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FLASH FRIDAY: A Mary Rodgers Guettel Retrospective - ONCE UPON A MATTRESS, FREAKY FRIDAY, Sondheim Collaborations, Etc.


Today we are saluting a versatile and unique figure in theatre history who grew up as the daughter of one of the most important composers in musical theatre and subsequently contributed recognizable and fondly remembered works of her own to the canon, as well - Mary Rodgers Guettel.

The Girl From...

As the first-born child of world renowned composer and theatrical producer Richard Rodgers, Mary Rodgers was seemingly predestined to live a life relating to the arts. While many children of famous creators or artistic icons may eschew a career in the theatre or the arts altogether, Rodgers pursued it quite wholeheartedly, having her first full-fledged musical produced Off-Broadway and quickly transferring to Broadway before she was 30 via THE PRINCESS & THE PEA-inspired comedy ONCE UPON A MATTRESS, which arrived on the Great White Way in 1959. Although subsequent shows she herself generated or contributed to unfortunately failed to match that early success, Rodgers continued to pursue unique and unusual subjects for musicalization and eventually tried her able hand at other mediums, as well.

Following ONCE UPON A MATTRESS, Rodgers penned a song titled "Hire A Guy" for the Hermione Gingold-led original Broadway revue FROM A To Z in 1960, which not only featured a book by a young Woody Allen, but also boasted illustrious fellow contributors such as Jerry Herman, Fred Ebb, Jonathan Tunick and more - all of whom were making their Broadway debuts, as it happened. Nevertheless, the show closed after only 21 performances, but Rodgers could justifiably boast of having contributed to two concurrently running Broadway musicals anyway.

After FROM A To Z came the political satire HOT SPOT, which was beset with out of town tryout troubles and necessitated Rodgers reaching out to longtime family friend Stephen Sondheim to pen two additional tunes for the score, which he did, including the caustic comedy number "Don't Laugh". Nonetheless, the production was a fast failure when arriving in New York and star Judy Holliday reportedly remarked at the time, "You can only live through one or two HOT SPOTs in your life." Subsequently, Holliday never returned to the stage.

Rodgers also contributed a fascinating and delightful ditty written with Sondheim - amusingly writing under the nom de plume Esteban Rio Nido, while the playbill credited the lyrics simply to Nom De Plume - to the 1966 MAD Magazine revue THE MAD SHOW titled "The Boy From..." which was sung by Linda Lavin and subsequently covered by Peggy Lee and Julia McKenzie, among others.

The final two mainstage musicals for which Rodgers authored material were the short-running Studs Terkel-inspired Broadway revue WORKING (having written the teacher's tune, "Nobody Tells Me How") and the Off-Broadway Phyllis Newman star vehicle THE MADWOMAN OF CENTRAL PARK WEST (featuring "Don't Laugh"). In addition to these musicals, Rodgers also wrote two songs eventually included in the mega-hit 1974 children's audio book, TV special and video FREE TO BE... YOU AND ME byway of "William's Doll" and "Girl Land". Also during this period Rodgers turned to writing books aimed at children and teens, with the generation-crossing tale of FREAKY FRIDAY becoming a modern day classic, followed by a 1976 film adaptation for which Rodgers herself penned the screenplay. Other books by Rodgers included A BILLION FOR BORIS (aka ESP TV), SUMMER SWITCH and THE ROTTEN BOOK, as well as the short story "The Devil & Max Devlin".

Of note, Richard Maltby Jr. staged a revue of her work in the early 1990s titled HEY, LOVE, while ONCE UPON A MATTRESS received a hit revival starring Sarah Jessica Parker later that decade, followed up by a third TV adaptation of the musical this century.

Undoubtedly, Rodgers created a lasting artistic legacy copiously displaying her dexterous wit and versatility, passing on her indelible and incomparable genes to son Adam Guettel, who himself has found considerable acclaim as a multi-Tony Award-winning composer and lyricist in his own right. In regards to her career ambitions and her candid perspective on it, Rodgers was once quoted as relaying, "I had a pleasant talent but not an incredible talent... I was not my father or my son. And you have to abandon all kinds of things." While she may now have abandoned this mortal coil, the considerable collection of work left behind is enough to treasure for many generations, young and old.

So, now, let's take a look at some of the highlights from the idiosyncratic career of Mary Rodgers Guettel.

First, Mary Rodgers reflects on her father's contributions to SOUTH PACIFIC.

Next, Linda Lavin stops THE MAD SHOW cold with the impressive and guffaw-inducing "The Boy From...".

Hear Peggy Lee's characteristically cool take on the tune, as well.

Julia McKenzie offers her idiosyncratic spin on "The Boy From...".

Now, sample a scene from HOT SPOT with the Sondheim collaboration "Don't Laugh" as performed by Phyllis Newman.

After that, see the original TV presentation of ONCE UPON A MATTRESS from 1964, starring Carol Burnett.

Sample the 1972 TV production of ONCE UPON A MATTRESS, too.

Don't miss the most recent TV version of ONCE UPON A MATTRESS from 2005, featuring Tracey Ullman.

The 1997 revival cast of ONCE UPON A MATTRESS perform on the Tony Awards, led by Sarah Jessica Parker.

Check out both of Mary Rodgers's contributions to FREE TO BE... YOU AND ME. First, "William's Doll".

Plus, "Girl Land".

Also, here are two terrific trailers for FREAKY FRIDAY - 1976 and 2003.

Get a sneak peek at the Bill Cosby starrer THE DEVIL & MAX DEVLIN, based on a Rodgers short story.

Lastly, check out this student performance of "Nobody Tells Me How" from WORKING.

What is your personal favorite property penned by Mary Rodgers Guettel over the course of her career? Furthermore, what is your choice for her most memorable and/or amusing song of all? With collaborators as diverse and impressive as these, not to mention her singular multi-generational artistic legacy, we will no doubt be celebrating the works of Mary Rodgers Guettel as well as her talented father and son for many centuries to come.

Photo Credits: LIFE Magazine, Masterworks Broadway, etc.

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From This Author Pat Cerasaro

Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)