Next year, Broadway will be treated to a straight-play adaptation of Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's. The Times' inimitable Patrick Healy—my journalist crush-of-the-month, for his unrelenting coverage of the Rebecca nightmare—quotes playwright Richard Greenberg as saying, "The goal of this version is to return to the original setting of the novella, which is the New York of the Second World War, as well as to resume its tone — still stylish and romantic, yes, but rougher-edged and more candid than people generally remember."
Am I the only person who was never charmed by Holly Golightly? The movie is insufferably smug—far from being my favorite Audrey Hepburn movie, it's not even my favorite George Peppard. (Instead I'll choose the surprisingly gritty Operation Crossbow, which I caught on TV last month.) Seeing the poster plastered on the wall of every freshman girl I met the first week of college did nothing to raise my opinion of it—there is something uncomfortable about seeing poor Audrey held up as an icon of glamor and grace above a bunk bed stacked high with dirty clothes.
That said, the film does feature my all-time favorite New York cocktail party, which is up there with the office party in The Apartment and New Year's in Sunset Boulevard. Why don't I ever get invited to such shindigs?
Anyone who's read the novel, of course, knows Holly is more damaged than glamorous—a five decades early version of what those college girls would turn into after their Winter Break nervous meltdown. Even then she never did it for me. Capote's book is overhyped and undercooked, less vital than In Cold Blood, and less artfully written than the vignettes of Music for Chameleons. Even the flimsy Other Voices, Other Rooms has more weight.
This doesn't mean I'm not curious about the play. Taking Holly's story back to the mild grittiness of the novel is certainly a good step, and I think that, with the right lead, it could be a remarkable adaptation. They've announced Emilia Clarke, the superblonde, 100% badass Khaleesi of Game of Thrones fame, as Holly. We've seen her proficiency with black magic, but a long cigarette holder can be much harder to work with. If nothing else, I'm willing to boost up any new play that opens on Broadway, even if the source material has failed before.
Healy's article mentions the '60s musical adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany's—a legendary flop that never made it to opening night. I didn't know anything about that show, but the stories are chilling enough that I worry the material might be cursed. Starring Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Chamberlain, the play was a flabby, mediocre mess, its running time as much as four hours when it began its four night Broadway run.
Three weeks before the Broadway opening, producer David Merrick called Edward Albee, begging him for help. It didn't go well. In a 2010 interview with Frank Rizzo, Albee said, "They made perfectly safe, middlebrow, mediocre and, I thought, extremely boring musical that would have probably run a year on Broadway. I managed to turn it into a disaster that never opened on Broadway."
Merrick pulled the plug almost as soon as they got to New York, explaining in a full page Times ad that he was cancelling it "rather than subject the drama critics and the public to an excruciatingly boring evening." Whatta guy, eh?
With a pedigree like that, one wonders what went wrong. Well, Albee's conceit—summarized here—was to tell the story from the point of view of an author named Jeff, who makes up Holly and then gets peeved when she disobeys his literary commands. Though occasionally effective, watching a fictional author grapple with characters-come-to life can also be one of the irritating devices ever seen on stage. Just how badly does his made-up Holly misbehave? From a 2011 TBD post on the debacle, which compared it to the then-struggling Spider-Man:
The musical Holly is best friends with rival Mag Wildwood, and when Holly is arrested for drug charges, she spends five lonely nights in jail and has a miscarriage. Hookers and their pimp boyfriends try to cheer her up, to no avail. When her former lover Carlos bails her out, she leaves her cat with the heartbroken writer, and takes off for Europe.
They didn't even have the good sense to use "Moon River."
(An aside: ever hear Morrissey's "Moon River"? It's so awful that it's kind of amazing. Also, nine minutes long.)
Some clips from the rehearsals survived long enough to make it to YouTube. Though low-quality, they're clear enough for me to notice another problem with the doomed show: it was terrible. The musical numbers are shocking—the two we hear have the creative titles "Holly Golightly" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's," and their lyrics are so dull they sound like placeholders. But it's worth watching to hear MTM sing, and for a sight of her preposterous dress at 1:54—it looks like something that should be attached to a muppet.
Albee claimed the show would have worked out if he'd had another two weeks with the script. Richard Greenberg has five months. Let's see how he uses them.