CHAPIN (1977)
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Words & Music by Harry Chapin
Directed by William Devane

Arrangements by Frank Denson
Instrumental Arrangements by Richard Tilles

Act I

Sunday Morning Sunshine
Dreams Go By
Barefoot Boy
On the Road to Kingdom Come
30,000 Pounds of Bananas
You're Still My Boy
The Mayor of Candor Lied
Cats in the Cradle

Act II

Stop Singing Those Sad Songs
Six String Orchestra
Corey's Coming
Mr. Tanner
Halfway to Heaven
A Better Place to Be
Someone Keeps Calling My Name

George Ball * Jennifer Darling * Barbara Iley
Scott Jarvis * Sam Weisman

Jack Knight & Jodi Mitchel

L-R: George Ball, Jennifer Darling, Scott Jarvis, Barbara Iley & Sam Weisman

by Lawrence Christon

The songs of Harry Chapin—who is quite possibly the most famous unknown singer in America—are highly deceptive. On paper, they seem about as exciting as transcripts of CB transmissions. Simple rhymes and images wound around your standard pop themes of loneliness and dreams.

Unremarkable stuff, it would seem. But to Joseph Stern, whose production of "Chapin" opens Friday at the Improvisation Theater, staging Chapin's songs in a theatrical-cabaret setting "has really been a fantasy of mine."

Stern is not generally recognized as the wistful dreamer type. In the past few years has had a hand in either producing or co-producing three plays, "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?", "The Changing Room" and "The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia," each of which has contributed to the resurgence of quality and appeal in L.A.'s smaller commercial theater. He's a high-voltage individual who still retains the hard and fast rhythms of New York. A pragmatic man.

Chapin (who isn't in the show) would appear to be temperamentally opposite. At 35, he's earned two gold albums, a gold single, an Academy Award nomination and a couple of Grammy nominations—all of which might point to a commercially aggressive personality, except that most of his work is not played on AM radio and does not seem especially tailored for the helter-skelter world of Top 40 charts.

"He's basically a balladeer in the old tradition," said Stern, who was overseeing a rehearsal at the Improvisation on a recent cold, wet day. "He takes amazingly simple incidents and tells stories and makes it all work.

"A year-and-a-half ago I went to a Broadway play called 'The Night That Made America Famous,' a non-book musical directed by Gene Frankel which featured Chapin's songs. The show wasn't working because it was all crazy lights and whirling dervishes. It was a hype. All wrong. After the performance Chapin came out onstage sat on a stool and played his music simply. He had everybody hypnotized.

"I can't think of any other writer who composes so naturally for the theater. His songs are about specific kinds of people; cleaners, aging disc jockeys, people who want to be ballplayers, blue-collar types. He has great range and his text is usually up to something. A lot of people accuse him of being sentimental, but so is Claude Lelouch, who in my opinion is an equivalent.

"The songs he's probably known best for," said Gary Davis, who co-conceived the production along with Stern and will direct, "are 'Cat's in the Cradle,' 'Taxi' and 'WOLD' (the call signs of a radio station). He's cut seven albums, and the main problem we've had in finding a way to stage them is that after a while they tend to sound the same. We have a cast of five, which is like opening five different windows on the same material. There will be seven songs from the Broadway show and about 15 from the albums. Arranger Frank Denson and I have been working since September to create a musical scenario in which the songs will flow. We're not

(the rest of the article is lost)

by Sylvie Drake (L.A. Times, Thurs, Dec. 16, 1976)

"I'm not sure how to describe Harry Chapin to someone who hasn't heard of him," producer Joe Stern explains over the phone. "He's a story-songwriter, deeply concerned with social and humanitarian issues, a peculiarly American balladeer who writes about the city, sings and records all his own songs and has a following in the 25-30 age group. Ever heard of 'Cat's in the Cradle'? Taxi'?  They're his.  He's cut about seven albums and last year he had a show on Broadway called 'The Night That Made America Famous,' which I saw.  It didn't do well, but I thought there was a special magic to it—and to this guy. I think that what makes him important is that he transcends the record."

