Play the Songs
This show takes us back to a time before answering machines and voicemail, when a real person answered your ringing telephone for you if you couldn’t do it yourself. Welcome to Susanswerphone, where the lines between doing a job and eavesdropping are blurred. The story and musical numbers are delightful and uplifting. Just in Time, Better Than a Dream, Drop That Name and A Simple Little System keep actors and audiences smiling.
Music samples provided courtesy of Varese Sarabande and Stratford Music Corporation.
- Rehearsal Materials
- Brief History
This “Sweetheart of a Musical” opens with eight girls complaining about the doldrums—they’re just not getting enough telephone calls. The solution is simple announces an advertisement for Susan answer phone, a telephone answering service. Before the days of answering machines and high technology, the only choice was to hire a service to answer your phone when you weren’t home.
This particular answering service is owned and run by Sue, who employs her cousin Ella to answer the phones. Ella has a deplorable tendency to get involved in customers’ lives as she takes and delivers their messages. She even falls in love with one of the customers who she has never even met. In It’s A Perfect Relationship Ella describes her feelings for Jeff Moss, this unknowing customer. Now, Jeff is a writer who is having trouble getting to work on his next play, and Ella is determined to help him. Whether you call it curiosity or eavesdropping, one thing’s for certain, Ella’s busybody personality is entertaining!
A subplot involving Sue and Sandor unravels at the same time. Sue falls in love with Sandor, who runs a company called Titanic Records. Conveniently the record company sets up a branch office in Sue’s office space. The record company turns out to be a book-making concern, with an ingenious code which Sandor describes to his assistants in It’s A Simple Little System. Unknown to anyone, the police are already monitoring Susansweringphone, suspecting that it’s a front for a vice ring. Ella takes on a new identity, goes to Jeff’s apartment, and convinces him to rework his new play. In the number Hello, Hello There! she teaches him about friendliness. Jeff invites Ella out for the evening, and a friend teaches her the cha-cha in the sizzling Mu-Cha-Cha dance. Eventually Jeff meets her in Central Park and explains that he has grown to love her. He takes her to a party where Ella sings Drop That Name when she finds herself at a loss for conversation. She doesn’t think that she’s up to Jeff’s social status, and sadly slips away as she sings the great ballad The Party’s Over. Jeff still doesn’t know who Ella really is.
Meanwhile, Sue and Sandor plan a trip abroad, as he tries to borrow money from her to cover some racing debts. Two other answering service subscribers who Ella has also befriended coincidently meet the despondent Jeff in a nightclub. The songs in the club’s floor show are written by one of the subscribers who is a musical dentist. The three men discover that Ella’s good deeds have helped them all, but not one of them realizes she is the answering service girl. As the police close in on the bookies from the “record company,” the three men set off to find Ella. Just as she decides to run away, she is reunited with Jeff. We have a classic happy ending.
Book and Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolf Green
Music by Jule Styne
Entire Original Production Directed by Jerome Robbins
Dance and Musical Numbers of Original Production
Staged by Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse
Produced on the Broadway Stage by The Theatre Guild
2 Violin AC
1 Violin BD
1 Reed I: Clarinet & Alto Saxophone (optional Flute)
1 Reed II: Clarinet & Alto Saxophone (optional Flute & Piccolo)
1 Reed III: Clarinet & Tenor Saxophone (optional Oboe & English Horn)
1 Reed IV: Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone & Bass Clarinet (optional Baritone Saxophone)
1 Reed V: Clarinet & Baritone Saxophone (optional Bassoon)
1 Horns I & II
1 Trumpets I & II
1 Trumpet III
1 Trombone I
1 Trombone II
1 Timpani (2 Drums)
Snare Drum (Brushes & Sticks)
Deep Pitch Snare Drum
Tom Toms (3 Pitches)
Glockenspiel (Soft & Hard Mallets)
Telephone Bells (3 Pitches)
Piano-Celeste (Piano-Conductor’s Score sent with rehearsal material.)
1 Piano Conductor’s Score
1 Prompt Book
25 Prompt Books for Dialogue Parts
31 Chorus-Vocal Parts
BELLS ARE RINGING played for 924 performances on Broadway at the Shubert and Alvin Theatres starring Judy Holliday and Sydney Chaplin. It was revived on Broadway most recently in 2001 with Faith Prince as Ella Peterson.
2 Tony Awards for Best Actress and Best Featured Actor
The Theatre World Award (Sydney Chaplin)