Forgotten Musicals Friday: THE YEARLING


Artwork for THE YEARLING

My choice for today’s “Forgotten Musicals Friday” is a musical that, for no obvious reason, captured my imagination: The Yearling. It has no commercial recording and even though Barbra Streisand was a champion of the score in the early years of her career, one doesn’t really read much about the show in general. Nonetheless, The Yearling is a musical that pops into my head every now and then, so I thought it was time to dedicate a column to it.

Based on The Yearling by Marjorie Kennan Rawlings, the show had a book and lyrics by Herbert Martin and music by Michael Leonard. Martin shared credit for the book with show’s producer, Lore Noto. The original Broadway production of The Yearling opened on 10 December 1965, with the show’s closing for it’s 3-performance run already having been announced. It was directed by Lloyd Richards, with choreography by Ralph Beaumont. Some think that perhaps with a better director, the show itself will have been better; others tell tales of how the show ran out of money and couldn’t afford to run long enough to catch on with audiences. Both stories seem like reasonably valid options.

At the heart of The Yearling is a a twelve-year old boy named Jody, who lives with his struggling family. His parents, Penny and Ora, face their hardships as best they can, even though at the top of the show things are looking particularly difficult for them with a a bear having killed their sow. Jody longs for a pet deer and circumstances eventually line up so that he is able to raise a motherless fawn. A year later, when the fawn eats the family’s new crops, Jody is fold to kill the yearling, an order that brings about the climax of the show.

The original Broadway cast of THE YEARLING

The original Broadway cast of THE YEARLING

When asked, people who saw the show will tell you they liked the score, which I’ve heard described as both lovely, pleasant and even well-crafted. Some complain that the score doesn’t reflect its rural 1870s setting well, but many musicals evoking milieu by filtering songs in popular contemporary forms through arrangements and orchestrations. Maybe, if The Yearling were ever staged in a high profile production again, that might be a fixable problem. A score that features a song that Stephen Sondheim listed as a song he wishes he had written can’t be all bad. If you’re keen to have a listen to that little gem from this score, scroll down to the YouTube playlist at the end of this post, where you can hear it performed in versions by Streisand and, in an even jazzier version, by Greta Matassa. Neither arrangement really reflects the setting of the show, but as neither is being presented in the context of the show itself, I suppose we can’t be too concerned by that here.

My favourite song from the score is one that has become something of a standard, “Why Did I Choose You?”. Although some might try and direct you to Barbara Cook’s performance of the song in concert, for me it doesn’t get better than Streisand singing the song in her first television special. (Both, as well as several other versions of the song are featured in the YouTube playlist below.)

Although there have been rumours flying around the Internet for some time about a full recording of the show being made, the only easy way to hear these songs is in versions recorded by artists who were moved enough by the material to interpret them on their own recordings. Every now and then, a song also turns up on a compilation album like Unsung Musicals II (which includes “Everything in the World I Love”). While there is a live recording done by the producers for a private LP pressing as well as a recording of several songs from the show done for a radio show, these aren’t readily available for ordinary folk like me to hear.

Getting back to the show, those same people who praise the score will also tell you that the book was flawed, even dull, and that, perhaps, the material was not suitable for (what they think should be a good premise for) a musical. I’m more likely to give credence to that former point than to the latter; the musical is such a versatile medium, even more so these days than in the past. Maybe in a post-War Horse world, there’s merit in seeing if the show can be done without a live deer, as in the original production. It might be the key to telling the story in an evocative, contemporary manner that makes the piece compelling in a way that perhaps it wasn’t in 1965.

Keen to share any thoughts or memories about The Yearling? Head to the comment box below. I’d love to hear them!

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11 Responses to Forgotten Musicals Friday: THE YEARLING

  1. Janice Noto-Helmers says:

    My dad, Lore Noto produced The Yearling. The show was undoubtedly extraordinary — an absolutely wonderful show, in all aspects. The audience was ecstatic. I was there witnessing it during all performances, including previews. Funny thing is, the critics panned the show. The critics at that time believed shows should be “with it” and “cutting edge” during the onstage sexual revolution. Let my People Come and Oh Calcutta were drawing crowds. A wholesome musical was not in style and did not come back in vogue until Annie. Everyone was dying for a family musical by then. Bad timing, bad luck were the reasons for the show’s demise. Just ask anyone who had seen it. There may be a few of us out there. Janice Noto-Helmers

