Skip to main content

On Saturday (Feb 2, 2013) my sweetie and I went to see the musical
"Fiorello" at the New York City Center "Encores" presentation.  This
was my second time seeing it: the first time was in May, 1961, when I
saw Tom Bosley (better known to the public as "Howard Cunningham" on
"Happy Days") play the late New York mayor.  At that time LaGuardia
had been mayor only 15 years before (before my time), and it seemed
like most of the audience were fans.  I do remember the spontaneous
applause that came from the audience when a picture of FDR was shown
in a newsreel on the stage.

Fiorello is a theatricalized biography of mayor LaGuardia.  It was so good, that it was only one of eight musicals to win the Pulitzer prize for drama.  And, speaking of ovations, the night that we saw it they had a special guest star, with a small walk-on part -- Barney Frank. When he made his entrance there was a minute and a half sustained cheer and applause.

The reason that I'm writing about it here, is that there is lots of nitty-gritty stuff about politics.  The musical starts (after a brief recollection of when Fiorello (played by Danny Rutigliano) reads the comics over municipal station WNYC during an extended newspaper strike).  Fiorello ("the little flower") LaGuardia is shown as an idealistic young lawyer whose mission in life is to help the poor and downtrodden: "On the side of the angels".  Interestingly enough (my how times have changed) he was a Republican!  He's shown in the next scene teaching young women the right way to picket their money-grubbing boss on a strike against the Nifty shirtwaist factory

The Democratic political machine, Tammany Hall, is as corrupt as they come, and is using the local police to quash the strike.  However, Fiorello, and the young strikers prevail.  But one of the strikers, Dora (played by a wonderful Jenn Gambatese) unaccountably falls in love the policeman Floyd (Jeremy Bobb) who later becomes a Tammany operative.

But the next scene is one that that Kossacks should like: at the "Ben Marino Republican Club", the local Republican leaders have the unenviable task of picking a candidate for Congress in the 14th district, where no Republican has ever won.  They need "Some qualified Republican who's willing to lose".  All the guys but Ben (who was played in the original by Howard Da Silva -- a victim of the McCarthy inspired blacklist, but here is played by a great Shuler Hensley) would rather play poker

LaGuardia bursts in and demands that they run him.  They figure that they've found a convenient sacrificial lamb, and accept.  Much to their utter amazement he wins -- after some rousing campaign rallies

-- after campaigning as a progressive reformer (this is 1918),

-- "God forbid independent".

Once in congress, he's confronted by a a senior senator (played by Barney Frank) who takes him to task for violating the unwritten rule that freshman representatives not give speeches on the floor of Congress (this got a sustained laugh from the audience).  LaGuardia has pushed a draft (conscription into the Army) as being the only fair and equitable way to get soldiers for the upcomming war with Germany, volunteers himself and goes overseas.

In the meantime he's courting Thea (played by Kate Baldwin) -- a refugee from Trieste -- a young model that he met at shirtwaist strike (much to the chagrin of his long suffering secretary Marie (played by Erin Dilly), who's been deeply in love with him for years).  He promises her that he will liberate Trieste from the Austrians, which he does!  After he comes home they marry.

Now go forward ten years -- LaGuardia has returned to his law practice (in fact, though he returned to Congress, but this isn't mentioned) and he and Thea are very happy.  But Fiorello hates corruption, and runs as the Republican candidate for mayor against "Gentleman Jimmy Walker" (sung by Emily Skinner playing a fictional Broadway star Mitzi Travers)
and the corrupt Tammany machine.  There's a scene in which some Tammany leaders conspire with a local mob boss to have LaGuardia killed at one of his rallies a week before the election.  The scheme is foiled, but Fiorello is called away to find that his wife has died.  It wasn't stated in the musical, but according to Wikipedia, she died of
Tuberculosis.  But he loses in a landslide.  However Walker's administration was so corrupt that judicial investigations convicted many of the officials, and Walker himself resigned after two years and fled to Europe with his mistress (not stated in the musical) to avoid indictment.  The hearings are portrayed in the funniest song in the show -- "Little Tin Box"

For the next election, Fiorello bounces back, and even will take advice from the Republican organization in the person of Ben Marino, and is elected for the first of three terms.  At the end he finally proposes to his secretary, who has been nursing her love for him for years, but after she has seemingly given up on him ("The Very Next

In all it was a wonderful night at the theater.  All of the performers were topnotch.  As was pointed out by the Times critic Ben Brantley, Erin Dilly, Jenn Gambetese and Emily Skinner are all Broadway stars but here were happy to portray supporting roles. And it was also an occasion for me to learn what an incredible mayor LaGuardia was -- during his three terms he not only crushed the power of an old political machine -- Tammany Hall -- he started projects that built roads -- the West side highway, FDR drive, battery tunnel, and took over the last of the private subway firms -- the IRT.  And of course, there's LaGuardia airport (which was a small field called Floyd Bennet field before he
made it into a major airport).  He also instituted countless progressive programs.

When I first saw the musical in 1961 there were still many progressive Republicans in New York City.  Of course that branch of the party has been long extinct.

Originally posted to Bourbaki on Mon Feb 04, 2013 at 06:49 PM PST.

Also republished by DKOMA.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marykk, gizmo59, Batya the Toon, ARS, kurt

    There are no solved problems; there are only problems that are more or less solved. Henri Poincare

    by Bourbaki on Mon Feb 04, 2013 at 06:49:32 PM PST

  •  Great ! (0+ / 0-)

    This was the first play I was ever in ("Lady Striker#1) and i still love it.  Thanks.

    If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

    by marykk on Mon Feb 04, 2013 at 06:58:32 PM PST

  •  My dad used to sing fragments of that show (0+ / 0-)

    all the time.  (Probably still does, but he's moved away and isn't singing them to me anymore.  Sigh.)

    Just last week I found the original cast recording, and listened to the songs that were his favorites -- "Politics and Poker" and "The Bum Won" -- and sang along to the bits I remember.

    Someday I would love to see that show in its entirety.

  •  I remember doing a study on him and CLayton Powel (0+ / 0-)

    something liek" From Different Liberal Perspectives" as LaGuardia was considered a liberal. Being half Jewish, he was also seen as a force that helped ally these two ethnic groups, both of which suffered heavily in the shirtwaist fire. What happened to the Republican party? Where is Teddy R? Jacob Javits?

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site