Stern, who was one of the producers of "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been" at the Hollywood Center Theater, and later "The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia" at the Coronet, was sufficiently impressed to want to put together a Chapin show of his own. So he and Bill Devane, who together produced "The Changing Room" at the Odyssey earlier this year under the banner of their Actors for Themselves, will present "Chapin" Jan. 14 at the Improvisation.

"It's a presentation of 20 to 22 Chapin songs," says Stern, "done in cabaret style. I'm not sure what to call it. It's a nonbook show, so it doesn't come under Equity. It's not a contract show, and it certainly isn't a waiver show."

Whatever it is could resemble "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris," though blessed with a much shorter title. The 33-year-old Chapin, who in fact was once known as "the Jacques Brel of Brooklyn Heights," will not personally participate in the production—only his music, which is being arranged by Frank Denson, well remembered for his excellent contributions to musical shows at Occidental College. Gary Davis (also associated with Occidental, the Long Beach Civic Light Opera and the LA-CLO Musical Comedy Workshop) will direct.

'Brel' Performer Heads Cast

The singers are George Ball (of "Jacques Brel"), Scott Jarvis, Wings Houser, Barbara Iley and Jennifer Darling. Russell Pyle is in charge of set design and Ward Carlyle of lighting which, Stern promises, will be elaborate. Ray Col-cord is the musical director.

"People really listen to what you have to say if you treat them intelligently," Chapin had told The Times' Dennis Hunt last year. "If you respect your audience—and I respect mine—you don't have to emphasize everything strongly... What an artist should do is sensitize, not propagandize..."

Performances of "Chapin" will run weekend nights for starters. "And then," says Stern, "we'll see..."

by Dan Sullivan

Twenty-five years ago the average pop song was a jingle about romantic love sung by someone other than the one who wrote it. Today, it is a meditation on almost any subject (love still up there, of course), composed and performed on the same guitar. The vocalist and the composer have merged into the troubadour.

Some of the gains and losses in this can be seen in a new musical entertainment at the Improvisation, "Chapin." It is an evening of Harry Chapin songs, presented in the cabaret-revue style of "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris." As with the Brel show, the troubadour isn't himself present, except in his songs.

They are much more personal than pop songs used to be. There are 20 of them in "Chapin." By the end—which wouldn't have applied to a Tin Pan Alley composer of the old school—we can make some good guesses about what Chapin's like as a man.

Quiet, we'd say. Broody. Not very high on energy. Not convinced that his talent is extraordinary (we'd agree). Sometimes rather droll. An unpretentious fellow who keeps plugging and occasionally hits on a good idea.

Good or bad, his songs are clearly from one source, from one way of looking at things, and we respond to that. As one says of an actor, Chapin's songs have a "quality," something that comes through as a genuine manifestation of personality even when the technique is cloudy.

His favorite subject is the man who isn't going anywhere. A taxi driver who wants to fly, but only has grass ("Taxi"). A boss who wants his secretary but will probably stop at taking her put to dinner ("Half-way to Heaven"). You can feel his identification with these people. It's not the big star patronizing the little man. The tongue-tied quality of some of the lyrics almost helps. Like his characters, Chapin is groping to say... something.

The effort behind these songs, their attempt to be meaningful, touches us.

The rest of the review is lost.

by Ron Pennington (Hollywood Reporter, Thurs, Feb. 10, 1977)

SINGER/SONGWRITER Harry Chapin, whose songs are being used by producers Joseph Stern and William Devane as the basis for "Chapin," a new cabaret-type entertainment that opens Sunday at the Improvisation Theatre, is also now trying his hand at writing a nonmusical play titled "God Is a Woman."

Chapin, whose only previous theatrical experience was "The Night That Made America Famous," a critically acclaimed but short-lived 1975 Broadway non-book musical written by and starring the performer, said in a recent interview that this new work "is the most nonderivative thing I've ever done in my life."