    • Janice Noto-Helmers says:

      It was pointed out to me that the plays I mentioned had not yet opened! Strange, that I have it remembered wrongly. Here is the list of Broadway plays that were on in 1965:
      A Race of Hairy Men!
      A Very Rich Woman
      All in Good Time
      And Things That Go Bump in the Night
      Baker Street
      Cactus Flower
      Catch Me if You Can
      Danton’s Death
      Diamond Orchid
      Do I Hear a Waltz?
      Drat! The Cat!
      Entertaining Mr. Sloane
      Flora, the Red Menace
      Guys and Dolls
      Half a Sixpence
      Hot September (Closed on Road)
      Inadmissible Evidence
      Ken Murray’s Hollywood
      La Grosse Valise
      Love is a Ball! (Closed on Road)
      Man of La Mancha
      Mating Dance
      Maurice Chevalier at 77
      Me and Thee
      Minor Miracle
      Mrs. Dally
      On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
      Pleasures and Palaces (Closed on Road)
      Postmark Zero
      The Amen Corner
      The Country Wife
      The Devils
      The Family Way
      The Glass Menagerie
      The Impossible Years
      The Odd Couple
      The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade
      The Playroom
      The Right Honourable Gentleman
      The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd
      The Royal Hunt of the Sun
      The World of Charles Aznavour
      The Yearling
      The Zulu and the Zayda
      This was Burlesque
      Xmas in Las Vegas
      You Can’t Take It With You

  2. David Fick says:

    What a wonderful response, from someone who was lucky enough to see it all first-hand. As I said, I have a really soft spot for this show and enjoy the songs I have heard. I’d love to see it make a comeback in one way or another.

  3. B'way fan says:

    The Yearling was performed in 1965, right? If so, that was several years before either Let My People Come or Oh! Calcutta! In any case, I hope someone considers at minimum a semi-staged reading of The Yearling.

  4. Kathy Walkup says:

    Since family members were involved in the movie production, I was thrilled to read and hear about the play. Thank you so much for bringing attention to this stunning novel about early Florida Cracker life. The Yearling is a part of my DNA! I’m delighted to hear the scores! Forever grateful, Kathy Walkup

    • David Fick says:

      Kathy – Thanks so much for your message. If there is nothing else I have learned from this post, it is how much the novel, film and stage production of THE YEARLING meant to people. As a musical theatre fan, I’d love to see the stage show in particular rediscovered and embraced more widely!

  5. J Palloy says:

    I just finished reading The Yearling and I was absolutely enamored by the story and pushed towards the verge of tears at the heartbreaking end. Coincidentally, I’m also a fan of Broadway musicals, so imagine my pure and utter delight upon discovering that there was a musical of The Yearling. Is the playlist you’ve compiled the only known songs of the musical available? That’s such a shame. Looks like I can only imagine how such a show would have played out.

  6. normanmathews says:

    The Yearling is also one of my very favorite Broadway scores, though I never saw the show. I just published a post called, The Lost Ballads of Broadway, and I’ve included some information about The Yearling, especially about a song you may never have heard of called, Everything Beautiful.
    Sadly, there’s no recording of the song I can link to.

    Here’s a link to my post:
    Thanks. Norman Mathews

  7. Wendy says:

    Not only is the 1946 film, The Yearling, one of my favorite movies, I’ve loved the songs in the musical since I heard some of them on Barbra Streisand’s early record album, (AND I own a first-edition copy of the 1938 novel with illustrations by N.C Wyeth done in 1939). I found a compilation of the songs in a piano book decades ago and have played those songs endlessly on the piano. When my beloved father died in 2012, I spoke at his funeral and recited the poignant lyrics to, “My Pa” from the musical. Those words fit my father to a T.

  8. William Lewis says:

    Ms. Noto-Helmers, you don’t by any chance have access to that unreleased recording of the show, do you? I am a 16-year old all-around musical theatre fanatic and (attempted) composer, and the amount of time I have spent trying to track down this show is almost ridiculous.

    • normanmathews says:

      William, I don’t have the unreleased recording to The Yearling, though I have heard the recording when I temporarily sublet an apartment from one of the rehearsal pianists on the show. I do, however, have a lead sheet of one of the unpublished songs, Everything Beautiful. I could send you a free PDF copy if you email me:

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