A Musical Comedy in 2 Acts, a Prologue and 12 Scenes.
Book by Peter Stone from the comedy of the same name by Jean-Paul Sartre, based on a play by Alexandre Dumas. Lyrics by: George Forrest and Robert Wright. Music by: George Forrest and Robert Wright.
Broadway Theatre, New York - Opened 2nd November, 1961, closed 20th January, 1962 (92 perfs)
The swaggering adventures of noted Eighteenth Century actor Sir Edmund Kean come to breathtaking life in the Wright and Forrest musical Kean. Considered the greatest Shakespearean actor of his time, he was as well known for his rowdy behaviour offstage as he was for his stellar performances onstage.
The plot of Kean finds the actor juggling two women in his life: the lovely Elena, married to the Danish Ambassador and Anna, a young aspiring actress. Complications ensue as Kean works to perfect his art and keep his paramours from finding out about each other.
Originally a vehicle for the late, great musical actor Alfred Drake, Kean is filled with soaring melodies and graceful lyrics that could only come from the pens of Robert Wright and George "Chet" Forrest (Kismet, Magdalena, Anastasia Affaire, Grand Hotel: The Musical).
During the Overture we are introduced to a spirited mountebank (Christie) outside the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane hawking pictures of Edmund Kean, 18th century London's leading Shakespearean actor. As he sprints off the stage, we find ourselves inside the theatre where the curtain has just fallen on Hamlet and we meet the legend in the flesh. Kean is furious with his Laertes (Barnaby) claiming that he was nearly run-through in one of the sword fights. Kean doesn't get to finish this rather heated disagreement as he is summoned by the applause of his adoring fans to take another bow. There is already more than a hint of the discrepancy between the on and off-stage personas of this talented man.
Safely back in his dressing room, Kean is informed by his factotum (Solomon) that he has been invited to a ball to honour the Prince of Wales given by the Danish ambassador (Count de Koeberg ). Kean's interest is aroused, but he decides it unwise to accept the invitation as he is having an affair with the Ambassador's wife (Countess Elena de Koeberg)!
Solomon produces a letter from Anna Danby, a beautiful young woman who attends all of Kean's performances. The discussion of Miss Danby is interrupted by the entrance of her fiancé, Lord Neville. Miss Danby is missing and Lord Neville, knowing of her infatuation with the actor, is certain that Kean has information of her whereabouts. Kean is flattered, but denies any complicity in the young woman's disappearance. Upon Neville's exit, Kean informs Solomon that he has changed his mind and will attend the ball at the embassy. Kean begins to realise that the characters he performs on stage are virtually indiscernible from the "character" he has become in real life.
Gossip is afoot at the Embassy as the ladies and gentlemen of the court dance a stately Polonaise. Lady Amy Goswell is trying to dissuade her dear friend, the Countess, from pursuing the affair with Kean knowing that he is a renowned drunk, debaucher and womaniser. The Prince of Wales enters the elegant ballroom and announces there is a rumour Kean has run off with Miss Danby for financial gain, but the renowned actor, never one to miss a cue, enters, denies the affair and produces a letter allegedly written by Miss Danby. The Countess reads the letter and assures the crowd that its contents completely vindicate Kean. The letter, in actuality, is an invitation from Kean for the Countess to join him the next evening in his dressing room! He sets the scene for their indiscretion by directing her to wear a veil and use a secret passage. Kean and the Countess acknowledge their deceit with a knowing glance at her exit. As the assembled company is called to dinner, the Count informs Kean that he is not welcomed as a guest at his table. Left alone with his thoughts, Kean sings of the passion yet to be experienced at the clandestine meeting he has just arranged with the Countess ("Sweet Danger – Reprise").
Outside the Drury Lane Theatre we find a vivacious crowd of street vendors, acrobats and theatre-goers singing a merry tune while eagerly awaiting the evening's performance. The excited crowd proclaims their favourite actor to be the "King of London." Inside the "King of London's" dressing room we find Kean anticipating the arrival of the veiled Countess. Solomon tries vainly to discuss the numerous debts the actor owes, but is assured that amorous attention will persuade the Countess to pay those bills.
