My choice for today’s “Forgotten Musicals Friday” is a musical that, for no obvious reason, captured my imagination: The Yearling. It has no commercial recording and even though Barbra Streisand was a champion of the score in the early years of her career, one doesn’t really read much about the show in general. Nonetheless, The Yearling is a musical that pops into my head every now and then, so I thought it was time to dedicate a column to it.
Based on The Yearling by Marjorie Kennan Rawlings, the show had a book and lyrics by Herbert Martin and music by Michael Leonard. Martin shared credit for the book with show’s producer, Lore Noto. The original Broadway production of The Yearling opened on 10 December 1965, with the show’s closing for it’s 3-performance run already having been announced. It was directed by Lloyd Richards, with choreography by Ralph Beaumont. Some think that perhaps with a better director, the show itself will have been better; others tell tales of how the show ran out of money and couldn’t afford to run long enough to catch on with audiences. Both stories seem like reasonably valid options.
At the heart of The Yearling is a a twelve-year old boy named Jody, who lives with his struggling family. His parents, Penny and Ora, face their hardships as best they can, even though at the top of the show things are looking particularly difficult for them with a a bear having killed their sow. Jody longs for a pet deer and circumstances eventually line up so that he is able to raise a motherless fawn. A year later, when the fawn eats the family’s new crops, Jody is fold to kill the yearling, an order that brings about the climax of the show.
When asked, people who saw the show will tell you they liked the score, which I’ve heard described as both lovely, pleasant and even well-crafted. Some complain that the score doesn’t reflect its rural 1870s setting well, but many musicals evoking milieu by filtering songs in popular contemporary forms through arrangements and orchestrations. Maybe, if The Yearling were ever staged in a high profile production again, that might be a fixable problem. A score that features a song that Stephen Sondheim listed as a song he wishes he had written can’t be all bad. If you’re keen to have a listen to that little gem from this score, scroll down to the YouTube playlist at the end of this post, where you can hear it performed in versions by Streisand and, in an even jazzier version, by Greta Matassa. Neither arrangement really reflects the setting of the show, but as neither is being presented in the context of the show itself, I suppose we can’t be too concerned by that here.
My favourite song from the score is one that has become something of a standard, “Why Did I Choose You?”. Although some might try and direct you to Barbara Cook’s performance of the song in concert, for me it doesn’t get better than Streisand singing the song in her first television special. (Both, as well as several other versions of the song are featured in the YouTube playlist below.)
Although there have been rumours flying around the Internet for some time about a full recording of the show being made, the only easy way to hear these songs is in versions recorded by artists who were moved enough by the material to interpret them on their own recordings. Every now and then, a song also turns up on a compilation album like Unsung Musicals II (which includes “Everything in the World I Love”). While there is a live recording done by the producers for a private LP pressing as well as a recording of several songs from the show done for a radio show, these aren’t readily available for ordinary folk like me to hear.
Getting back to the show, those same people who praise the score will also tell you that the book was flawed, even dull, and that, perhaps, the material was not suitable for (what they think should be a good premise for) a musical. I’m more likely to give credence to that former point than to the latter; the musical is such a versatile medium, even more so these days than in the past. Maybe in a post-War Horse world, there’s merit in seeing if the show can be done without a live deer, as in the original production. It might be the key to telling the story in an evocative, contemporary manner that makes the piece compelling in a way that perhaps it wasn’t in 1965.
Keen to share any thoughts or memories about The Yearling? Head to the comment box below. I’d love to hear them!
My dad, Lore Noto produced The Yearling. The show was undoubtedly extraordinary — an absolutely wonderful show, in all aspects. The audience was ecstatic. I was there witnessing it during all performances, including previews. Funny thing is, the critics panned the show. The critics at that time believed shows should be “with it” and “cutting edge” during the onstage sexual revolution. Let my People Come and Oh Calcutta were drawing crowds. A wholesome musical was not in style and did not come back in vogue until Annie. Everyone was dying for a family musical by then. Bad timing, bad luck were the reasons for the show’s demise. Just ask anyone who had seen it. There may be a few of us out there. Janice Noto-Helmers
It was pointed out to me that the plays I mentioned had not yet opened! Strange, that I have it remembered wrongly. Here is the list of Broadway plays that were on in 1965:
A Race of Hairy Men!
A Very Rich Woman
All in Good Time
And Things That Go Bump in the Night
Catch Me if You Can
Do I Hear a Waltz?
Drat! The Cat!
Entertaining Mr. Sloane
Flora, the Red Menace
Guys and Dolls
Half a Sixpence
Hot September (Closed on Road)
Ken Murray’s Hollywood
La Grosse Valise
Love is a Ball! (Closed on Road)
Man of La Mancha
Maurice Chevalier at 77
Me and Thee
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
Pleasures and Palaces (Closed on Road)
The Amen Corner
The Country Wife
The Family Way
The Glass Menagerie
The Impossible Years
The Odd Couple
The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade
The Right Honourable Gentleman
The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd
The Royal Hunt of the Sun
The World of Charles Aznavour
The Zulu and the Zayda
This was Burlesque
Xmas in Las Vegas
You Can’t Take It With You
What a wonderful response, from someone who was lucky enough to see it all first-hand. As I said, I have a really soft spot for this show and enjoy the songs I have heard. I’d love to see it make a comeback in one way or another.
