REVIEWS

"The book is tight, witty, and the voice of Budd Schulberg is undeniable in it. The direction by Robert Armin is sure and rhythmically right, using the spare space without scenery with creative imagination." - Southampton Press

"Carl Anthony Tramon's climber in the current production is a smalltime punk determined to make good. His impassioned performance is well matched by Larry Daggett's solid Al Manheim, the playwright done dirt by his friend Sammy, and Moira Stone's assured Kit, the writer who falls hard for Sammy but loves Al. Kristin McLaughlin as a mogul's vampy daughter, Jeffrey Farber as a tragic studio exec, and Darron Cardosa as a nebbishy writer whose work is appropriated by Sammy are excellent, too... Based on this greatly revised chamber production, the property would seem to have a good deal to offer." - Backstage

"What makes this new version of the show exciting is the performance of Carl Anthony Tramon as the title character, Sammy Glick, Hollywood champion heel of all time. His transformation from uncouth copy boy to monstrous Hollywood mogul is an impressive acting feat...Musical aficionados should flock to see this Sammy before he runs! " - fredric48a, NYTimes.com

"This production of What Makes Sammy Run?—billed as a world premiere of a new version of the 1964 musical—clearly represents a labor of love for its director, adaptor, and principal instigator, Robert Armin." - nytheatre.com

"The scaling-down for this church-theater production hurts the show surprisingly little, thanks to clever dime-budget costumes by Joanne Haas and some intelligent double-casting that makes it seem like there are more than 10 actors in the company." - TheaterMania.com

"Armin's affection for the story shines through at every juncture." - TalkinBroadway.com

"Carl Anthony Tramon is the best, by far, of all the Sammy's I've seen, and I've seen them all." - Budd Schulberg

Backstage
(January 24, 2006)

What Makes Sammy Run?
By Harry Forbes

Talk to folks about the 1964 Broadway musical What Makes Sammy Run? and they speak of a guilty pleasure. It was not, by all accounts, one of the milestones of musical theatre. Nevertheless, based on this greatly revised chamber production, the property would seem to have a good deal to offer.

In its original form, Budd Schulberg's adaptation (with his brother Stuart) of his own scathing 1941 novel about New York copy boy Sammy Glick, who ruthlessly climbs the Hollywood ladder, ran a respectable 540 performances. Received wisdom says that only when star Steve Lawrence got bored and started ad-libbing and missing shows was the run curtailed.

In 1964, critics were divided as to whether Sammy was too soft or too unlikable. Though not monstrously evil, Carl Anthony Tramon's climber in the current production is a smalltime punk determined to make good. His impassioned performance is well matched by Larry Daggett's solid Al Manheim, the playwright done dirt by his friend Sammy, and Moira Stone's assured Kit, the writer who falls hard for Sammy but loves Al.

Kristin McLaughlin as a mogul's vampy daughter, Jeffrey Farber as a tragic studio exec, and Darron Cardosa as a nebbishy writer whose work is appropriated by Sammy are excellent, too.

In 2006, we get a cast of 10 and no production numbers. Director Robert Armin has revised the script, dropping characters but adding two others from the novel -- Rosalie Goldbaum and Billie Rand -- both played by a versatile Jessica Luck.

Even without a full-bodied orchestral sound, Ervin Drake's songs (decent tunes with sharp lyrics true to the milieu) land effectively under Richard Danley's musical direction. Drake has written four new ones (nearly all leaving a positive impression), revised lines for others, and restored a song cut from the original production.

Joanne Haas' costumes and Jeffrey E. Salzberg's lighting compensate for the lack of sets.

Based on this strong -- if modestly scaled -- staging, Armin's hoped-for fully realized mounting could be a winner.

Southampton Press
(February 2, 2006)

Sammy’s Back, with a Harder Edge
by Lee David

There he sits.  Ruddy-face, smiling, vigorous, taking notes.  Budd Schulberg, our local, resident literary great, the last survivor of the Golden Age of American Literature, the man who knew and talked with and argued with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald (with whom he worked, too), Sinclair Lewis, Edna Ferber, Irwin Shaw, William Saroyan, Nathanial West...

