It is probably obvious that I consider myself a big fan of musicals. But even with my lifelong enthusiasm for all things Broadway, the occasional gem slips through the cracks. Tovarich is one such gem.
I chose this show using a random number generator and when I first saw the name I assumed it would be a “get it over with” selection. While I had never hear of Tovarich or any of the songs in it, what I had heard of was its female lead: Vivien Leigh, best know for playing Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. She was the first thing I got excited for, but not the last.
Tovarich was first a play, then a movie, and finally opened as a Broadway musical on March 18, 1963. It is the story of an aristocratic Russian couple living in exile after the revolution. To avoid being spied on, they take a job as servants to an American couple but are soon recognized by some of their old Russian friends. It’s a comedy with music by Lee Pockriss and lyrics by Anne Crosswell. The original production ran for less than a year and has never been revived on Broadway.
Let me tell you, that last fact is an injustice.
The songs, while maybe not recipes for smash hits, are catchy and fun. The performances are solid even with the cheesy accents and I found myself dancing around the kitchen a few times (which, let’s be honest, is the real metric for success here).
From the very first notes of the overture, we are met with Russian influence. “Nitchevo,” a song that consists of a series of lamentations about nobles’ lives after the revolution, actually sounds like it could be a Russian folk song. From there, I am led through catchy tune after catchy tune, many which would feel perfectly at home in any Gershwin or Cole Porter musical. These include “Stuck with Each Other,” “You Love Me,” and Uh-Oh!” The last song on the album is the very cute “All for You,” which deserves to be performed at a lot more piano bars than I suspect it is.
My favorite song in the show is “I Go to Bed.” After being asked what he will do if he is forced to find work, the lead male character, Mikail, answers with the lyrics “I go to bed/and pull the covers up around my head/I close my eyes and float away/and if a problem needs facing/I face the other way.” It’s both funny and relatable.
My biggest curiosity when I started this cast album was Leigh’s performance. She’s marvelous, but so is the rest of the cast and they shouldn’t be overlooked in favor of her immortal star power. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by Tovarich. However, one should not be surprised by how catchy its songs are. After all, Pockriss co-wrote “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini,” which is almost as impossible to get out of your head as half the songs in this unfairly neglected show.
Music by Lee Pockriss
Lyrics by Anne Crosswell
Opening Performance: March 18, 1963, New York City
Cast Album I Listened To: 1963 Original Broadway Cast
Highlights: “I Go to Bed,” “Nitchevo,” “You Love Me,” “Uh-Oh!,” “All for You”
Overall Impression: I really enjoyed this album! The songs are catchy and fun. It would be interesting to see it revived.