The Prince of Wales storms into the dressing room, very aware that the letter read by the Countess was the identical love letter that Kean sends to all of his mistresses! The Prince makes an offer - abandon the Countess as a mistress, and he will pay the actors' debts. A veiled woman enters from the secret passage and the Prince, despite his suspicions, remains a gentleman and excuses himself. Kean is shocked to discover that the woman under the veil is not the Countess, but the beautiful Anna Danby! She admits that she has run away from her fiancé, Lord Neville, to become an actress and beseeches Kean to take her – as an apprentice in his company. After an audition to discern her talents Kean agrees to her proposal and she happily exits. Kean settles back to prepare for the evening's show by having another drink. In a reflective moment before his entrance as "Romeo" he sings of his love for the Countess.
Meanwhile, on the foggy banks of the Thames outside the disreputable Green Frog Tavern, Lord Neville and his henchman are plotting to discredit Miss Danby, while, inside, the tavern has erupted in song. When Kean arrives he and joins in the singing taking a verse for himself. As the number ends and the customers of the tavern return to their pursuits. Miss Danby, arriving at the tavern, sees Solomon and informs him that she is here at Kean's invitation. Kean reads the note she received and denies its authorship. The letter must be part of a trap concocted by Lord Neville! Kean surmises that Neville's plan is to have Anna abducted from the tavern and ravaged, so that in her disgraced condition she'll have to marry any man that would still accept the damaged goods as a wife – namely Neville. Anna unashamedly reveals that Neville's plan won't work as she is already considered "damaged goods" from a previous dalliance. Besides, her plan is to marry Kean, because he needs a wife.
Their conversation is interrupted when Kean is informed that the actress scheduled to play Desdemona the next evening has left town. In desperation, he offers the role to Anna. Lord Neville arrives and Kean challenges him to a duel for writing the letter to Miss Danby and forging his name. Neville says that a duel between them is impossible as a peer of England cannot fight a mere actor. Kean enlists the help of his fellow players to stage a divertissement and shame Neville. As "victor" of the conflict, Kean tells a trio of prostitutes to finish Neville off. Neville leaves the pub in shame as the crowd again congratulates Kean as the "King of London."
In the dressing room the following evening we find Solomon and Anna rehearsing Othello as Kean has not been seen since he left the Green Frog. A very hung-over Kean enters, not remembering that he asked Anna to play Desdemona. He realises that it doesn't really matter who plays the role because he's never going to act again! But, as the evening's performance is a benefit for Old Victor, Kean realizes that he and the show must go on, hangover or not. Anna tends to his aching head with a cool cloth, but Elena enters through the secret passage and interrupts the scene. A verbal sparring match between the women erupts and Kean tries to intervene. Anna exits into the secret passage hoping never to see her rival again.
Kean asks Elena why she didn't join him at the Green Frog and she reveals that her husband has begun to suspect the affair! Kean admits that he is jealous, not of her husband but of the Prince! Elena informs Kean of her own petty jealousy - if he appears on stage with Anna there will be grave consequences. She will be sharing a stage box with the Prince and can't be held accountable for her actions if her demands aren't met. They have reached a stalemate and she exits into the secret passage.
The Count and the Prince enter the dressing room stating that they heard a woman's voice while still outside the door. Kean admits nothing and the disgruntled Count exits. The Prince asks the identity of the veiled woman, suspecting that it was the Countess Elena. Kean assures him that it was not, and asks the Prince not to share his box with the Countess at this evening's performance. The Prince says that he would agree on the condition that Kean never sees Elena again. When no agreement is reached, the Prince exits. Anna re-enters from the secret passage and they review the "Othello" scene again, complete with Desdemona's strange "Willow Song."
On the other side of the curtain, we find the nobles greeting each other. Neville enters sporting black tie and black eye and tells the Countess that her lover and Miss Danby were at the Green Frog together! The Countess becomes even more upset when the curtain rises and Anna is playing Desdemona. The battle is on! Elena inquires rather loudly of the Prince if Miss Danby could be any worse in the role of Desdemona! Both Anna and Kean begin to forget their lines as Neville shouts that Kean is a fool. Kean quickly tries to resume the scene, but despite Solomon's prompting Anna is still lost. Elena asks, "Why doesn't he kill her and have done with it?" Kean leaps towards the Prince's box and demands silence! The audience responds with jeers and shouts and Kean begins verbally to attack them too. Kean asks the crowd "Who is Kean? An actor? A person?" The disgruntled and confused Kean relinquishes his title as "King of London" and offers his "subjects" back to the Prince as he storms offstage.
