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Words & Music by Harry Chapin
Directed by William Devane
Arrangements by Frank Denson
Instrumental Arrangements by Richard Tilles
Sunday Morning Sunshine
Dreams Go By
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
Stop Singing Those Sad
Six String Orchestra
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
ARTICLE: COME TO THE CABARET WITH HARRY CHAPIN
by Lawrence Christon
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
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
"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
"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)
ARTICLE: FULL TREATMENT FOR CHAPIN SONGS
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,
Performances of "Chapin" will run weekend nights for
starters. "And then," says Stern, "we'll see..."
REVIEW - L.A. TIMES, 1977
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.
ARTICLE: CURTAIN CALLS
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..
ARTICLE: "CHAPIN" ON STAGE AND RECORD
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
"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
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
"We couldn't find a club that would hire us. so I
rented a night club in Greenwich Village. That summer people gradually got
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
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
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.
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
Salt and Pepper
Old College Avenue
Get on With It
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
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
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
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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