Even Richard Rodgers, in an interview late in his life, said that this show was a failure and that his score was a failure. So maybe I'm crazy or maybe I'm just drawn to the underappreciated, but this is one of my favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein scores. (Or maybe Rodgers was influenced in his opinion by the excruciating physical pain he endured during the show's production period, as a result of jaw cancer, and by the fact that the show had the shortest run of any of Rodgers and Hammerstein show. And that it was the only one they put up all the money for.)
Having read the script for this show, I can see why it wasn't a hit. It's mostly very low-key, and Hammerstein doesn't always know how to write believably for the characters who populate the show, particularly in his dialogue .
But the score is an almost complete success. Apart from some wonderfully charming, light, catchy numbers (such as "Sweet Thursday" and "The Man I Used to Be"), we have "All Kinds of People," Hammerstein's most straightforward statement of his personal philosophy; several superb numbers ("The Tide Pool," "On a Lopsided Bus," and "The Bum's Opera") that completely dispense with traditional song forms; the remarkably bittersweet and touching "The Next Time It Happens"; one of the most nakedly vulnerable and moving songs ever written, "Everybody's Got a Home But Me"; and an extraordinary duet for two women, "Suzy Is a Good Thing," which starts with a long recitativelike section and then switches to a meltingly beautiful melody. With Suzy, one of the major characters, Hammerstein was writing about someone with very low self-esteem, and much of the material involving her is extremely moving.
Apart from those, there are several other fine numbers. This is one of Rodgers's most daring, unpredictable, and inventive scores. In the more straightforward songs, the melodic and harmonic contours sound very much like Kern at his richest, but some of the numbers are more complex structurally than anything Kern ever did. Hammerstein's best lyrics here are perhaps the most heartfelt and moving he ever wrote.
With all of this, I find it easy to forgive a couple of numbers that aren't on the highest level, and even one that's a complete dud ("Thinking").
The cast is very good, particularly Judy Tyler, who has a haunting contralto that doesn't sound much like anyone else I can name who ever sang a lead in a Broadway musical. William Johnson is just bit stiff occasionally, but he's extremely musical and he does beautifully in the ballads. And Helen Traubel, who apparently had terrible vocal trouble in the show, sounds very good on the recording as a bordello madam. She doesn't sound like your typical madam, but why should she? Especially in the more tender moments, such as "Suzy Is a Good Thing" and the reprise of "All at Once You Love Her," she's pretty wonderful.
It would be great to have a new recording of this score, one that would be more complete and in modern sound, though I'm not sure we have anyone today who could quite match Judy Tyler and William Johnson (both of whom died tragically within a year of the show's closing). If we do, I don't know who they are.
Anyway, it doesn't seem likely that we'll get a new recording any time soon, so if you love Rodgers and Hammerstein but don't know this score, I highly recommend this recording.