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Forgotten Musicals Part 2: They’re Playing Our Song (1979) July 24, 2022

Posted by ronannarbor in Uncategorized.
Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz, Photo: Martha Swope

When a show is as huge a hit as They’re Playing Our Song was, you’d think everyone would know it, right? Well, not in this case.

Running for over three years in NYC with major productions in LA and London’s West End, the musical has a storyline based on the real world relationship of Carole Bayer Sager and Neil Simon — with book and lyrics written by the two, and music written by Marvin Hamlish.

Starring comedian Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz, it’s a two-character show with a 6-member backup of “egos” for both Robert and Lucie. While it seems like a small show, it had an enormous set by Douglas W Schmidt including the first use of stage-wide moving projections. 

A movie was planned and sold to Columbia, but never made. Nominated for awards across the board, it won none losing out to Sweeney Todd that same season. Bad timing for the show. (It’s other competition that year? Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Ballroom). It had a terrific tv commercial that ran day and night in NYC.

Neil Simon’s hilarious one-liners were on full display, which came naturally to comedian Robert Klein, with Lucie Arnaz making her Broadway debut with precision timing and a natural comedic style she no doubt learned from her mother (Lucille Ball).

The show had a series of headliners over the years after the original cast left — and there was talk of friction between Klein and Arnaz, the most famous being Klein’s boredom with playing the same role and reciting the same lines night after night, being a standup comedian…Lucy would act by looking at Klein and making eye contact…Robert would act by looking at the audience and playing all the jokes to them. The friction increased throughout the run, although it was never apparent from the audience side of the stage. They remained friends after the show closed. 

Some of the songs are more familiar than the show itself – many of them becoming standards at the time recorded by Jack Lawrence, Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, and others. The script itself was reviewed as reflective of Simon’s The Goodbye GIrl and other comedies of the era. 

Rarely produced, it is a show that is appropriate for both large and small theaters, although  some of the laughs and jokes are now dated so it remains strictly a show trapped in time during the late 70’s.

With songs like “If He Really Knew Me”, “I Still Believe in Love”, and “Just for Tonight”, it’s a cast album you really should have in your collection.

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