Fiorello!Fiorello! is a musical about New York City mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, a reform Republican, which debuted on Broadway in 1959, and tells the story of how LaGuardia took on the Tammany Hall political machine. The book is by Jerome Weidman and George Abbott, drawn substantially from the 1955 volume Life with Fiorello by Ernest Cuneo, with lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and music by Jerry Bock. It is one of only ten musicals to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
ProductionsFiorello! opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre on November 23, 1959, moved to The Broadway Theatre on May 9, 1961, and closed on October 28, 1961, after 795 performances. It was directed by George Abbott, with choreography by Peter Gennaro. Tom Bosley originated the title role opposite Howard Da Silva as the Republican machine boss Ben Marino. The cast featured Ellen Hanley as Thea, Pat Stanley as Dora, Patricia Wilson as Marie, Nathaniel Frey as Morris, and Broadway's future Superman, Bob Holiday, as Neil.
The 1962 production opened at the New York City Center on June 13, and closed after 16 performances, on June 24, 1962. The show was directed by Jean Dalrymple, staged by Dania Krupska, choreography by Kevin Carlisle, scenery and lighting design by William and Jean Eckart, costume supervision by Joseph Codori, musically directed by Jay Blackton, and press by Lilliam Libman. The cast included Sorrell Booke (Fiorello LaGuardia), Art Lund (Ben Marino), Lola Fisher (Thea), Dody Goodman (Dora), Barbara Williams (Marie), Paul Lipson (Morris), Richard France (Neil), Dort Clark (Floyd), and Helen Verbit (Mrs. Pomerantz). One of the singing ensemble included Rosalind Cash.
A staged concert production of Fiorello! was performed at the first Encores! at the New York City Center concert series in February 1994. Directed by Walter Bobbie, the cast featured Jerry Zaks as LaGuardia, Philip Bosco as Ben Marino, Faith Prince as Marie, and Elizabeth Futral as Thea.
To celebrate the 20th season of the Encores! series, Fiorello! was presented by the New York City Center Encores! as a staged concert in January 2013. With direction by Gary Griffin and choreography by Alex Sanchez, the cast starred Danny Rutigliano as La Guardia, Shuler Hensley as Marino, Erin Dilly as Marie and Kate Baldwin as Thea. The production included a new Bock/Harnick song during Act II, as part of "The Name's La Guardia" reprise.
The Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG) production of Fiorello! opened Off-Broadway at the East 13th Street Theater on September 4, 2016. Directed by Bob Moss, it received mixed reviews and ran through October 7. The BTG production first ran at The Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge, Massachusetts in June and July 2016.
SynopsisThe story follows the life of Fiorello H. La Guardia during World War I and ten years later. As Mayor of New York City La Guardia reforms city politics by helping end Tammany Hall's vaunted political machine.
; Act I
Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia is reading the comics over the radio because there is a newspaper strike. As he does so, the time changes to 1915 and the law office where clients are eagerly waiting to speak to LaGuardia. His law clerks assure the crowd that he will help one and all, regardless of their ability to pay ("On the Side of the Angels"). Fiorello's secretary Marie and her friend Dora discuss a crisis. Thea Almerigatti, the leader of the women shirtwaist strikers, has been arrested. LaGuardia promises to help the strikers. As the district leader Ben and his political buddies play poker ("Politics and Poker"), Marie introduces LaGuardia as a potential Congressional candidate. They want to beat the corrupt machine of Tammany Hall.
While helping the women strikers, Fiorello asks Marie to dinner, but Thea, newly released from prison, arrives. She asks Fiorello to dinner to plan strategy, and he breaks his date with Marie. Marie feels foolish for caring while he cares so little ("Marie's Law").
