The Grass Harp
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.
- Directed by Ellis Rabb.
- (Scenery) Design and lighting by James Tilton.
- Costumes by Nancy Potts.
- Musical director, Theodore Saidenberg.
- Musical arrangements by J. (Billy) Ver Planck.
- Choreography by Rhoda Levine.
- Additional orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, Robert Russell Bennett.
- Dance and incidental music by John Berkman.
- Associate producer, Michael Kasdan. Technical advisor, Frank Hauser.
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)
SynopsisThis 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.
the Town sheriff. A melee breaks out, ending with the arrest
of Babylove and her new followers. Babylove leads Dolly, Catherine,
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
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.
- Scene 1: The Talbo Backyard.
- Scene 2: The Talbo House.
- Scene 3: The Tree-house in River Woods.
- Scene 4: The Jail.
- Scene 5: Joy City.
- Scene 6: The Tree-house.
- Dropsy Cure Weather - Dolly Talbo, Catherine Creek, Collin Talbo
- This One Day - Collin Talbo
- This One Day dance - Collin Talbo, Maude Riordan
- Think Big Rich - Dr. Morris Ritz
- If There's Love Enough - Catherine Creek
- Yellow Drum - Dolly Talbo, Catherine Creek, Collin Talbo
- Marry With Me - Catherine Creek
- I'll Always Be in Love - Dolly Talbo
- Floozies - Collin Talbo
- The Babylove Miracle Show:
Call Me Babylove - Babylove
- Walk into Heaven - Babylove
- Hang a Little Moolah on the Washline - Babylove, the Pride 'n' Joys
- Talkin' in Tongues - Babylove
- Whooshin' Through My Flesh - Babylove, Catherine Creek, Dolly Talbo, Collin Talbo, Company
- Walk into Heaven (reprise) - Babylove
- Something For Nothing - Dr. Morris Ritz
- Indian Blues - Catherine Creek, Company
- Take a Little Sip - Collin Talbo, Dolly Talbo, Catherine Creek, Maude Riordan, Company
- Yellow Drum (reprise) - Company
- What Do I Do Now? - Verena Talbo
- Pick Yourself a Flower - Babylove, Company
- The Flower Fortune Dance - Company
- Reach Out - Dolly Talbo, Company
(in order of appearance):
- Dolly Talbo: BARBARA COOK.
- Collin Talbo: RUSS THACKER.
- Catherine Creek: CAROL BRICE.
- Verena Talbo: RUTH FORD.
- Maude Riordan: Christine Stabile.
- Dr. Morris Ritz: MAX SHOWALTER.
- Judge Cool: JOHN BARAGREY.
- Babylove: KAREN MORROW.
- Heavenly Pride and joys: Kelly Boa, Trudy Bordoff, Colin Dufy, Eva Grant, David Craig Moskin.
- Sheriff Amos Legrand: Harvey Vernon.
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 188.8.131.52.1