Reviews

Young Brings His Talents to OKC

by Max Nichols


Cy Young and Jane Manning have triumphed and struggled through all the agonizing and anticipation, thrills and disappointments, applause and discouragement, encores and frustration in show business. Most of us outsiders can only imagine what it’s like.
Young has performed in Chicago, New York, London, Los Angeles and Oklahoma City among others as a trumpet player, singer and acrobatic dancer with stars such as Buster Keaton and Bert Lahr. He has written a song featured in a Barbara Streisand album, two musicals produced Off Broadway, three plays published by Samuel French, three children’s musicals and numerous other works for the stage, television and radio.
Manning, a graduate of Classen High School, performed as a singer in New York, Kansas City, St. Louis, Cleveland and other cities before marrying Young in 1964. Together, they have ridden the show biz roller coaster for 37 years with more ups than downs, and they returned in 1997 to Jane’s roots in Oklahoma City.
Now, all those years of experience will be brought to bear in Young’s latest musical, Crusade, which will be presented by Oklahoma City University Sept. 4-5 at OCU’s Kirkpatrick Auditorium. It will dramatize the triumphs and failures of the “Holy Wars” of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, including the tragic 1212 Children’s Crusade through “sound, music, movement and visual images.”
“Our desire is for audiences to see more clearly than ever before that our youth are precious beings to be protected, cherished and nourished,” said Young. “This show is dedicated to all the children and their right to the full realization of their potential.”
While Crusade is about children, it is significant to all adults who have raised children. Young uses no libretto, because he wants to present a dramatized impression of the “Holy Wars” rather than a “literal, textbook explication.” He wrote all of the 19 songs, dance arrangements and voice arrangements for the play, which follows one of his earlier musicals, Glorious Age, about the Middle Ages.
All that reflects Young’s remarkable experience in performing and writing for performers. He has done everything he asks each performer to do in Crusade, a workshop or first-time production.
While this is a major step for Young in getting his work known here, he is not exactly new to Oklahoma City audiences. The Children’s Theater has produced his Aesop’s Fables, a musical that was produced earlier in all of the New York Public Schools. Young also has performed in The Music Man and George M at the Lyric Theatre.
Young’s remarkable background fascinates me, because I have been enjoying musicals on Broadway, at the Lyric Theatre and numerous other places since the 1950s. I must admit, however, that I made a point of meeting him at an Oklahoma City Writers session because of his name.
As a former baseball writer, I naturally thought of the Cy Young who was the all time winningest major league pitcher with 511 victories from 1890 through 1911. The Cy Young Award is named after him, so I couldn’t resist asking the “young” Cy Young how his arm was holding out.
It turns out that Young actually once wrote a screenplay about the first World Series in 1903, when the older Cy Young won two games for Boston of the new American League in beating Pittsburgh. It was never produced, but it would be a kick to see it some day.
Cy Young the performer and playwright, however, has achieved so much over 50 years that his work is beyond listing. A native of Topeka, he went to high school in Kansas City and played the trumpet in an all-school band. In 1949, he went to Northwestern University in Chicago, where he wrote his first song, Beverly, a “bad song” in his words.
He met Lloyd Norlin and began to learn about composition and lyrics. He wrote songs for the “Waa-Ma Show” at Northwestern and studied ballet, tap dancing, acrobatics and singing. He started his professional career in 1955 with the Meryl Abbot Dancers in Chicago’s Palmer House Empire Room for $125 a week, working with Harry Belafonte and Hildegard.
Young joined the “Steam Heat” dancers of the Pajama Game musical on the road and repeated that performance in a New York City Center production. He appeared in Off-Broadway productions of The Boyfriend and Diversions, and he was featured in a review, Girls Against the Boys, starring Bert Lahr. He also performed in a principal role and as a standby for Orson Bean in Subways Are for Sleeping.
After that show closed, Young performed regularly in Julius Monk’s reviews at the elegant Upstairs at the Downstairs nightclub in New York. I liked that review so much I saw it several times, so I undoubtedly saw him. Young also was a featured singer in Ben Bagley’s Painted Smiles albums of Rodgers and Hart and Jerome Kern, and he was featured in Bagley’s Cole Porter Review in San Francisco.
He toured the nation with Buster Keaton in Once Upon a Mattress, toured in On a Clear Day with Howard Keel and Karen Black — stopping the show in singing Wait `Til We’re Sixty Five. He starred in a London production of Divorce Me Darling and played Will Rogers’ father Clem in The Will Rogers Follies on Long Island.
Meanwhile, he started writing musicals. Two of his musicals, That Hat and Glorious Age, were produced Off-Broadway. He also wrote Draw Me a Circle, which was featured in the Barbara Streisand Third Album. Streisand also opened a TV special with that song.
In 1975, Young and Manning moved to Los Angeles, where he wrote 40 radio plays, two television situation comedies, scripts for animation and three children’s musicals, including Aesop’s Fables. He also suffered through the frustration of delays and rejections while working on the side, as most playwrights do. He was a segment producer for F. Lee Bailey on Lie Detector, a national television show.
Young and Manning returned to New York in 1984 and wrote musicals such as The Sloth and Jump, I’ll Catch You, which were published by Samuel French along with the earlier James Skipworth. He worked with the New York Public Schools in the production of his Aesop’s Fables.
That play also received generous reviews as “charming and delightful chockfull of moral lessons” in 1990, when it was presented by the Children’s Theater at the City Arts Center. Young also has rewritten it into 60 segments for television, hoping for a future production.
Now, we have an opportunity to see the fruits of Young’s personal 50-year crusade to succeed in Crusade at OCU. Like the “other” Cy Young, he’s a winner, and he has brought his talents to Oklahoma City.
2001 Copyright
All rights Reserved

