A rare piece of Broadway musical history will get a hearing June 27 when Broadway’s first all-female postwar songwriting team, Nancy Ford and Gretchen Cryer, present a concert performance of their only Broadway musical, the short-lived but strangely prescient 1973 Shelter, at Feinstein’s/54 Below.
The team had two substantial Off-Broadway hits, The Last Sweet Days of Isaac (1971) and I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road (1978), in which Cryer also starred. The due came to Broadway in 1973, several years before the invention of the personal computer, with a futuristic musical about Michael, a TV commercial writer who is holed up in his apartment with a (singing) computer named Arthur who he uses to control every aspect of his life, and wall himself off from the real world. Naturally, cracks soon appear in his carefully constructed and contained environment. Despite a cast that included Terry Kiser, Tony Wells, and Susan Browning, the production ran only 31 performances. A studio cast album was released in 1997.
Shelter: In Concert will star Cryer’s son, Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men, Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall) as Michael, with Jeff Kready (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Sunday in the Park With George) as Arthur. Also in the cast: Sally Ann Triplett (The Last Ship, Finding Neverland) as Maud, Alyse Alan Louis (Amélie, Disaster!) as Wednesday November, Lynne Halliday (Inventing Mary Martin) as Gloria, and Scott Clare as The Voice.
The show will be the latest in the cabaret’s Second Act Series, directed by Steven Carl McCasland.
Ford told Playbill, “I think having Jon Cryer in it is very special. I remember sitting next to him and watching the premiere of Shelter at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park in the summer of 1972 when he was probably about 7 years old. I can still hear his very distinctive laugh. He got the humor in it even then. So I'm sure he will now.”
In addition to its subject matter, the show was musically adventurous as well, which Ford said resulted in one of her happiest memories of the show: “I loved working with our orchestrator, Thomas Pierson. Tom did some fantastic orchestrations with nine players using an ARP synthesizer as a member of the orchestra to represent Arthur, the computer. While electronic keyboards had been used in orchestra pits before, i don't think anyone had ever used an ARP before, which was controlled by making adjustments on a grid, as an actual instrument in the orchestra. Fortunately we also have an excellent music director at 54 Below who has also done some excellent arrangements for four players.”
Ford said no members of the original cast are expected to attend, “but Lucy Martin who understudied the wife, Gloria, will be in the audience, as will Britt Swanson, who understudied Wednesday November.”
She also said there are no current plans to record or publish the show.
Asked how she felt about the real world starting to look more and more like the world of Shelter, Ford had one word: “Terrible.”
Shelter: In Concert will be presented for two performances, 7 and 9:30 PM June 27, at Feinstein’s/54 Below on West 54th Street in Manhattan. Click here to order tickets.