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A Critical Look at the Original 1964 Production

If the original Broadway production of What Makes Sammy Run? seems little more than a footnote in musical theatre history, it is an undeserved fate. Like other "lost musicals" before it – Lady In The Dark, She Loves Me, Do Re Mi – all it needs is a worthy revival to restore it to the repertory. Unfortunately, the superb Original Cast Album on Columbia Records had been out of print for decades, limiting the potential for such a rediscovery.

What Makes Sammy Run? had hit potential right from the start. Based on Budd Schulberg’s fabulously successful 1941 novel, the story had already been dramatized twice on television and the name Sammy Glick had entered the lexicon as a synonym for a certain type of back-stabbing hustler. During its month of previews in New York, the show did astonishing business – performing well early in the week and giving standing-room-only performances on weekends with no discount tickets. Even after a series of mixed reviews, the show continued to draw audiences for the next sixteen months. Unfortunately, the failure of the show to recoup its initial investment – the true "test" of a musical’s success – relegated Sammy to the status of "flop." Had a successful tour been mounted, it might have overcome that stigma, but following a series of regional productions, mostly in theatres-in-the-round, the show was pretty much forgotten.

The 1964 production of What Makes Sammy Run? was clearly a missed opportunity. The story and characters were in place, and Ervin Drake’s score contained some of the best theatre music of the period. What went wrong?

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