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.
Self-presented at the West End Theatre at the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew,
263 W. 86th St., NYC.
Jan. 19-29. Tue.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.