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The Grass Harp

Cover to original cast recording

A Musical in One Act, 6 Scenes. Book and lyrics by Kenward Elmslie. Based on the novel and play of the same name by Truman Capote. Music by Claibe Richardson.

A Production of the University of Michigan Professional Theatre Program. Produced by Theatre 1972 (Richard Barr, Charles Woodward, Michael Harvey.)

Martin Beck Theatre, New York - Opened 2nd November, 1971; Closed 6 November, 1971 (7 perfs)


This 1971 musical has long been considered one of the lost treasures of the musical theatre. The Grass Harp (the title refers to the wind rustling through fields of tall grass) is the intimate story of Dollyheart, a sweet-natured spinster with a secret recipe for an elixir cure, and her demanding sister, Verena, who is determined to exploit the recipe for her own purposes. When tensions rise, Dollyheart leaves her sister's house with their orphaned nephew and black housekeeper to take up residence in a tree house. It isn't long before other outcasts join their extended family, and the deep emotional currents of these shifting relationships lead to an uplifting, compelling reconciliation.


The Grass Harp opens in the backyard of the house of the spinster Talbo sisters. Dolly Talbo, adopted nephew Collin Talbo, and black servant-companion Catherine Creek spot a cat-shaped cloud floating overhead, a special sign that it's Dropsy Cure Weather.
Enter Verena Talbo, Dolly's good-hearted, if lonely, sister, at present in the romantic thrall of Dr. Morris Ritz, "pharmaceutical engineer" - conman. Verena asks the members of her household to be on their best behaviour as Dr. Ritz is coming to call. Catching the adolescent Collin with a lurid girlie magazine, she warns him about his conduct with girlfriend, Maude Riordan, leaving Collin to fantasise about Floozies.

When Dr. Ritz arrives at the Talbo household, he reveals his plan to market Dolly's genuine gypsy dropsy cure, in bottles with phosphorescent labels that glow in the dark. Dolly, reluctant to part with the secret recipe she had learned as a child from gypsies, is advised by Dr. Ritz to Think Big Rich.

Verena, fired with dreams of being a happily married millionairess, sees Dr. Ritz off, and urges her sister to write down the dropsy cure recipe. Dolly reluctantly complies, hearing in her mind the rousing strains of their grandfather's favourite victory march. Assuming that Dolly will do as she wants, Verena hurries off to tell Dr. Ritz the good news. Dolly tears up the patent forms, and tells Catherine and Collin that she is moving out of Verena's house. Catherine argues that the house belongs to them, not Verena.

Dolly is adamant; the victory march comes back to her as, in a burst of rebellious glory, she, Collin, and Catherine march off to live in the nearby tree house where the sisters once played as children.

As the three companions settle into the huge tree that is to be their home, Dolly hears her grandfather's voice echoing their song in the dry Indian grass. Judge Charlie Cool, long an admirer of Dolly, wanders by, and decides he might be better off taking up residence with them. As twilight falls, the four friends share a bottle of dropsy cure and exchange confidences. Judge Cool observes that Dolly Talbo has always been a free spirit, an acceptor of life. Catherine reveals that Dolly is not the only acceptor of life.

Colin, experiencing mixed feelings about his conflicts between love and sex, asks the Judge for advice. Dolly expresses the thought that if, as Judge Cool contends, nature is a chain of life, then her life has always been a chain of love.

A shooting star is seen in the evening sky. They fall asleep, except for Collin, who explores the night, alone. In the morning he is awakened by his true love, Maude Riordan. He begs her to stay with him for just a day.

Catherine jolts awake, sees them embracing, and accuses Maude of trying to seduce Collin. Collin invites Maude to come live with them in the tree house; a babble of conflicting voices arises, when Collin insists on leaving with Maude.

Enter Babylove, a soulfully flamboyant lady evangelist with five blue-eyed, out-of-wedlock children in tow. Babylove's car has run out of fuel, and she decides to display her special brand of healing power. She preaches to her new friends as The Babylove Miracle Show gets underway. She tells them the story of her life, and begins to try to cure Catherine's aching back. She lets down Dolly's blonde hair, brings her together with Judge Cool and guides Maude into Collin's willing arms. They enjoy new sensations of love and joy and, in turn, Catherine, Dolly, and Collin testify they too believe in love.

An outraged Verena arrives on the scene, with Dr. Ritz and the Town sheriff. A melee breaks out, ending with the arrest of Babylove and her new followers. Babylove leads Dolly, Catherine, Collin, Maude, Judge Cool and the children off to jail. Behind bars, Catherine gives voice to the fact she considers herself a genuine Indian princess. Verena arrives at the jail to have Dolly released in exchange for the
dropsy cure recipe. Dolly resolves to stay with her newfound friends, and Verena leaves, angry and bewildered. The prisoners ply the Sheriff with dropsy cure, and escape. Verena, returning home, discovers Dr. Ritz has rifled her safe and left town. Realising she is alone in her house and in the world, she wonders what to do.

The runaways jubilantly return to the tree-house but their celebration is interrupted by the threatening Sheriff. Verena enters, exposes Dr. Ritz for what he is, and reveals, for the first time, how vulnerable she is, how deeply she needs her sister. Dolly climbs down from
the tree to greet Verena who is helped into the tree house by the welcoming hands of all.

- Gerrit Henry

Scenes and Settings

The action takes place at the Talbo House, in Joy City and in River Woods, in the past.

Musical Numbers

  1. Dropsy Cure Weather - Dolly Talbo, Catherine Creek, Collin Talbo
  2. This One Day - Collin Talbo
  3. This One Day dance - Collin Talbo, Maude Riordan
  4. Think Big Rich - Dr. Morris Ritz
  5. If There's Love Enough - Catherine Creek
  6. Yellow Drum - Dolly Talbo, Catherine Creek, Collin Talbo
  7. Marry With Me - Catherine Creek
  8. I'll Always Be in Love - Dolly Talbo
  9. Floozies - Collin Talbo
  10. The Babylove Miracle Show:
    Call Me Babylove - Babylove
  11. Walk into Heaven - Babylove
  12. Hang a Little Moolah on the Washline - Babylove, the Pride 'n' Joys
  13. Talkin' in Tongues - Babylove
  14. Whooshin' Through My Flesh - Babylove, Catherine Creek, Dolly Talbo, Collin Talbo, Company
  15. Walk into Heaven (reprise) - Babylove
  16. Something For Nothing - Dr. Morris Ritz
  17. Indian Blues - Catherine Creek, Company
  18. Take a Little Sip - Collin Talbo, Dolly Talbo, Catherine Creek, Maude Riordan, Company
  19. Yellow Drum (reprise) - Company
  20. What Do I Do Now? - Verena Talbo
  21. Pick Yourself a Flower - Babylove, Company
  22. The Flower Fortune Dance - Company
  23. Reach Out - Dolly Talbo, Company

Original Cast

(in order of appearance):


reed I (flute/piccolo/alto flute/ clarinet/soprano sax) : reed II (flute/piccolo/clarinet/ bass clarinet/soprano sax) : reed Ill (flute/clarinet/bass clarinet) reed IV (oboe/english horn) : reed V (flute/bassoon/clarinet/ bass clarinet/baritone sax) : horn : 3 trumpets : 2 trombones : guitar/banjo : harp : percussion : piano : strings