The two-character play concerns a reporter and someone who was lost in Alaska with his wife and who is now convalescing in a hospital bed, the writer revealed. "The first act is a monologue by the reporter and, although I'm now into the second act, I haven't shown it to anybody. I understand the theatrical aspects of a song, but the way I learn is to stumble and often fail. This is an extraordinary concept, but I ion t know yet if I can bring it off.

Chapin has no plans at this point of writing another musical, although he does feel the shape of the musical theatre is changing and that its future will probably depend somewhat on contemporary songwriters such as himself.

"I don't know what the new format is," he confessed, "but it will probably come from my side of the business. It would be interesting if Paul Simon or Jackson Browne, people like that, would write for the theatre. They could offer a new insight and a different kind of music.  But I have a feeling that a lot of contemporary music and theatre today is fooling itself. 'A Chorus Line.'  for example, is about the medium itself. There's got to be a new way of talking about our condition that suggests more work in that direction and that doesn't just present a period at the end of the sentence. The suspension of belief in changing from dialogue to music is an interesting problem, but now it is just being solved by being about the medium itself. Another problem is that most people of my ilk — although we are all different in different ways — are writing intensely personal songs that are often not flexible enough to be performed by others. But I am excited to find (in the new production of "Chapin") that my material seems to be adaptable for other performers."

CHAPIN IS NOT personally involved in the new production, although he has talked to Stern about the concept and about some of the songs. "But it's all his (Stern's) operation and it so flattering to find someone who has such confidence in my material. It's the first time anyone in the contemporary field has had a show built around his work."

In addition to his music, Chapin is also heavily involved in public service efforts and, during the past two years alone, he has raised close to a million dollars for various charities through hundreds of benefit concerts. As an artist, he has earned two gold albums, a gold single, two Grammy nominations, a 1976 Rocky award in recognition of his public service activities and a 1969 Academy Award nomination for Best Feature Documentary for "Legendary Champions," which he edited, wrote and directed. ... He is also currently recording a new album for Elektra, "Dance Band on the Titanic," which is due out in April. In this, he said he is approaching "the question of where we are right now and whether we may be like the dance band on the Titanic and ignoring the iceberg."

STERN SAID HIS reasons for doing "Chapin" are personal. "I respond to his music and I feel he hasn't reached as large an audience as I feel he should," the producer stated. "It's not a heavy concept show — no more so than 'Jacques Brel' was — but we've tried to weave a fabric, if you will, and let the audience decide what the evening means, if anything. My feeling is that in many ways we are presenting 21 one-act plays. Chapin is bold in the sense of not being afraid of being sentimental. He's totally uninhibited emotionally. That's what I respond to in his songs and I hope others will. But what it all comes down to is that you really just have to trust the material."

This is Stern's first attempt at a musical and he said he has learned a lot from the experience. Devane has taken over as director from Gary Davis, who is, however, still involved in the concept of the show..

by Keith Tuber (L.A. Herald-Examiner, Tues, Feb. 15, 1977)

"Harry, keep the change..." If it were not for a simple twist of fate, Harry Chapin could actually be living the life of the unfulfilled, dreaming cab driver he created in the song "Taxi."

That was in 1971, when the songwriter was out of work in his chosen field — filmmaking — despite his having been nominated for an Academy Award in 1969 for his feature documentary film, "Legendary Champions."

"At that time I started thinking I was a hot ticket, so I started moving over into scripted features," Chapin recalled. "But the timing was wrong. The recession was getting worse and suddenly there was no work for even established filmmakers.

"I was without a decent job, with a wife and a bunch of kids to support. So during the months I was waiting for something to come through, I applied for a hack license.

"I started thinking of all my big statements and old dreams, and heard that an old girlfriend had married a rich guy instead of becoming an actress. And here I was, the former Air Force Academy student, about to fly in my taxi..."

Opportunity smiled on the would-be cabbie. The day he was supposed to be out driving, he received three film offers. After he had completed these projects, he found himself with a collection of story songs.

