by Sid Adilman, Toronto Star
Eleven months ago, Toronto composer Cliff Jones took A Bite of The Big Apple musical to Broadway, and it turned out to be sour.
CBC-Radio broadcaster Malka and her trusty tape recorder were with the show every inch of the way, from tense auditions for the Charlottetown Festival version to the equally nervous collapse following deadly reviews.
Her Bite of the Big Apple, unlike Jones’, is a tantalizing, scrumptious blend of spicy backstage anecdotes, ruthless decision-making, constant back-biting, bitchiness, tears and laughter. Mostly though, it’s a salad of hopes and dreams so fragile that they can be rotted away by a single word or line of criticism.
Malka’s herculean effort – the most complete backgrounding of a show business endeavor ever undertaken by CBC Radio – runs eight hours. But it’s presented in four very accessible two-hour segments on Special Occasion.
This is A Chorus Line in alley clothes, and without that award-winning musical’s comfortable gloss and happy ending. Malka, virtually throughout, is the calm, objective questioner, the faceless microphone that mercilessly records everything. Hers is a real-life drama in three acts with a prologue…
The Prologue sets the scene, with ominous warnings that six out of the seven Broadway productions fail. Nervous singers and dancers audition; most of them are rejected. Cal Dodd, Hamlet in the first season, is not asked back because some claim he’s unreliable.
A comment by director Allan Lund later proves prophetic for him: “Suddenly Broadway looms, and there’s a change in all the conditions….You see everybody every day, and the next day you see no one.” snaps Lund when Champion is hired to replace him. “This is a profession of dreams,” says McAndrew. Only performers Beverley D’Angelo and Rory Dodd go to Broadway….
Act 3 is New York, where Kronborg has got a new name, Rockabye Hamlet, and what one Broadway critic later calls, a “a flashy, trashy” look. Right off the bat we get the opening glitter followed immediately by the wait for reviews: investors, seeing $1 million flushed away, get foul-mouthed.
The microphone keeps recording.
Only when it stops does the listener realize that no one, not even Gower Champion, the director, has ever discussed an artistic vision of the show; and maybe that’s why Rockabye Hamlet failed.
Malka’s A Bite Of The Big Apple is ripping good radio.