There was a certain buzz in the air recently surrounding Matthew Malone’s revival of 1960’s Broadway flop, Subways Are For Sleeping.
The show, which received its UK premier on Tuesday, was revived as part of Malone’s master’s degree in Music. It recounts the story of journalist Angie McKay, who is ordered by her boss to write a story on an unusual troupe of elegantly-dressed homeless men, who spend their nights sleeping on New York City’s subway.
When the musical opened in 1961, it received mixed reviews. Despite the star-studded leads, it was the supporting actors and actresses who were lauded as the standouts of the show. In a frantic response to the criticism, the director made a few last-minute revisions before the show hit Broadway. Unfortunately, this had the adverse effect of botching some of the musical numbers, and leaving the script nonsensical.
I asked Malone what drew him to take on such an unusual project. He told me that he wants to be a musical director, but the competition is incredibly fierce at the moment. The problem is, there are only a limited number of shows running in London, and inevitably some aspiring MD’s are going to be left unemployed. Malone’s tutor advised him to take on the project in order to make him stand out from the crowd.
Malone – who is already an experienced MD – spent a lot of time listening to little-known musicals of the 1960’s. He settled on Subways are for Sleeping because of the quality of Jule Styne’s score, and its capacity for fun. In order to arrange the musical, he had to order three boxes of the original scores from three different locations in the United States. He said that one of the biggest challenges was having to interpret the performer’s scribbles which sometimes covered up whole swathes of the score. The original cellist, who despised the musical, had altered the title of a song from ‘I Just Can’t Wait’ to ‘I Just Can’t Wait to Get the Hell Out of Here!’
The whole process of adapting the music took Malone around four months, and the rehearsal period, three. Shortly before a performance, the energy levels of the performers often dip, but Malone said this never really happened during the rehearsals – practicing didn’t seem like a chore because they had so much fun.
I thought the whole show last night was fantastic. It was evident how much work Malone had put in. The focus of the show was on the music, so – to cut time down – some plot-heavy scenes were described with the help of a narrator. The singing and acting was strong and confident all round. Particular kudos goes to Fiona Primrose who played the role of ditzy ‘Miss Mississippi’ runner-up. She barely even had to walk in front of the audience before they were in stitches. Her performance of I Was a Shoo-In was a particular highlight.
Definitely a guy to watch in the future, Matthew Malone has all the talent, energy and enthusiasm to make waves in the world of musical theatre.
Written by Nick Willoughby