These songs, described by Chapin as "mini movies" are about a variety of interesting characters — Mr. Tanner, a Midwestern clothes cleaner who attempts to realize his life-long ambition of becoming a professional baritone, only to fail in his New York debut; the aging early morning disc jockey at radio station WOLD, who's remorseful about his life and the wife he left years before; the unfortunate farm boy who falls in love with a small town mayor's daughter, only to find that the girl is actually his half-sister and the mayor his natural father; and his biggest hit, "Cat's in the Cradle," about a man who doesn't seem to have enough time to enjoy his son while he is growing up, discovering later in old age that his son doesn't have any time left for him.

The story songs became the basis of what has proved to be a successful career: two gold albums, a gold single, an Oscar nomination and two Grammy nominations.

"I had plenty of songs, but I couldn't find anyone dumb enough to sing them," Chapin remembered, "so I decided to do them myself. I had a little money in the bank from the film gigs, and formed my own group.

"We couldn't find a club that would hire us. so I rented a night club in Greenwich Village. That summer people gradually got interested."

People are still interested. Each weekend at the Improvisation Theatre in Hollywood, a group called Actors for Themselves is presenting a collection of Chapin compositions in a unique musical tribute to the man that wrote them.

Produced by Joseph Stern ("The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia," "Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been") and William Devane, "Chapin" marks the first time that a contemporary American artist has been honored with a theatrical presentation comprised entirely of his own compositions.

Chapin is not directly involved with the production — though not because he doesn't believe in the project.

It is instead his hectic schedule that prevents Chapin from taking an active role. He is chairman of the board and chief fund raiser for the Performing Arts Foundation of Long Island, an artistic and educational organization; founder of World Hunger Year, a nonprofit group active in publicizing the plight of 20 million hungry Americans and the 1.5 billion people starving around the world; and he is involved with the One to One program for the retarded, Muscular Dystrophy and other efforts aimed at combating disease.

His humanitarianism has earned him the 1976 Rockies "Public Service Award" and recognition by the United States Jaycees as "one of the 10 outstanding young men of America in 1977."

Such dedicated work, combined with a heavy concert schedule, has at times taken its toll on the artist's personal life.

"There is tremendous conflict the minute you get that busy, but the question is where your values lie," Chapin confided. "I was becoming 'Uncle' Daddy. When I first got into the music business there was a 68-day period when I was home for only two days. My wife really 'zinged' me and that's the basis for 'Cat's in the Cradle.' "

The cabaret-style production "Chapin" salutes the music of Harry Chapin. but if it were only to pay tribute to the great humanitarian efforts of a single individual, they couldn't have chosen a better man. Harry, you're due any change that's coming.

REVIEW - L.A. FREE PRESS, February 18-24, 1977
by Charles Faber

PRODUCER JOSEPH STERN and producer/director William Devane like the songs of Harry Chapin so well that they decided to produce an evening of his words and music and call it simply Chapin. It's an evening without Chapin at the Improvisation, but still a Chapin evening. His fans couldn't ask for anything more — or better. Everything in the first-rate production is rightly focused on the man's work. The songwriter couldn't be more handsomely or excitingly served.