Program Notes by Conductor Robert Radmer

Cy Young’s stage work, The Children’s Crusade, reflects both his many years of professional experience in the American theater and his desire to protect children everywhere from the various predations of society. The work encompasses emotional states ranging from pure youthful innocence to the heartbreaking parental longing for a lost child.  Young’s use of his musical forces is imaginative, varying between the powerful and the tender, the simple and the profound. The selections today represent only about a sixth of the complete theatrical production, and the listener can imagine what a full-scale performance would be like. Although the entire piece has been on stage once before, only a piano presented Young’s emotionally powerful instrumental score to the listener. The BCO is honored to bring this rich, varied and imaginative orchestration to light.

Letter from Conductor Robert Radmer

Cy – It was a great adventure preparing and performing your piece. We had a very nice crowd, and everyone loved it. The ovation it received was quite spectacular. I have not heard from anyone since the concert, but folks there were overflowing with praise and admiration for bringing Crusade to them. Congratulations!

I’ll tell the players of your appreciation of their work. We’ll keep in touch about what the future might hold.

All the best,

Rob

Letter from Libby Bryer

Dear Cy,

Your program and music is wonderful. I was delighted with it all and the audience.

I do hope we can feature you again in the future.

I handed your friend a stack of programs. If you’d like more, please let me know. I can send you the template for printing or copy some to mail. Just let me know.

Thank you very much for sharing your wonderful talents. I got such a kick out of reading your bio. I encouraged everyone to go online and learn more about your illustrious career. What a great life!

My best to you and Jane.

Libby

Letter from Christine Bowen

Hey Cy,

I was rushed earlier and didn’t gush over June as I intended. She actually made me cry with her performance as mother. Her voice and presence are amazing! I loved hearing you sing too, you still got it ;D The kiddos were cute and very impressive as sopranos. Over all I am excited to see more! Warm Regards,

Christine Bowen

Letter from Chuck Lupher

On Sunday Jan 24th about 25% of the “Children’s Crusade” was performed in the Saint Matthew’s Church in Austin, Texas.

The musical was an extraordinarily emotional sometimes tearful performance. A very profound story line.

It’s easy to love a children’s chorus. What stood out was the emotional performance by June Jilian soprano soloist representing the grieving mothers. The death scene was devastating and the actor playing Death was terrifying. And the biggest surprise that additionally stood out was the quality of the music – right music composed for the right emotions – with depth not heard in many musicals. Story line, music, chorus, soloists, musicians, one actor, all came together for an exceptional musical; I would love attending the entire performance and having the entire “Children’s Crusade” CD.”

Chuck Lupher

Letter from Sheldon Harnick, Pultizer Prize and two-time Tony Award Winner

I think The Childrens’ Crusade is an effective theater piece and I think you’ve written a fine score. I don’t know who did your orchestrations, but the two orchestrations on the recording are first rate. (Cy orchestrated one of these pieces.) Also you have effectively set your lyrics to music. I wish you the best of luck with The Children’s Crusade!

Sheldon Harnick