David attacks her, but Bea remains unshaken in her resolve: "Have you ever been in this house alone? Have you ever been everywhere alone?" Finally, Bea throws them all out.
Left alone again, Bea confronts her situation and truly accepts her relation-ship with Al for what it is.Then, one last time, we are at the ballroom, for the biggest night of the year. All the regulars wear tuxedos and gowns. When a drum roll signals the moment for naming the new Queen, Bea is chosen and pours out her heart to her new friends, and to us. She will probably never have Al to herself, but she has found a life. Al leads Bea through one more dance, joined by the entire company, as the curtain falls.
- Bea Asher
- Helen, her sister-in-law
- Jack, her brother-in-law
- Diane, her daughter
- David, her son
At the Stardust Ballroom
- Alfred Rossi
- Nathan Bricker
- Johnny "Lightfeet"
- Pauline Krim
- Harry "the Noodle"
Dancers; Customers at Bea's Store - Natalie; Estelle; Kathy
- A Terrific Band and a Real Nice Crowd - Bea
- A Song for Dancing - Marlene, Nathan: Danced by the Ballroom Regulars.
- One By One - Marlene, Nathan: Danced by Solo dancers and the Ballroom Regulars
- The Dance Montage - Danced by the Ballroom Regulars
- Dreams - Marlene
- Somebody Did All Right for Herself - Bea
- The Tango Contest - Dancers
- Goodnight Is Not Goodbye - Marlene, Nathan; Danced by the Ballroom Regulars.
- I've Been Waiting All My Life - Nathan; Danced by the Ballroom Regulars.
- I Love to Dance - Bea, Alfred
- More of the Same - Marlene, Nathan; Danced by the Ballroom Regulars.
- Fifty Percent - Bea
- The Stardust Waltz - Danced by the Ballroom Regulars
- I Wish You a Waltz - Bea
Scenes and Settings:
The action takes place in the Bronx at the present time.
Scene 1: Bea's Junk Shop.
Scene 2: Outside the Stardust Ballroom.
Scene 3: Stardust Ballroom.
Scene 4: Bea's Living Room.
Scene 5: Stardust Ballroom.
Scene 6: Bea's Living Room.
Scene 7: Bea's Junk Store.
Scene 8: Stardust Ballroom.
Scene 9: Bea's Living Room.
Scene 10: Stardust Ballroom.
Scene 11: Outside the Ballroom.
Scene 12: Bea's Living Room.
Scene 13: Stardust Ballroom.