Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Long ago, not very far away

1973, the year of living fairly dangerously.

Page 1 of the script for "The 1973 Poly Follies" ("52nd Annual").

This copy has been squirreled away in my file cabinet for years, and I only thought about it recently when chatting with Carl Hyman, one of the co-writers, along with Tom Stevenson, and me. The story is getting fuzzier over the years, and is worth embellishing on. The first page seems to have faded more than the others, though one can read most of it in this scanned and enhanced, yet shrunken reproduction.

Per tradition, the Poly Follies opening musical number (after an orchestral warm up or overture) was "Another Opening, Another Show". This was taken from the musical "Kiss Me Late", which played on Broadway in the late 1940s through early the early 1950s. According to the Internet Broadway Database, that play was set in Baltimore's Ford's Theater in June 1948. Did we have permission to use the music and lyrics? Good question, teacher!

Page 2

The script was mimeographed, I assume, though as I recall we wrote it out longhand on yellow legal paper. The 3 of us would gather after school, often at Tom's house in Northwood as I recall, but presumably at the school and other locations.

Page 3

This script was used in the production of the play, as the stage or prop managers version. During rehearsal, various lines were cut or modified. Presumably someone was tracking these edits in every copy, possibly every actor, as well as everyone on the crew who needed a copy.

Page 4

The jokes and gags may seen juvenile, even sophomoric (though we were high school seniors at the time), and they should. The Follies was traditionally a satire, a spoof, a what-I-later-learned-was-a pantomime, or maybe burlesque. There were traditions passed down from class to class, year to year, about the format and content of the show. It was a musical variety, with dance numbers, and showcased whatever bizarre talent we could convince the school staff to let us get away with.

The notation for "Song: Bawlamer [Baltimore] My Home Town" (appropriately pronounced in Bawlmerese) here showcases a talent I thought I had: songwriting. I put together words, and music, on a blank notebook in G and F clefs (or something like that), and the real musicians put it into something the Poly Band (or Orchestra) could manage. Sadly, that manuscript was lost along the way. I remember where I left it, though.

Page 5

Some typos escaped the editorial process, like on this page, when Humph is spelled Mumph once, and "I'll" is rendered as "I8ll or 1811". For those "youngsters" who think Shift-8 gives you the asterisk, or worse, the multiplication sign, here's a shot of my Olivetti "Valentine" manual typewriter keyboard:

Back to the show.

Page 6

Most of this page includes stage directions, written in (by me, in my horrible penmanship capital letters) for the stage director. I recruited my brother Dave for that job, who was 2 years behind me in school (or was it 1?).

Remember: Put all the "Acting Talent" into this that you have and make all practices. Make this Follies one to remember.

Page 7

I'm not sure what happened here, as page 6 definitely ends Scene 1, with directions for "Blackout and Curtain" but Scene 2 just seems to come in with no introduction. I guess the hand-drawn line from the top paragraph means these lines are for the DM character.

Right below that is another handwritten note, indicating that "Mr. Johnson" and "Mr. Filip" are the actors playing Colonel Corn and Lotta Stench.

As I recall, the teachers had a tradition of doing a short skit during the intermission of the main play, though short walk-ons during the main production also occurred.

Page 8

And here we have Mr. Wiseman, another teacher, after the prior two leave. I don't recall us doing all the prop action we imagined when writing this ("Two bushels of corn fall from above"), but who knows?

There's a stage note that the "Tap" number is coming up in one page. The message would have been passed to those in dressing rooms or elsewhere to go to the appropriate stage wings, in costume and ready to go on.

Page 9

The "Tap Dance" was set to the tune "We're In The Money", an even older tune (from the film Gold Diggers of 1933). We were shameless borrowers.

Page 10

One typo that I like on this page was misplacing Glen Burnie north of Baltimore, while it is definitely south of town. I am sure all three of us writers knew that, though whether the mistake was a geographic foul-up, or a mental error thinking one thing and typing another who will ever know.

Catch the "down the zinc" catchphrase, a classic Baltimore mispronunciation. My family didn't pick up that one, but I have heard it and continue to hear it sometimes.