Next year Fiorello is campaigning for Congress, and Thea introduces him. Fiorello promises to break the stranglehold of Tammany Hall ("The Name's LaGuardia!"). LaGuardia wins the election ("The Bum Won"). In another year, LaGuardia enlists in the Air Force and proposes to Thea. He and Marie say their farewells as he is about to leave for the war ("Till Tomorrow"). LaGuardia's participation in the war is presented as a series of montages, staged and on film. With the war over, Fiorello returns home ("Home Again"), with both Marie and Thea waiting for him. He goes to Thea, who has agreed to marriage. Morris, the office manager, comforts Marie.
; Act II
In 1929 LaGuardia runs for mayor of New York, after he and Thea are married. Thea, home from a visit to the doctor, exclaims her love ("When Did I Fall In Love"). At Dora and her husband Floyd's (who has retired from the police force) home, the corrupt backers of Jimmy Walker, Fiorello's competitor for mayor, meet. As one of the gang wants to have Fiorello killed at his public speech, Dora rushes to secretly warn Marie. However, Fiorello's campaign is in turmoil, with Ben being fired and his worry over Thea's deteriorating health. At LaGuardia's speech the gang's plan to kill him is foiled. But Thea dies, and Marie, Morris, and Neil have to tell Fiorello. The race for mayor is won by Jimmy Walker. Fiorello is inspired by tragedy to continue his campaign.
In 1933 Ben and his political friends are again playing poker ("Little Tin Box"). Marie arrives and announces that she is quitting her job and will marry "The Very Next Man" who asks her. She convinces Ben to return to Fiorello to help him win the upcoming mayoral election. She then helps Fiorello to overcome his fears of losing and run again. He runs with Ben's help, and also asks Marie to marry him. She accepts and Fiorello finally becomes the mayor.
Background and analysisThe musical contains several songs built around a group of machine politicians. In "Politics and Poker", Republican machine politicians try to pick a congressional candidate in a district they consider hopeless, while playing a game of poker, and compare politics to poker. The lyric is set to waltz tempo "to underscore the frivolity of their cynicism." In "The Bum Won", these same politicians commiserate with one another after LaGuardia has won the election without their support. In "Little Tin Box", they imagine a series of Tammany politicians attempting to explain to a judge that their wealth came from their scrupulous habits of saving ("I can see Your Honor doesn't pull his punches/ And it looks a trifle fishy, I'll admit,/ But for one whole week I went without my lunches/ And it mounted up, Your Honor, bit by bit./ Up Your Honor, bit by bit.")
In "I Love a Cop", woman factory worker describes her hapless situation of having fallen in love with a policeman who was called out against a strike by her union; "The Name's La Guardia" has LaGuardia campaigning in English, Italian and Yiddish. There is also a ragtime number, "Gentleman Jimmy" about bon vivant mayor James J. "Jimmy" Walker, and the comic "Marie's Law", in which Marie proposes a "law" about how husbands should treat their wives. ("Every girl shall have a honeymoon, which will last at least a year,/ During which aforesaid honeymoon, every care shall disappear…".)
Besides the invention of some peripheral characters, the musical changes some basic facts of LaGuardia's life. LaGuardia's first wife, Thea, died after only three years of marriage, but the fictional Thea lives another eight years, so that her death can be one more calamity during LaGuardia's unsuccessful 1929 mayoral campaign; also, the script downplays LaGuardia's generally successful congressional career to make him seem more of an outsider and increase the triumph of his eventual mayoral victory in 1933.
Songs; Act I
; Act II
Critical responseIn his review for The New York Times, Brooks Atkinson wrote: "...It is exciting; it is enjoyable and it is decent ... Jerry Bock has set ... a bouncy score ... [A]s the writer of lyrics, Sheldon Harnick is in an unfailingly humorous frame of mind ... [U]nder Mr. Abbott's invincible stage direction, the whole show comes alive with gusto ... [T]he cast could not be more winning or in better voice."
Louis Calta wrote: " 'Fiorello!' is the town's latest stage hit ... the attraction earned flowery praise from all of the New York drama critics."