The angry crowd exits the theatre demanding satisfaction for the offensive behaviour of their former favourite actor. Kean has offended the Prince of Wales and is therefore a traitor! He is no longer the "King of London" but the King of Clowns. Christie and the acrobats (Tim, Pip and David) try to assuage the crowd realising that their livelihood is over if they don't win them back. They devise a plot to change the spirits of the crowd with an optimistic song.
We find Kean in his sitting room where he has spent the night staring into the mirror. Barnaby, Ben, and Francis offer him a bottle of whisky to drown his troubles but he responds it does not matter as he shall never act again! They exit as he resignedly awaits his arrest for publicly insulting the Prince. A series of hasty encounters begins - Anna enters and states that she has been offered a contract in New York and is leaving for America. Solomon enters and announces that the Countess has arrived and Anna is quickly ushered into the secret passageway. The Countess enters and Kean begs her forgiveness, trying to convince her that they must escape together. The Count's voice is heard outside the door and Elena heads for the first secret passage only to find that Anna is already hiding there! She secrets herself in the second passage as the Count enters demanding satisfaction. He knows that there is a woman hiding in the passage and he suspects that it is his wife! Anna enters from the first passage and discredits her own reputation to save Kean from duelling with the Count. Two Guardsmen enter and arrest Kean by order of the Prince of Wales.
The evening's performance is about to begin, Kean is stopped as he crosses the stage by the Prince who dismisses the guards. The Prince admits that he, Kean and Elena are all very much alike – dependant on the love of others, but all three quite incapable of loving. The Prince offers Kean a choice – prison or a public apology. The Prince goes to join Lady Goswell as the other nobles gather in their private boxes. Kean tells the stage manager to raise the curtain and begins his public apology to the Prince. The Prince soon realises that Kean is not using his own words, but those of the Bard to fashion his "Apology." As lights cast three enormous shadows on the wall behind him, Kean calls for an ending to this lifetime of confusion. Who is he really? Othello? Hamlet? Richard? Does he deal in truth only through the illusion of the stage? As the curtain falls, Kean begs the audience that created this illusion finally to make him real!
- CHRISTIE - A 16-year-old street-vendor and acrobat; a Mountebank. ( Soprano: E flat - High A flat)
- EDMUND KEAN - The most famous Shakespearean actor of the 18th Century, whose last words were, "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." Late 30's - early 40's (Baritone: Low A flat - High F)
- BARNABY - An actor, member of the Drury Lane Company, friend of Ben and Francis.
- STAGE MANAGER - For the Drury Lane Theatre
- BEN - A heavy-set actor, member of the Drury Lane, friend of Barnaby and Francis.
- FRANCIS - An actor, member of the Drury Lane, friend of Ben and Barnaby. (Tenor: F - High A)
- SOLOMON - Kean's factotum; his aide. (Baritone: B flat - E flat)
- LORD NEVILLE - A nobleman and fiancé of Anna Danby. (Bass: Low G - Middle C)
- COUNTESS ELENA DE KOEBERG - Wife of Count de Koeberg, Kean's paramour (Mezzo-Soprano: B - High G sharp)
- LADY AMY GOSWELL - Friend of the Countess (Alto: B - D)
- COUNT DE KOEBERG - The Danish Ambassador, husband of Elena de Koeberg.
- MAJOR-DOMO - Head servant of the Embassy
- PRINCE OF WALES - The Regent of England and the future King
- ANNA DANBY - A rich and beautiful young woman. She is engaged to Lord Neville, but wishes to pursue a career as an actress under Kean's tutelage. (Soprano: B - High B flat)
- STREET GIRL
- HENCHMAN - In league with Lord Neville to discredit Anna Danby
- PETER POTT - The proprietor of The Green Frog, a disreputable tavern on the banks of the Thames.
- WINIFRED WATLINGTON SPARROW - A Prostitute
- CAROLINE ROSA ST. ALBANDS - A Prostitute
- ANASTASIA BOLT - A Prostitute
- TIM - An acrobat
- PIP - An acrobat
- DAVID - An acrobat
- PATRICK - An acrobat
- LORD DELMORE - A fop (Baritone: B - E)
- TWO GUARDSMEN
OTHERS Lords, Ladies, Actors, Stagehands, Sailors, Boxers, Musicians, Barmaids, Prostitutes, Street Hawkers, Servants and Citizens of London.