Page 11

Here we have the end of Scene 2, with the directions to prepare for the "Can Can" in 7 pages, and a warning to teachers that "This is your act". Was that Act 1, or Act 2? Was there an intermission?

Page 12

Page 13

A few lines cut here. Not much action. Yak yak yak.

Page 14

Love scene? Then segue to "Shadow Waltz". I must have totally blocked this section of the play from my consciousness. Nothing.

Page 15 (though the numbers appearing on the printed page started over at 1)

Now into Scene 4. The stage directions have a large number of people, blocked into groups by stage right, center stage, and stage left.

Page 16

The snew.

What's snew?

Not much, what snew with you?

Page 17

"Can Can" in one page. The Can Can dance is also a musical, per the Internet Broadway Database. Whether we "borrowed" our music and steps from that show, or from the original roots in France (or some early Western which borrowed it from somewhere else), I have no idea. It's the biggest chorus number we traditionally performed (I was in the line) and required good physical skills. We were not the Rockettes.

Page 18

Most of this dialog was axed. Probably a mercy killing.

Page 19

The end of "Act One" and we go out with the Can Can

Intermission. To the lobby for a Dixie Cup with a piece of ice and soda from a canister.

Page 20 (but unnumbered)

Most of this script page, that starts the second act, was dropped, though there is a musical number for Chaim, and a mention of Lee Kravitz (billed as "Student Director").

Page 21

A lot more axed. Act 2 is getting short of time.

Page 22

The directions call for the "Dollies" in four pages. We had a "walk down the stairs" as I recall, with large dancers making a big impression.

Page 23

This page starts with Act 2, Scene 2. It says for the dancers to make a quick change for "The Tiller". That was more athletic than the Can Can, but just as energy draining.

Page 24

Sing. All the words.

Page 25

Act 2, Scene 3

Not sure what "Kravitz, C2" has his name on this page of the script.

Page 26

Not as funny as the first act, I think. I remember how hard it was to write funny, with stage directions, character development, etc. as a teenager with no experience. We thought we could do it, and hopefully our teachers (like Mr. Jon Gross) quietly corrected our more outrageous excesses. Or kept the outrageous ones in and left out the drab ones.

Page 27

The last page of the script, and it is nearly as weathered as the first page. Stage directions for "The Object Of My Affections" and Scene Four is described as "The Big Production Number". In our dreams.

The last spoken line, another tradition apparently (memory fails me here) is "May Joy and Happiness Reign Supreme". Why not?

Page 28

But wait, there's more.

Autographs on the back of the script; the main reason I retained this artwork all these years.


  • Clara Bell Ringer - Louis Chambers (with the female graffiti)
  • Alan Chon
  • Dennis Meyers
  • Carl Hyman (with characters after his name?)
  • Don Levin (with the facial portrait)
  • Mike Lewis (?)
  • Jeff Brown ("73")
  • Bob "Balmer" Brown
  • Joe "Chauncey" Pocious
  • Tate Redding
  • A cat
  • Tom "Cecil B" Stevenson
  • David Braiterman
  • Michael Rist
  • Steven Lebowitz
  • Joe Dwyer
  • Frederick Wittel
  • Gregory Buchheister ("D2")
  • Walter Jones
  • Fred "Cookie" Hassani

The program book is another story, for another day, maybe. Usually, students did the art work for the cover, and each class (that got motivated, and could afford it) bought a page, or two, and contrived to demonstrate their wit. Oh, and the title of the play is "It's A Broad's Way."

1 comment:

MoikeMan said...

Wow. I have been trying to re-connect with George or Lewis Chambers for years. So I Google'd:
"Lewis Chambers" "poly follies" and this link appeared! Such a blast from the past.

The Poly Follies were always a hoot! Something I looked forward to every year. Great fun. The cast was 100% boys.

Who can get me an email address for my good friends, George Chambers or Lewis Chambers from Lida Lee Elementary School in Towson, MD and from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute?

Michael D. Alston
Poly Class of 1975

p.s. I attended Poly from 1971-1975 and played in the orchestra for 4 Poly Folles -- under the direction of my Mr. Wittle.