Cass Elliot & The Musical Theater Connection
It was musical theater that prompted Cass Elliot to
pursue an entertainment career.
And the connection with musical theater was evident
throughout her career. Only
imagination can offer us a glimpse at what might have been.
Always interested in performing, and growing up in a home filled with
music—particularly opera-- Cass decided that a show business
career was for her after she acted in a summer stock
production of The Boyfriend in 1959. Dropping out of
high school two weeks shy of graduation, she trekked to
Cass' affinity for musical theater and show songs
manifested itself throughout her career. With The Big 3,
she recorded “Another Autumn” from “Paint Your Wagon”
but the track was scrapped and never released.
During Cass’ tenure with The Mamas and The Papas,
some of their standout tracks are those Rodgers and Hart tunes
which John Phillips' arrangement and Cass' vocal treatment
gave a new turn. "Sing For Your Supper,"
"Glad To Be Unhappy," "My Heart Stood
Still" and "Here In My Arms" (television only)
all bear the earmarks of Cass' special love for show music.
This is evident in the group's 1966 performances of all these
songs on the hit television special RODGERS AND HART TODAY,
broadcast in March 1967.
Cass' turn with old tunes truly proved itself
in her mastery with the standard, "Dream A Little Dream
of Me" which served as the embarkation point for her own
solo career in 1968. While not strictly a show tune,
this song came out of the same genre as theater music and Cass
was nothing but tastefully theatrical in her audio and
television performances of the melody.
About the same time “Dream…” was recorded, Cass produced a single
by the standard singer, Roberta Sherwood, a headlining torch
singer and entertainer, who had performed with the likes of Mickey Rooney, Don Rickles, Joey Bishop and Milton Berle.
Cass’ first special in 1969 had its own Broadway
vaudevillian Buddy Hackett (“The Music Man,” I Had a
Ball”) was one of Cass’ guests, and they joined Barbara
Bain and Martin Landau in a performance of “Meeskite” from
the Tony award winning musical “Cabaret” during the show.
In fall 1969, she talked to London’s Record Mirror,
about her “upcoming project” as a lead in a stage
musical. “If the
money is forthcoming, I’ll be doing it. It’s called ‘The
Yellow Drum’ and it’s a great play from a Truman Capote
short story, ‘The Grass Harp’ and in it I’ll be playing
Babylove, who has six illegitimate children by six different
fathers, and she’s a traveling evangelist, trying to earn
just enough to keep her children alive.”
play did hit Broadway two
years later, and Karen Morrow filled the part, but listening
to the cast recording now, one can only imagine what Cass
would have done with the part.
theatricality demonstrated itself in 1970 in her “Special
Star” role in the feature film “Pufnstuf” in which
performed the song “Different.”
This anthem of individuality fit Cass and contributed
to the sense of the movie’s “musical” characteristics.
same year, she appeared in a tremendous tribute to Broadway
legend Richard Rodgers at the Hollywood Bowl, singing “My
Favorite Things,” from “The Sound of Music” with Johnny
1972, she and
spoke again of doing musical theater in the Spring of 1973
when she told Skitch Henderson she would play the Ethel Merman
part of Reno Sweeney in a traveling company of Anything Goes.
But this never materialized.
did materialize was the central character in an hour-long
special tribute to Harold Arlen (Get Happy-A Tribute to Harold
Arlen) in which she sang such musical theater mainstays as
“The Man That Got Away” (with Diahann Carroll) and “Over
September 1973, Cass enjoyed starring in her second prime time
special, “Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore.”
The opening number was an adaptation of
“Extraordinary” from the musical “Pippin.”
Cass was joined on her special by musical theater
performers, Joel Grey (“Cabaret”), Dick Van Dyke (“Bye
Bye Birdie”), and Mary McCarty (“Chicago,” “Irene,”
“Follies,” “Miss Liberty”).
the final year of her life, Cass prepared for the ultimate
stage experience in Britain with concerts at the legendary Palladium Theater in central
Copyright © 2004 - Richard Barton Campbell. All Rights Reserved.