Last week, in a tragic coincidence, we lost three cast members of the same Broadway musical in three consecutive days. George S. Irving, the incomparable character actor who may be remembered best as the voice of Heat Miser in The Year Without A Santa Claus, died on Monday, December 26th, at age 94. Writer/actor/ producer Carrie Fisher died on Tuesday, December 27th, and her mother, the legendary Debbie Reynolds, died the following day.
Though all three had successful independent careers in film, television and theatre, they did share the stage for one show: the 1973 revival of IRENE. Directed by Gower Champion and starring Ms. Reynolds, the show was a revisal of the 1919 Broadway hit, which held the title of Longest-Running Musical in Broadway History for nearly two decades.
Based on James Montgomery’s play Irene O’Dare, IRENE tells the story of a young Irish girl who runs a humble music store on the west side of Manhattan. When she is hired to tune the piano of a young Long Island tycoon, she and her friends get mixed up in a world of high-society fashion.
The original production featured a tuneful score by Harry Tierney and Joseph McCarthy and introduced the hit “Alice Blue Gown.” For the revival, Joseph Stein updated the book and included other hit songs of the period, including “You Made Me Love You” and “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows.”
Though she was a household name and a bona fide Hollywood star in 1973, Debbie Reynolds had never appeared on Broadway. She made her Broadway debut starring in IRENE. In the show’s opening number, “The World Must Be Bigger Than An Avenue” (Music by Wally Harper, Lyrics by Jack Lloyd), she sang:
I have the love to fill an ocean
And stardust in my eye
So I’ll set my feet in motion
As fast as they can fly
Ms. Reynold’s daughter Carrie, just sixteen years old, also made her Broadway debut in the show, appearing in the ensemble.
Mr. Irving, who by then had built a storied Broadway career, stopped the show as couturier Madame Lucy, singing “They Go Wild, Simply Wild, Over Me.” For his performance, he won the 1973 Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in a Musical.
We salute all three entertainment greats, as well as the musical that once brought them all together. Perhaps it’s time to revisit this hidden gem, in which Debbie Reynolds, George S. Irving, and Carrie Fisher all once sang:
Maybe somewhere in the sky
I’ve a saint that’s standin’ by*
*“An Irish Girl,” Music by Otis Clements, Lyrics by Charles Gaynor