The Yearling was performed in 1965, right? If so, that was several years before either Let My People Come or Oh! Calcutta! In any case, I hope someone considers at minimum a semi-staged reading of The Yearling.
Since family members were involved in the movie production, I was thrilled to read and hear about the play. Thank you so much for bringing attention to this stunning novel about early Florida Cracker life. The Yearling is a part of my DNA! I’m delighted to hear the scores! Forever grateful, Kathy Walkup
Kathy – Thanks so much for your message. If there is nothing else I have learned from this post, it is how much the novel, film and stage production of THE YEARLING meant to people. As a musical theatre fan, I’d love to see the stage show in particular rediscovered and embraced more widely!
I just finished reading The Yearling and I was absolutely enamored by the story and pushed towards the verge of tears at the heartbreaking end. Coincidentally, I’m also a fan of Broadway musicals, so imagine my pure and utter delight upon discovering that there was a musical of The Yearling. Is the playlist you’ve compiled the only known songs of the musical available? That’s such a shame. Looks like I can only imagine how such a show would have played out.
The Yearling is also one of my very favorite Broadway scores, though I never saw the show. I just published a post called, The Lost Ballads of Broadway, and I’ve included some information about The Yearling, especially about a song you may never have heard of called, Everything Beautiful.
Sadly, there’s no recording of the song I can link to.
Here’s a link to my post: https://normanmathewsauthor.com/the-lost-ballads-of-broadway/
Thanks. Norman Mathews
Not only is the 1946 film, The Yearling, one of my favorite movies, I’ve loved the songs in the musical since I heard some of them on Barbra Streisand’s early record album, (AND I own a first-edition copy of the 1938 novel with illustrations by N.C Wyeth done in 1939). I found a compilation of the songs in a piano book decades ago and have played those songs endlessly on the piano. When my beloved father died in 2012, I spoke at his funeral and recited the poignant lyrics to, “My Pa” from the musical. Those words fit my father to a T.
Ms. Noto-Helmers, you don’t by any chance have access to that unreleased recording of the show, do you? I am a 16-year old all-around musical theatre fanatic and (attempted) composer, and the amount of time I have spent trying to track down this show is almost ridiculous.
William, I don’t have the unreleased recording to The Yearling, though I have heard the recording when I temporarily sublet an apartment from one of the rehearsal pianists on the show. I do, however, have a lead sheet of one of the unpublished songs, Everything Beautiful. I could send you a free PDF copy if you email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
sorry, I just saw your question this morning.
I am in the process of clearing out the home of my family and just found a 78 recording of the musical my father produced–The Yearlng and the record is titled, “The Clearing” (ironic title!). I will be playing it and let you know what is on this record (although, not ready to set up my record player yet). So glad you are interested. Please feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
Happy New Year, Janice Noto-Helmers
I thought it was very fun to see there are other people interested in this musical since it was such a notorious flop. I have been a fan/collector of all things ‘The Yearling’ (book, movie, musical, etc.) for at least 45 years as a sort of personal obsession. While the majority of hundreds and hundreds of items I own are related to the movie and book, I have still come across items related to the musical, too, a few that are quite rare. I do have the unreleased recording of the songs from the pirate LP plus radio performances and other recordings (23 tracks in all on CD) and I have the complete ‘book’ of the play published by The Dramatic Publishing Company in MCMLXXIII. Additionally, many people don’t know that the musical was performed again at the Theater Of The Stars, 33rd Season 1985, in Atlanta, Georgia. The lead adult role of Penny Baxter (Pa) was performed by John Cullum in that production. I have the theater magazine / program from that show, and, MORE AMAZINGLY, I have a unique VIDEO TAPE RECORDING of the ENTIRE show that I purchased on eBay many years ago. This ‘unofficial’ recording was crudely shot from a balcony location with a very shaky camera, but it is in color and has clear enough audio. I believe that it was the original VHS tape and not a copy that I bought. I have used modern video stabilization software to transfer it from my VHS tape to DVD/mp4 to make it more watchable. I may have the only visual record of this musical in existence. Kinda cool, isn’t it?
I enjoyed reading your post. I know of the production in Atlanta (which also starred D. Jamin Bartlett, who was in the original Broadway production of A Little Night Music) but have never seen or heard any of it. I’ve only ever been familiar with the music. You might be interested to know that the copy of the music I have for “Everything Beautiful” (for which I did a lead sheet arrangement) was recently inserted in Capital City Productions of the show in Missouri. They did a two-week run of the show.
Thanks for commenting. I had heard of the Capital City production after I posted. I hope another revival happens that I can attend. It is such a great story and deserves another chance to be shared.