Last Sunday, yet another version of the novel that launched his literary career and alienated him from Hollywood, “What Makes Sammy Run,” finished a 10-day run on the second floor of a church on the corner of 86th Street and West End Avenue.  It was an extended backers’ audition for a new reworking of the 1964 musical version of “Sammy,” a 540-performance hit that year that was nevertheless dissatisfying to both Budd Schulberg and Ervin Drake, its composer/lyricist.  “It lacked the hard edge of the novel,” Mr. Drake told a reporter recently.

The new version is no longer lacking a hard edge.  It’s there, and then some.  Director (and publicist and press representative and, last Sunday, head usher) Robert Armin has, with Budd Schulberg, done a rewrite of the original libretto, tightening it, sharpening it, omitting characters and adding new ones, and accommodating four new songs by Ervin Drake.

And there it was last Sunday in its final performance of this run, exciting, hopeful, and searching for the wherewithal for a full production.  True, the first act is too long, and the new version takes a little too much time before it hits its stride, but once it gets there, it flies.  This is a parable not only for the 1930s, in which it’s set, but for our time, a time that seems to have lost its heart and whose moral compass is spinning as fast as a windmill in a windstorm.

Sure, Sammy is the supreme anti-hero, the social and career climber with no redeeming social or personal qualities.  He’s Pal Joey for the 21st century, as hard as rocks and as acquisitive as a Venus flytrap.  Joey made his mark in nightclubs, all well and good for the 1940s when John O’Hara and Rodgers and Hart put him on the stage.  Sammy does his dirt in Hollywood, just the place that 21st century audiences spend their money and their eyesight and their attention on.

And in the hands of Carl Anthony Tramon, who portrays Sammy in this 10-day tryout, he’s a constantly fascinating phenomenon -- a rat with charm, very much like Gene Kelly’s original Joey and Robert Morse’s J. Pierpont Finch in “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”  Only more so.

Supporting and surrounding him, the rest of the cast is dynamic and terrific.  Larry Daggett, a man with an astonishing voice, captures entire the tortured soul of Al Manheim, the first man Sammy uses in his climb to the top and the one who emerges taller than his tormentor.  And Moira Stone, as Kit Sargent, the Dorothy Parker style famous scriptwriter who is at first attracted to, then repelled by Sammy, is gloriously powerful, entrancingly beautiful and possessed of a gorgeous voice.

The songs by Ervin Drake have a fine Broadway sheen to them and are delivered with wise and sensitive interpretations, aided immensely by Jack Dyville’s musical staging and minimal choreography.  If there’s perhaps a little over-plentitude of songs, this is part of the process of honing a show into its final form.  And there are some undeniable gems, delivered brilliantly, particularly the new “Mother of All the Blues” sung transfixingly by Larry Daggett, “You’re No Good,” a plot advancing duet for Carl Anthony Tramon and Kristin McLaughlin as Laurette Harrington, Sammy’s match in evil, “A Room Without Windows,” the jukebox hit from the 1964 version, sung by Mr. Tramon and Moira Stone, and most delightfully, the absolute show-stopper and wonderfully satirical “Lights! Camera! Platitude!” sold to the rafters by Carl Anthony Tramon, Moira Stone and Larry Daggett.

The book is tight, witty, and the voice of Budd Schulberg is undeniable in it.  The direction by Robert Armin is sure and rhythmically right, using the spare space without scenery with creative imagination, the lighting design by Jeffrey E. Salzberg is a minor masterpiece of minimalism.  Joanne Haas’s costumes (except for a few lapses in fitting for Sammy and Al Manheim) are period perfect, and Richard Danley’s musical direction is on target.

All in all, then, it’s the sort of delight that contains undeniable and refreshing possibilities of a potential production.  And if anyone deserves the sort of ending these beginnings hope for, it’s the creators and cast that lit up a church’s stage last Sunday.

Sitting in an audience that included Jo Sullivan Loesser, Mrs. Byron Janis, and the ageless Joe Franklin, as well as a houseful of delighted civilians like me, I couldn’t help but sneak looks across the aisle at Budd and Ervin Drake.  The sum of their ages totals 176; the dapper and athletic Ervin Drake is 85; Budd is 91 and headed for 92 in two months.  Both were wreathed in smiles; both applauded everything with joyous vigor, both fairly leaped to the stage at the end of the performance to join in the accolades.

“You know what?” Budd confided to me after the show, “I like this better than the original.  Better.”

That speaks volumes.  Now, if only the right ears hear it, and agree.

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