It's clear what prompted Stern and Devane, hitherto associated in producing plays, to put the Chapin songs into dramatic 'perspective on the stage. With the exception of a few upbeat numbers like the opening "Sunday Morning Sunshine," every song is a story, a capsule drama set to music. The songs' inherent drama is heightened by Devane's staging, which is forthright for the solos, allowing them to be sung with concentration and no distracting movement or gesture, and engagingly simple for the duets and ensembles, letting body-language reinforce the lyrics. Chapin is the minnesinger of the little man, the troubadour of the loser. But his laments for the lonely, the frustrated and the dispossessed have a toughness, a wryness that lift them beyond lachrymose sentimentality. There's a desperate and admirable courage in the people he sings: the divorced d.j. ("W.O.L.D."), the truck driver whose brakes fail on a hill in Scranton, Penn-syl-va-ni-aaa ("30,000 Pounds of Bananas"), the father whose son turns out to be just like him ("Cats In the Cradle"), the tailor who would be a concert singer ("Mr. Tanner"), the taxi-driver who had ambitions to be a flyer ("Taxi"), a sailor's bitterly lonely wife ("Dog-Town"), a sexually frustrated middle-aged husband ("Halfway to Heaven"), a nightwatchman and a waitress, both consumed by loneliness ("A Better Place To Be"), and a railroad yardman dreaming to the grave ("Corey's Coming"). There's cast of five who can really sing these songs with the vocal range, intensity and pathos they require. George Bell has an intriguing basso and Scott Jarvis, potent charm. Jennifer Darling is a combination of ingénue and leading lady, and Barbara Iley can summon emotion (and terror, in "Dog-Town") with authority. Sam Weisman is adept at the dramatic as well as the humorous ("Six String Orchestra"). Only once did I notice a microphone in somebody's hand. How refreshing to eye and ear! The singers are accompanied by a trio (drums: Chet McCracken; guitar and banjo: John Goux; bass: Dan Shore) whose support and rhythmic impulse contribute much to the evening's success.

The highlight of an evening of strong dramatic impact is "Sniper," which, at the risk of censure by purists, I shall say reminded me of a Verdian ensemble. The viscerally disturbing number occupies precisely the right spot, closing the first half of a show that is less a cabaret entertainment than potent musical theatre in the form of a song revue. Russell Pyle has stretched a cloth resembling a parachute across the stage, a simple and imaginative solution to the problem of scenery, and Ward Carlisle has painted it with beautiful lighting.

REVIEW - L.A. TIMES, July 7, 1977
by Sylvie Drake

Two musical shows that have been running for some seven months in town were revisited recently. Both "Chapin" at Budd Friedman's Improvisation (8162 Melrose Ave., 852-0957) with its original cast of five, and "The Great American Backstage Musical," in a new space (the Odyssey, near Santa Monica and Bundy, 826-1626) and with an entirely new company (the original one just opened at San Francisco's Montgomery Playhouse) are continuing extremely strong.

"Chapin" is the real surprise, perhaps because it was this writer's first visit to the show (Times critic Dan Sullivan reviewed it originally). The power and skill of the performances, the glorious voices and much of the Harry Chapin material in concert were unexpectedly rich and resonant." It is an evening that, like "Jacques Brel" at its best, is both exhilarating and haunting. Actor-singers George Ball, Jennifer Darling, Scott Jarvis, Barbara Iley and Sam Weisman .rare interchangeably as gifted vocally as they are dramatically, which lends the show its particularly burnished look.

Each of the performers has his moment. Jarvis, in "WOLD," is immensely touching as a disappointed DJ who mixes silliness and braggadoccio in a clumsy attempt to find out if his ex-wife will take him back (she won't). Iley underscores each line of "You're Still My Boy," making the pain of a lost but unsurrendered love feel like daggers that won't quit.

Ball has great fun with the down-home humor of "Thirty Thousand Pounds of Bananas," and Weisman strikes smartly at the irony of "The Mayor of Candor Lied."

Darling's better songs are duets such as the nostalgically familiar "Taxi" (with Weisman) and the less familiar "A .Better Place to Be" (with Ball). - But it's the total presentation that makes this so theatrically adroit. Chapin's songs, like Brel's, cry out for dramatic interpretation and William Devane's staging emphasizes the humor, the melodrama, the satire and the tragedy. It's a crackling evening, somewhat richer in the first than the second half, that looks sharp and commands attention.

Production Staff

Producers - Joseph Stern & William Devane
Lighting Design - Ward Carlisle
Set Design - Russell Pyle
Costumes - Margaret Rose / Sue Sandke
Musical Director - Craig Harris
Assistant Director - Maureen Byrnes
Production Stage Manager - Joel Rosenzweig
Associate Producer- Kevyne Baar
Graphics - George Yasuda

Production Conceived by
Joseph Stern & Gary Davis

Trivia: Harry Chapin himself granted Joseph Stern the rights to use
his songs with a contract written on the back of a paper plate!

