Hidden Musical Gems: The Mad Show

Sean Pollock

“We’re gonna stamp out hate
That’s our creed
Wipe out violence
Intolerance and greed
We’re gonna start right now
Tomorrow is too late
We’re gonna stamp out hate!”

The following lyrics are from a show that time simply forgot: a rarely performed Off-Broadway gem called “The Mad Show”. The show is a musical revue adaptation of the humor-based magazine, Mad. Though the show was written in 1966, one might argue that the lyrics above are just as relevant today as when it was written 59 years ago. The song in which its featured is from my favorite song in the show: “The Hate Song”, which ends the first act of the show. In classic Mad Magazine style, the song parodies of a group of people so dead set on achieving peace and tolerance that they would go through extremes to do it (“we’ll put its toes on hooks/and dangle them for bait/we’re gonna stamp out hate!” are a sample of some of the lyrics that come later) -- but it’s all in good, silly, 60’s-camp fun.

“The Mad Show” would launch the career of many involved, including those on the creative team and the cast. The book was written by Stan Hart and Larry Siegel, two Mad Magazine writers who had never written for theatre before. The lyrics were written by Marshall Barer. The show was directed by Stephen Vinaver (who also supplied some of the shows lyrics), and music directed by Sam Pottle. The show’s musicians included Joe Raposo on piano (who would be featured as an onstage pianist who every show would be beat by a rubber chicken and subsequently “killed” after each performance) and Danny Epstein on percussion. The music was written by Mary Rogers and one song was written an additional composer named “Esteban Ria Nido”, AKA as a pseudonym for the great Stephen Sondheim. 

Later on, many of these careers crossed paths in interesting ways--Marshall Barer and Rogers would collaborate later on a little show called “Once Upon A Mattress”, and Barer also wrote a show coincidentally called “A Little Night Music” before Sondheim’s version, which never got produced. Larry Siegel would go on to write for Carol Burnett after the success of Mattress on “The Carol Burnett Show”. All the musicians would at some point work for “Sesame Street”, and Raposo and Epstein worked on the show at the same time as John Weidman, who would go onto write the book for “Pacific Overtures” and “Assassins” with Sondheim. The cast featured Linda Lavin, Jo Anne Worley, Paul Sand, Richard Libertini and MacIntyre Dixon. Worley would go onto a successful comedy career, and Lavin would go on to appear in “Gypsy”, “The Allergist's Wife” and “The Lyons” on Broadway.

The show is is most known for Sondheim’s only number in the show, “The Boy From…” which is a spoof of the hit song “The Girl from Ipanema”. While the original song is about a man in love with a woman he can’t have, “The Boy From…” is about a woman in love with a man who is obviously gay, but she is too naive to realize it. The song was written for (and is brilliantly delivered by) Lavin with perfect comedic timing, as she spits out Sondheim’s goofy long-winded lyrics.

(make this a larger thumbnail - it’s a clip of “The Hate Song”)

Although the show ran for 871 performances Off-Broadway, besides a few pictures, program inserts from both NY and LA runs and a cast recording--there’s not a whole lot than can be found on it. The cast recording is an easy listen, and many of the tunes are catchy, silly and reflect the much more light-hearted sophomoric humor of Mad Magazine, unlike the occasionally raunchy (but still as hilarious) television spin-off, MadTV.
The songs that stick out in the score are “The Boy From…”, “Misery Is” (a parody of “Happiness” from “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown”), “You Never Can Tell” (a hilarious number about happy accidents), “Looking For Someone” (a lovely absurdist trio romance number) and “The Gift Of Maggie”. Some of the humor misses the mark--such as “What It Ain’t” (a parody of Bob Dylan that is not funny or fully audible). Some of the humor falls under the category of “you-had-to-be-there”. This is evident more so in the sketches, specifically “Kiddie TV” which satirizes race on children’s television in the 60’s which is dated and lackluster. However, these sketches in question are overshadowed by the playfulness and whimsical nature of the score (which is available for free for Spotify members).

cast picture in the York Theatre Reading, 2011.

cast picture in the York Theatre Reading, 2011.

Although the show is licensable through Samuel French, the show has only been revived once, at the Musicals in Mufti series at the York Theatre Company Off-Broadway in 2011 with Stephanie D’Abruzzo (Kate Monster in “Avenue Q”). With such simple casting (and great bits for musical comedy actors), juvenile material and basic musical requirements it’s a wonder this show isn’t done more often. I think it could work with younger performers in camps or in high school, especially since there isn’t a single curse in the entire show. 

It’s my hope that we’ll see a revival soon at even a community theatre level, but as the show says: “You never can tell…”