Howard with his two leads, Janie Sell and Fred Coffin
Program from original WPA production
The beginning of the AshmanMenken partnership
Book and Lyrics By Howard Ashman
Additional lyrics by Dennis Green
Music By Alan Menken
Directed by Howard Ashman
Based on the novel by Kurt Vonnegut
WPA Theatre: May 1979
Entermedia Theater: October 1979
For the deprived theatergoer, it seems absolutely eleemysonary.
Mel Gussow, The New York Times
Weird and wonderful fun. -Associated Press
The story of Eliot Rosewater, the well-intentioned, deeply neurotic, tragically haunted and operatically lovable heir to one of America’s great fortunes.
Wishing to do good with his wealth, Eliot moves to the family seat – a home never actually occupied by his family – in Rosewater County, Indiana to care for the town’s residents:
You see the folks
In this old town
They need somebody to care
They need some help
And they need some cash
And guess who’s got plenty to spare.
An avaricious attorney schemes to have Eliot declared insane in order to gain the Rosewater fortune for his own clients:
In such a transaction
The watchful young lawyer will notice this moment
Endeavor to use it
Exacting a chunk of
Then pass what is left
To his client.
A magical moment
A marvelous moment
A moment a lawyer adores
A lyrical moment
A miracle moment
A moment you finally get yours
Eliot’s warmth and wealth revives the hopes and dreams of the people of Rosewater County:
I always used to think
That God just plain forgot me
Or maybe got my life mixed up
With someone who is not me
I’m still a little scared
I’m still a little sad
But I got to confess
It ain’t been half so bad
I think I’m comin’ around
Since you came to this town
But the ways of middle America drive his wife Sylvia insane
Little Cheese nips
Bet they dip ‘em in Kraft sandwich spread
Bet they’d eat a
Bet they’d love it
I wish I was dead
Sylvia breaks down and leaves Eliot and the wily attorney manages to get Eliot declared insane but good wins out when Eliot adopts all the children in Rosewater County making them all his rightful heirs:
I, Eliot Rosewater
Every child in Rosewater County
Said to be mine
Let them be Rosewaters
My sons and my daughters
Let them be fruitful –
The theme of the two Americas – that of the rich and of the poor is as relevant – or maybe even more relevant –today as it was when the book (1965) and the show (1979) were originally written.
Howard had long admired Mr. Vonnegut’s work and especially this satiric yet gentle novel. Lehman Engel, conducter and legendary creator of the BMI Musical Theater Workshop, introduced Howard to composer Alan Menken and a partnership was born.
With the blessing of Mr. Vonnegut, the two began work and in May 1979 opened their first-of-many collaborations at the WPA Theater, where Howard was the artistic director.
Enthusiastic reviews encouraged them to move the show to an Off Broadway house. Although the show didn’t have a long run at the Entermedia, in 1981, Howard directed a well-received revival of the musical at Arena Stage in Washington, DC.
Recently, it has been seen in staged readings at Cooper Union and St. Peter’s Theater in New York.
In a world where next to nothing comes for free
Bet you never thought you’d ever live to see
So divine a shrine to fine philanthropy
As the Rosewater Foundation, NYC