A forgotten Broadway musical will get its European premiere after a University of Sheffield student worked through boxes of neglected manuscripts to reconstruct the score, which has not been heard anywhere in the world since 1962.
Masters student Matthew Malone sorted through dozens of boxes filled with sheet music from three US archives to piece together a full orchestration of Subways are for Sleeping – a musical by renowned composer Jule Styne, which only ran for 205 performances.
Matthew will now conduct a 30-piece orchestra during two concert performances of the show’s music, featuring staff and students, at the University’s Firth Hall on Tuesday April 29 and Wednesday 30.
Subways are for Sleeping was composed by the late Styne, best known for the music of Gypsy, Funny Girl and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, while the lyrics and script were written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who wrote the screenplay for Singin’ in the Rain.
But despite this impressive pedigree, the show – based on an article and book that described the real-life exploits of homeless people living on New York’s underground system – struggled during previews and the script was partly rewritten.
In the show a journalist called Angie McKay is assigned to get the scoop on a story about an unusual group of well-dressed homeless people sleeping in the New York subway.
Angie goes undercover and quickly befriends Tom Bailey, the leader of the group.
When she learns how the other half lives, she begins to see there might be another way to experience the world but trouble ensues when her cover is blown.
The critical reception to the musical was mixed. In an attempt to boost ticket sales, the show’s producer David Merrick even paid several New Yorkers with the same names as the leading theatre critics of the day to provide positive quotes about the show for publicity.
The show opened on December 27, 1961 but never toured. There was a short semi-staged revival in 2009, but this used only piano accompaniment, and there has never been a European production.
The complete original orchestrations of the show have now been reconstructed using sources from the Library of Congress, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas and Tams-Witmark Music Library in New York.
This means the score will be available for others to perform around the world in the future.
The two performances in Sheffield are produced by Dr Dominic McHugh, of the University’s Department of Music, who will use only brief excerpts of the script alongside a newly-written narration.
He said the score is a “neglected masterpiece” and contains several songs that became very popular at the time – in particular, Judy Garland’s hit song Comes Once in a Lifetime.
He added: “It has been a privilege to be allowed to revive this score for the first time since the original production in 1962. Academia seems the perfect home for the revival.
“Matthew’s reconstruction of the score is based on manuscripts from three different American archives and the concerts will have a full orchestra of almost 40 players.
“The performances are the result of a year’s planning, research, editing and rehearsal, a process that would simply be too complicated and expensive for the commercial sector, in spite of the high quality of the composition.
“We are incredibly grateful to the Jule Styne and Comden and Green estates for their support of our project.”
Matthew said: “I feel very lucky to be able to bring this fantastic score to a fresh audience that would otherwise not be able to hear it.
“It has been inspiring to work under Dominic’s supervision on this university-wide, once-in-a-lifetime community event.”
Tickets can be booked at http://sivtickets.com/event/subwaysareforsleeping and cost £8.50, £6 (over-60s) and £3 (under-26s, students, unwaged).
Dominic and Matthew will give a talk before the Tuesday perfromance at 6.30pm to discuss the background to the musical and this revival, with live music examples.