Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ruth Buzzi featured in Gene Kelly's 'Clownaround' (1972 theater program)

Big thanks to my friend Big Dave for sharing this artifact from a notable theatrical flop.

Let's call this one a companion piece to my previously posted Ruth Buzzi 'shrine'.
(follow link)

At right, ▶
Ruth Buzzi astride 'Clownaround' co-star Dennis Allen.

Not too long ago, Big Dave and I were chatting about Ruth Buzzi (it's uncertain what triggered the discussion), and he mentioned that as a kid, he'd seen her perform live at The Oakland Coliseum Arena in 'Clownaround', a lavish musical stage extravaganza that featured real circus acts and was produced by
Gene Kelly.

A little research reveals that there may not be too many people around who can say that they saw 'Clownaround' - - and still have the program to prove it.

Despite big plans and high hopes for this family-themed spectacle to tour the country, it closed after only fourteen performances.

◀ Click on the image at left to see an enlarged scan of the program's cover, in all its blurry,
off-register misprinted glory.

Entertainment icon Gene Kelly was steeped in his director / producer / impresario mode in late 1971 when he was approached by the show's creators, the original idea being that Kelly would star in and choreograph the production.

Kelly was excited by the possibilities, and threw himself into the production whole-heartedly.
Billed as 'A Funny Kind of Musical for the Entire Family' mixed with circus themes, it was planned for the show to feature an enormous transformable 'Clown Machine' set /environment that actors, clowns and acrobats would perform atop and amidst.

Trouble for the show began during rehearsals in 1972, when Gene Kelly's second wife, Jeanne Coyne, was diagnosed with leukemia. He quickly withdrew from actiive participation in the production to be at her side.

Kelly's co-stars, both veterans of TV's 'Laugh-In' became the show's principals, along with "a cast of 70".

The show opened on April 27th, 1972 at the Oakland Coliseum. It played also at San Francisco's Cow Palace, and closed after only a few weeks.
Word is that the huge production ran out of money. It's also reported that two of the performers were seriously injured after falling from the 'Clown Machine' structure.

(Thanks to the site 'Gene Kelly, Creative Genius' for some valuable background information.)

(click on images to ENLARGE in a new window)

A further wrinkle to the 'Clownaround' saga is its ultra-rare original cast LP. ▶

Released on the RCA label, it was apparently only sold on-site at performances of the production.
After the show's quick close, all the unsold copies were reportedly melted down, leaving the notion of only 'dozens' of the album ever being issued.

Though it's also been reported that the music is 'less than stellar' (to put it charitably), the album has nevertheless become a much sought 'holy grail' item to collectors, fetching hundreds of dollars when one turns up.

Below, ▼ the Ruth Buzzi bio from the program.
(click on image to enlarge text)
Around the time of 'Clownaround' things were beginning to wind down on TV's 'Laugh-In'. Already past it's heyday, the series ended in 1973. Buzzi had several TV guest appearances throughout the rest of the '70s, including several revivals of her 'Gladys' character on various Dean Martin Roasts.
In 1975 she appeared opposite Jim Nabors on Sid & Marty Krofft's Saturday morning show,
'The Lost Saucer' for its one season run.

Below, ▼ it would appear that actor / comedian Dennis Allen was unfortunately at the apex of his professional career after he joined the cast of 'Laugh-In' in 1970.

Speaking of clowns, Dennis Allen had a memorable short clip that ran often on 'Sesame Street' in the 1970s, playing a sad-faced clown removing his makeup. (follow link)
Dennis Allen died of lung cancer in 1995.

Click on images below to get a better look at the stage show we never saw...

Below, more about some of the real circus acts who appeared in 'Clownaround'.
Click on images to enlarge text.

Gene Kelly's wife Jeanne passed away in 1973.
During the remainder of the '70s, Kelly made semi-regular TV appearances, continued some stage work, and was very successful with his involvement in the 'That's Entertainment' movies.

Below, more about the composer/lyricist team of Mark ("Moose") Charlap and Alvin Cooperman, set designer Sean Kenny, choreographer Howard Jeffrey, and the rest of the production staff.

(click on images to enlarge in a new window.)


Larry said...

I realize it is ultra-rare, but is it possible to get a copy of the soundtrack from anywhere?

Funky16Corners said...

I live for stuff like this. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen the documentation. Thanks, and welcome back to one of my fave blogs.

James Shearhart said...

Great post! I live just down the way from the Cow Palace, was kinda odd to read about something taking place there that wasn't a rodeo or a gun show....

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