Music, Book, and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley
Starrting Anthony Newley and Anna Quayle
I’m a big fan of Broadway musicals and one of the best things about them is that they’re constantly reimagined and restaged, both in New York and on the road, so new audiences can find them. At the same time, small theater company and school dramatic groups will put on the classics. It’s rare that a major musical seems to disappear, but that’s what happed to one musical with one of the best scores of all time, Stop the World, I Want to Get Off!
The play is the brainchild of Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, who wore most of the hats when creating it. It’s the story of Littlechap (Newley), who, as his name suggests, is an everyman character. He marries Evie (Anna Quayle) after she becomes pregnant and is soon disillusioned, having affairs with a Russian woman Anya (Quayle), Ilse (Quayle) from Germany, and the All American Ginnie (Quayle). It wasn’t until the end that he begins to realize just how much he wasted his life.
The strength of the play is the music, with one of the best scores of all time. “Once in a Lifetime,” “Gonna Build a Mountain,” and especially “What Kind of Fool Am I?” are standards, but the rest of the score is excellent. One song – “Typically English/Glorious Russian/Typische Deuche/All American” – is sung, with different lyrics by all four of the women. “Family Fugue/Nag! Nag! Nag!” is a hilarious narrative of a deteriorating marriage. “Mumbo Jumbo” makes fun of politicians, while “Lumbered” shows Littlechap’s second thoughts about his marriage.
The play was a hit in the UK, and moved to the US, partly because its small cast – four main characters and a chorus, all performed on a single set – made it cheap to produce. It was nominated for four Tonys, and won one, for Anna Quayle.
But the play seems to have faded away. Much of the plot to too topical about the Cold War and politics of the time. But certainly it has nothing to do with the score. There were two revivals, one with Sammy Davis, Jr. (who love the score) in 1978, and another starring Newley in London in 1989, which did poorly.
Newley and Bricusse continued to work together. Their next attempt, The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd, did adequately and produced a couple of standards, but their best known work was writing the songs for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Newley died in 1999.