Mitchell Greco co-directs ‘New Girl in Town.’
by Donalevan Maines
Photo by Cole Ryden
In show business, it’s all about the timing. A case in point: New Girl in Town, a show you’ve probably never heard of, even though it ran for 431 performances on Broadway.
Unfortunately, it was “the new kid in town” for only a matter of months after opening on May 4, 1957. Then West Side Story premiered September 26, followed by The Music Man on December 19. As the Eagles sang in “New Kid in Town” (from their 1976 album Hotel California), “They will never forget you ’til somebody new comes along.”
And so it was with New Girl in Town, which was overshadowed by the now-classic West Side Story and The Music Man despite making history when its leading ladies tied for the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.
Thankfully, for Houston fans of musical theater, New Girl in Town is being revived September 4–7 by Bayou City Concert Musicals, whose mission is to produce under-performed musicals in unabridged concert stagings.
“Once again, it’s a musical that’s fallen through the cracks,” says BCCM artistic director Paul Hope.
Co-directing with Hope is Mitchell Greco, hot off Xanadu, which was Houston’s smash success of the summer at Stages, where Greco is the artistic associate.
Greco also co-directed last year’s BCCM offering from 1954, the more widely known The Pajama Game. “I’m a little bit of a historian,” says Greco. “I like to read up on things whenever I work on them.”
Eugene O’Neill’s play Anna Christie, winner of the 1922 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, was the unlikely source material for New Girl in Town, he explains. It was a dour drama about a prostitute, Anna, who comes to live with her father, Chris, a former sailor who knows nothing of her past.
In New Girl in Town, Anna “meets and falls in love with sailor Matt Burke” (played by John Gremillion), says Hope. “Anna seems to be on her way to a normal life when someone spills the beans about her former life.
“But this being a George Abbot show” (like The Pajama Game), says Hope, “the gloom and doom of the original is downplayed, and the show is essentially a romantic love story surrounded by a musical comedy.”
“There is an interesting tension between drama and musical comedy,” says Greco.
The “someone who spills the beans” about Anna’s former life is her father’s main squeeze, Marthy, whose role was beefed up for the musical and played by the fabulous comedienne Thelma Ritter. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful role,” says Hope. “She’s very dry—an old battle-axe former prostitute who likes her sauce. She has all the best comedy in the show.”
Ritter, who never won an Academy Award despite six nominations for Best Supporting Actress, tied with co-star Gwen Verdon for the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for New Girl in Town. Verdon had already won two, for Can-Can (1954) and Damn Yankees (1956), and would win again for Redhead (1959).
New Girl in Town was Bob Fosse’s last Broadway show as merely a choreographer. Verdon then insisted that he both direct and choreograph Redhead, explains Hope.
Fosse’s choreography for the show’s act-one finale, “The Pony Dance,” is the only recorded dance that’s preserved on tape from New Girl in Town, says Greco. He explains that Krissy Richmond, who plays Anna, will choreograph “The Pony Dance,” while he will stage solo musical numbers such as “Flings”—a “charming song,” he says, for Marthy, who will be played by Marijane Vandiver, a former Houston television personality.
“Houstonians of a certain age will remember Marijane as a vital part of their childhoods when she hosted the very popular children’s television program, Marijane’s Magic Castle,” says Sharon Williams, BCCM’s president and executive director. “Marijane now lives in the Austin area, so we’re so glad she’s coming home to be in the show.”
Greco hails from Temple, Texas, where he performed with the school choir and in community theater since he was about 10 years old. He auditioned for the musical theater program at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville with the dream of becoming a hoofer and touring the country in shows like Hairspray.
Following graduation, however, he enjoyed being “the new kid in town” when he moved to Houston. “I moved here right after college,” he explains. “That first year can be hard, anyway. You do a lot of growing up, for sure. You start fresh.”
One of Greco’s first shows was dancing in On the Town, which was BCCM’s 2009 production.
Stages hired Greco to help organize its 2011 gala and silent auction, which led to his present full-time job as the artistic associate at Stages. He assistant-directed the musicals Next to Normal and The Winter Wonderettes, then directed and choreographed Life Could Be a Dream.
This summer, he scored a huge hit with Xanadu, which was held over until it absolutely had to close to make way for the theater’s new season. “It’s such a big challenge going from a fast, quick, modern show [Xanadu] to an old-fashioned musical comedy [New Girl in Town], but that’s the thrill of never doing the same thing twice,” says Greco.
“New Girl in Town is exciting because it gives the audience an opportunity to see a not-often-produced performance.”
What:New Girl in Town
When: September 4–7
Where:Houston Community College’s Heinen Theatre in Midtown, 3517 Austin
Tickets/info: bayoucityconcertmusicals.org or 713.465.6484.
Donalevan Maines also writes about the Emmys in this issue of OutSmart magazine.