A few years later, a new show called
LIES & LEGENDS: The Musical Stories of Harry Chapin
was performed in New York and Chicago.

It was based on Chapin, and Joseph Stern was given a "Concept by" credit.
In 1988, it all came full circle, as Joseph Stern produced a Los Angeles
run of the show at the Pasadena Playhouse and the Canon Theater.

Circle / Story of a Life
Corey's Coming
Salt and Pepper
Mr. Tanner
The Rock
Old College Avenue
Get on With It
Shooting Star

Dance Band on the Titanic
Mail Order Annie
Odd Job Man
Dreams Go By
Tangled Up Puppet
Cat's in the Cradle
Halfway to Heaven
Better Place to Be
You Are the Only Song / Circle

L.A. Times review & photo of the Pasadena Playhouse production:

'Chapin' True to Storyteller's Moving Songs
by Dan Sullivan, Times Theater Critic

Probably only five people in Los Angeles would argue that Harry Chapin was a great songwriter, as distinct from a guy who wrote a couple of great songs.

Luckily, these five are performing "Lies and Legends: The Musical Stories of Harry Chapin" at the Pasadena Playhouse.

George Ball, John Herrera, Amanda McBroom, Ron Orbach and Valerie Perri don't admit any difference between Chapin's best work and his second-best work. For them, every Chapin song was his best.

And they make the argument stick. If George Ball destroys you with "Cat's in the Cradle," in which a son grows up "just like you, Dad," Amanda McBroom has previously destroyed you with the much less familiar "Tangled Up Puppet."

Here, a mother finds that she can't get close to her newly grown-up daughter, perhaps because she was too close to her before. The "perhaps" makes it a vaguer song than "Cat's in the Cradle," at least on paper.

But not the way McBroom sings it. She locates the mother's specific hurt. She shows us how much the mother looks up to her self-sufficient daughter, an admiration that makes it all the harder to be shut out from her life. She tells us that the mother will survive: She's self-sufficient too. She lets us imagine that the two women may find each other again, as opposed to the two men in "Cat's in the Cradle."

In other words, McBroom makes a story out of the song. We hear two dozen such tales over the evening, and their telling never gets in the way of the music. Credit director Sam Weisman for helping the cast think out each plot, and Tracy Friedman, who did the musical staging, for helping them figure out the right moves.

Playing the women in "Dog-town," for instance, they pound their palms on the wooden piers of Gerry Hariton's and Vicki Baral's plain-cut set—not just a rhythmic device, but a way to nail down the despair of the empty-handed widows of Gloucester.

Sunday night's premiere was, appropriately, a benefit for USC's Institute for the Study of Women and Men. Chapin could identify with women, but he wrote best about men, especially uncertain ones.

John Herrera is the cab driver who keeps the change that he should have given back in "Taxi," and Ron Orbach is the commuter who is about to break his marriage vows in "Halfway to Heaven"—a John Cheever story in the making.

Uncertain men do a lot of damage. Ball makes it clear what a rat the middle-aged disc jockey is in "W-O-L-D," at the same time evoking a certain sympathy for him. Herrera brings Act I to a shattering close with "Sniper," where a timid young fellow comes into his own, at the expense of 37 people.

There's tragedy here, a darkness that lurks below the surface of many of Chapin's songs in this  telling. Though the show has fine physical energy—music director Kathleen Rubbico helping here, with her crisp direction in the on-stage pit—the stories told are more sad than jocund.

Usually, too, they're understated. "I guess you are my wife," says Herrera to Valerie Perri as his new bride in "Mail-Order Annie," and that seals it. When the show ends with an audience sing-along, it's a slightly false note. Chapin's most convincing songs aren't about jubilation. His people have a hard time touching, a hard time talking.

Yet because his music is lively, the stuff is there for a good time... Chapin fans will love it, and Chapin non-fans will be surprised.

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