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Among the most curious curiosities about the 2014-2015 Broadway season — and there have been many — are the unusual titles of several of the most celebrated productions.
Here’s a look at how three shows, which are nominated for top honors, wound up with titles that are unusually verbose (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), multi-part (Wolf Hall: Parts 1 & 2) or exclamatory (Something Rotten!).
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
This best-play nominee with a 10-word title — which is competing against shows with titles running one, three and five words, respectively — was adapted from Mark Haddon‘s 2003 best-selling mystery novel of the same name. It, in turn, derived its title from an exchange in Silver Blaze, one of the 12 short stories about fictional detective Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that collectively comprise his 1892 book The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.
Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”
It’s certainly a nice homage from a contemporary mystery to a Victorian one, but a lot to fit on a Broadway marquee — indeed, it takes up four or five separate lines, depending on how you count them, on a giant board outside of the Barrymore Theatre. Even so, awards voters on both sides of the Atlantic have managed to remember it just fine.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise, in light of the fact that a show with a title more than twice as long previously won the best-play Tony: The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (1966). For those of you counting at home, that’s 151 letters, 26 words and 44 syllables. (It was widely known as Marat/Sade, just as many refer to this year’s favorite as The Curious Incident.)
There have been a number of other Broadway shows over the years with titles that can only be recited with water breaks. Among them: Oh Dad, Poor Dad — Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad (1963), For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf (1976), Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (1972), The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd (1965) and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962).
On the other end of the spectrum, the Tony winner with the shortest title consisted of only two letters: Da (1978).
Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two
The Hollywood model of creating multi-part “franchises” — whereby studios churn out sequels to successful films in the hope that the same people who showed up for the original will return every year or two for subsequent installments — started during the silent era and continues to this day with The Avengers. It has almost never been replicated on Broadway, in the sense of telling directly-related stories in different years — although one time when it was, with Tony Kushner‘s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches (1993) and Angels in America: Perestroika (1994), it resulted in back-to-back best-play Tony wins.
What happens on Broadway more often, although far from frequently, is that an epic story is told in multiple parts, which are made available to theatergoers simultaneously. For example, there was David Edgar‘s The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, a two-parter running a collective eight-and-a-half hours, which won the best-play Tony in 1982. This year, Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two — adaptations of Hilary Mantel‘s award-winning historical novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies — follows in the same tradition.
Tickets for these two shows about Thomas Cromwell‘s rise to power — which have been collectively nominated for the best-play Tony — can be bought separately or together. Each part runs for two hours-and-45 minutes, including intermission, and while one can be enjoyed without the other (as is offered on Thursday and Friday nights), they are most impressive when seen on the same day in the prescribed order (offered on Saturdays and Sundays), rather than the reverse order (offered on Wednesdays), even if it does demand a five-and-a-half hour commitment.
Remarkably, this is neither the longest nor most multi-part Broadway show in which Ben Miles, Wolf Hall‘s Cromwell, has starred. Six years ago, he was part of Alan Ayckbourn‘s three-parter The Norman Conquests (the installment subtitles were Round and Round the Garden, Table Manners and Living Together), comedies — revolving around the same characters — that were first performed on Broadway in 1975. In 2009, one could see all three shows performed back-to-back-to-back on Saturdays, a six-hour-and-45-minute commitment.
The only other three-parter to make it to Broadway, as best I can tell, was Tom Stoppard‘s 2007 best-play Tony winner The Coast of Utopia, the installments of which — subtitled Voyage, Shipwreck and Salvage — opened months apart. Another best-play Tony winner, Harvey Fierstein‘s Torch Song Trilogy (1983), is actually one big three-act play, not three separate plays as its title would suggest (though it was originally written and performed that way Off Off Broadway).
As for Wolf Hall, there may yet be a third part: Mantel has indicated that her next novel, The Mirror and the Light, will serve as the completion of a Cromwell trilogy.
Talk to any English instructor today and you will almost always hear grousing about the propensity of today’s young people to overuse exclamation marks. To what is this attributable? Perhaps the popularization of instant messaging, text messaging and social media, all of which demand pithy but emotional postings — or perhaps the influence of Broadway, which was using exclamation marks of debatable necessity long before the Internet and smartphones were ever even imagined.
Indeed, IBDB.com identifies 218 Broadway shows with titles that included exclamation marks going back some 165 years and continuing right through this year’s best musical Tony nominee Something Rotten! — which follows in the footsteps of 1964’s Something More! — and the forthcoming Gloria Estefan jukebox musical On Your Feet!.
Some of these titles feature two (1850’s She’s Come! Jenny’s Come!, 1857’s Columbus El Filibustero!!, 1907’s Hip! Hip! Hooray!, 1912’s Oh! Oh! Delphine, 1915’s Hip! Hip! Hooray!, 1918’s Biff! Bang! and Oh, Lady! Lady! and Tiger! Tiger!, 1953’s Oh, Men! Oh, Women!, 1965’s Drat! The Cat!, 1969’s Oh! Calcutta! and 1972’s Children! Children! and Vivat! Vivat Regina!), three (1915’s Stop! Look! Listen!, 1921’s Biff! Bing! Bang! and 1995’s Love! Valour! Compassion!) and four exclamation marks (1928’s Hello Yourself!!!!). One features an astounding six (1904’s Piff! Paff!! Pouff!!!). Also of note: 20 begin with the word “Oh.”
The most celebrated show with an exclamation mark prior to the first Tonys ceremony in 1947 was Oklahoma! (1943). In the Tonys era, there have now been 14 best-musical nominees that featured at least one exclamation point: Oh, Captain (1958), winner Fiorello! (1960), Carnival! (1962), Oliver! (1963), winner Hello, Dolly! (1964), Oh, What a Lovely War! (1965), I Do! I Do! (1967), winner Hallelujah, Baby! (1968), Over Here! (1974), Sarafina! (1988), Swing! (2000), Mamma Mia! (2002), Fela! (2010) and Something Rotten! (2015). And the same is true of three best play nominees: Philadelphia, Here I Come! (1966), Vivat! Vivat Regina! (1972) and the aforementioned Love! Valour! Compassion!.
Why have exclamation marks thrived on Broadway? Because, it seems to me, they connote urgency, excitement and razzle-dazzle, things that the Great White Way’s showmen and hypemasters apparently always realized appeal to the general public, even when they are used inappropriately (1937’s Hooray For What!) or unnecessarily (1975’s P. S. Your Cat Is Dead!).
Think about it: If forced to pick between two unfamiliar shows, one with an exclamation mark in its title and the other without one, which would you choose? Toldja!
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