re: "Musical Vaudeville" and the man who spread the Sunshine
Posted by: reed23 05:45 am EDT 08/25/21
In reply to: "Musical Vaudeville" and the man who spread the Sunshine - WaymanWong 12:36 am EDT 08/25/21

Thanks, Wayman.

Obviously, I'm a CHICAGO freak. I saw the show just after it opened, in July, 1975, within days of seeing A CHORUS LINE, which had not opened on Broadway yet; it was in previews and being adjusted at the Shubert, and didn't officially open until much later because of the Local 802 strike that summer.

Of course I loved A CHORUS LINE, which rocked my world. But the reviews had been so crazy-over-the-top for it, and the so middling-to-so-so for CHICAGO, I didn't expect what happened – CHICAGO became #1 for me, and changed my life – I was 16, and CHICAGO is what made me decide to move to New York someday and "be a part of it" – which I eventually did. I saw CHICAGO about nine times before its closing over two years later in 1977. And I have an encyclopedic memory of every second of it – aided by a large collection of production photos (one of the most poorly photographed shows I've ever seen), recordings of the Philadelphia try-out (astonishing changes before Broadway – there was a lot more riotously funny dialogue originally, but Fosse really cut it down so that the numbers told the story.).... I've spoken to a number of original cast members about the show (including Chita Rivera, and many others with extremely vivid memories of the original) – and I participated in the first stock production when the rights became available, restaged in every detail by a member of the original cast – and I still remember much of the choreography, and still have the dance captain's dance notes; and Tony Walton gave me some photos of his set, both as it appeared on stage and in the modeling phase (Fosse used one of the models of the CHICAGO set in ALL THAT JAZZ, which depicts the making of CHICAGO.)

BTW, I used to have a blog indeed, and had a whole billion-word article on CHICAGO "Then and Now," defending the original production – which was largely disparaged when the revisal opened (which I felt was significantly the lesser of the two.) I ripped down the blog at some point, but maybe I'll reinstate some day. I discussed Broadway shows past and present in billion-word detail, and it took over my life....

Anyhow, to answer some questions:

Yes, as I've indicated I saw Michael O'Haughey in the part many times. The thing that was truly extraordinary, which doesn't totally come through on the album, or that sensational TV clip you posted (THANK YOU!!!) – was the exact dimension and power of his voice (something you can only measure with any singer in person.) He was truly an exquisite, sensational soprano, capable of the most delicate pianissimos and the most volcanic powerful tones – and sometimes he switched between the two for comic effect and the audience was hysterical. Walter Kerr or one of the major critics commented on that long held note just before the end of the song, saying that O'Haughey magically sounded like a disembodied sonar tower or something, the perfect scientifically controlled sine wave – and he held the note far longer than he did on the album (or on TV.) And his comic flourishes, gently poking fun of the Marilyn Miller genre, were so hysterical, the audience truly had NO idea this was a man up there – they thought (as I did) that it was an ingenious, extremely virtuosic soprano parodist. The illusion was perfect and intense. And all of that made the Act II exit reveal absolutely, totally, hilariously shocking.

I found an article about M. O'Haughey from September 1975 (unknown publication) – below are some excerpts, after which I'll tell you a bit of a significant punch line of sorts from my own experience.


“One of the things he also had to develop was the character, so that he didn’t simply become a female impersonator.

“‘I’ve read a lot of psychology,’ he said. ‘You can get into a character because of your reading. I flew my sister and brother-in-law in from South Africa. They were pleased I played the role for real instead of as a campy character.’

“O’Haughey was born in Pretoria in 1947. Both sides of his family had migrated to South Africa from Counties Cork and Wicklow in Ireland.

“He began studying for the priesthood and missionary work, but his father, an electrical engineer, was in an accident which caused massive crippling and years to recover. O’Haughey, to support his family, left the monastery and went into business, ultimately becoming manager of one of Pretoria’s largest department stores.

“He also found time for soccer, and for seven years was center foreward on the Arcadia United team, playing all over South Africa. He lifts weights for fitness, and now has turned to tennis and swimming because they’re easier to play in the United States than soccer.

“His introduction to the world of entertainment began when he sang a role from ‘Carmen’ in a pantomime as a favor for a friend. Those who heard his phenomenal voice – from deep bass to tenor and on up to soprano without going falsetto – urged him to go into show business and to the United States.

“His voice is a ‘natural,’ say teachers and doctors who’ve examined his larynx, and he’s never had vocal lessons.

“He and the girl he dates, singer Anne Ault, developed a nightclub act and were steadily at work until he went on Broadway. She is seen by millions in television commercials.

“O’Haughey said he’s ‘done what I can’ with the one role ‘and now I have to advance more, eventually. Anne and I probably will work out some new club acts.’”


Almost twenty years later, in the early 1990s, I lived in LA and visited the apartment of a piano-bar-musical-theatre friend of mine. We were chatting away like the New York refugees we were about all things musical theatre and Broadway.....when there was a knock on the door. It was the super of the building, carrying a mop and bucket of water, and there was some issue my friend and he spoke about regarding the building's plumbing or something. Then my friend gestured to me and said, "Here's someone I think would love to meet you." (Huh, I thought? Why in the world would I want to meet his building's super?) "(Insert my name), meet Michael O'Haughey."

I jumped up so hard I practically poked a hole in the ceiling – and also experienced one of those thunderous, significant Learning Moments – you can climb the heights and be the toast of Broadway, in the most glamorous, exciting, thrillingly contemporary, celebrated, legendary show in the world (and yes, CHICAGO was all that, even then, contrary to uneducated popular opinion) – and STILL end up the super of some run-down apartment building in Los Angeles. That encounter was almost thirty years ago, and I don't know if M. O'Haughey is still alive or where he is.

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