ORIGINAL CAST (in order of appearance):
- Christie: Alfred DeSio.
- Barnaby: Christopher Hewett.
- Edmund Kean: ALFRED DRAKE.
- Stage Manager: Alfred Toigo.
- Ben: ROBERT PENN.
- Francis: Arthur Rubin.
- Solomon: TRUMAN SMITH.
- Lord Neville: RODERICK COOK.
- Countess Elena De Koeberg: JOAN WELDON.
- Lady Amy Goswell: PATRICIA CUTTS.
- Count De Koeberg: PATRICK WADDINGTON.
- Lord Delmore: John Lankston.
- Major-Domo: Martin Ambrose.
- Prince of Wales: OLIVER GRAY.
- Anna Danby: LEE VENORA.
- Prop Boy: Eddie Ericksen.
- Secretary: Joseph McGrath.
- Maxwell: Larry Shadur.
- Henchman: Martin Ambrose.
- Pott: George Harwell.
- St. Albands: Rene Jarmon.
- Sparrow: Margaret Gathright.
- Bolt: Gloria Warner.
- Tim: Randy Doney.
- David: John Jordan.
- Pip: Paul Jordan.
- Patrick: Charles Dunn.
- Guards: Larry Shadur, John Wheeler.
Dancers: John Aristides, Barbara Beck, Johanna Carothers, Lois Castle, Charles Corbett, Kenneth Creel, Randy Doney, Judy Dunford, Larry Fuller, Mickey Gmunersen, Pamela Hayford, Jim Hutchison, Lisa James, Rene Jarmon, Richard byle, George Martin, Roger Puckett, Suanne Shirley.
Singers: Martin Ambrose, Charise Amidon, Charles Dunn, Eddie Ericksen, Nancy Foster, Margaret Gathright, Maggie Goz, George Harwell, John Lankston, Joseph McGrath, Lispet Nelson, Mary Netturn, Larry Shadur, Susan Terry, Alfred Toigo, Gloria Warner, John Wheeler.
- Penny Plain, Twopence Coloured - Christie
- Man and Shadow - Edmund Kean
- Mayfair Affair - Countess Elena, Lady Amy Goswell, Dancing and Singing Ensemble
- Sweet Danger - Countess Elena, Edmund Kean
- Queue at Drury Lane - Barnaby, Ben, Francis, Ensemble
- King of London - Barnaby, Ben, Francis, Ensemble
- To Look Upon My Love - Edmund Kean, Solomon
- Let's Improvise - Edmund Kean, Anna Danby
- Elena - Edmund Kean, Francis, Ensemble
- Social Whirl - Countess Elena, Lady Amy Goswell, Prince of Wales, Count de Koeberg
- The Fog and the Grog - Barnaby, Ben, Francis, Edmund Kean, Ensemble
- Finale (Act 1) - Edmund Kean, Ensemble
- Civilized People - Edmund Kean, Anna Danby, Countess Elena
- Service for Service - Countess Elena, Edmund Kean
- Willow, Willow, Willow - Anna Danby
- Fracas at Old Drury - Barnaby, Ben, Francis, Christie, Ensemble
- Chime In! - Christie, Barnaby, Ben, Francis, Ensemble
- Swept Away - Countess Elena, Edmund Kean
- Domesticity - Anna Danby, Edmund Kean
- Clown of London - Ensemble
- Apology? - Edmund Kean
Scenes and Settings
The action takes place in London in the early nineteenth century.
Prologue: Drury Lane Theatre. The Stage.
Scene 1: The Danish Embassy. A Ballroom.
Scene 2: The Street. Drury Lane.
Scene 3: Drury Lane Theatre. Kean's Dressing Room.
Scene 4: The Danish Embassy. A private room. And Carlton House. A private room.
Scene 5: A Street in front of a Thames-side tavern.
Scene 6: The Green Frog, a tavern.
Scene 1: Drury Lane Theatre. Kean's dressing room.
Scene 2: Drury Lane Theatre. The stage boxes.
Scene 3: The Street. Drury Lane.
Scene 4: Kean's House. A drawing room.
Scene 5: The Street. Drury Lane.
Scene 6: Drury Lane Theatre. The Stage.