Gretchen Cryer Clive Barnes - Essay

Clive Barnes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[To] tell you the truth social significance is dear to my heart. But then so are songs, and I take the perhaps old-fashioned attitude that the first duty of a musical is to be musical…. I am writing about "Now Is the Time for All Good Men."… The news is not exactly good.

[The show] was terrible….

[Perhaps] if the book had been stronger … the musical would have been more compelling. Oddly enough, the ideas behind the musical are good—this is where the social significance comes in. For a teacher, who has served jail for refusing to kill in Vietnam, comes to a high school in the wilds of Indiana and teaches the kids about Thoreau and civil disobedience. I warmed to him, and to the young widow he wooed with hard words and high ideals.

Yet characters are not plays any more than kind words are speeches, and the situation with its melodramatic killing of the hero at the end ("West Side Story," what have you done to us down here?) is only superficially developed. It is all too much like "The Music Man" with angst, for comfort. As a result, with its conventional attitudes being paraded like toy soldiers, its sentiments crack into sentimentality.

Once in a while a line emerges to give the flavor of this Bloomdale, Indiana ("a town for the old in heart," as someone says), and when the line comes up the cast clings to it for dear life. I was glad, for instance, to hear about the "woman who saved all her life to go to Europe and there died of pneumonia." But such country-wise perceptions were almost totally obscured by the story's general drift and the music's general drizzle.

Clive Barnes, "Theater: Social Significance to Music," in The New York Times (© 1967 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 27, 1967, p. 42.