This Saturday and Sunday (October 27-28, 2012) offers the rare opportunity to see a concert revival of Harold Rome’s witty and critically acclaimed 1937 Pins and Needles, presented by Downtown Music Productions at LaMaMa E.T.C. Club (74A East 4th Street, between Bowery & Second Avenue). The revue is a unique satire with musical skits calling for social justice and equity, with songs and skits that spoof everything from Fascist European dictators to bigots in the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

Rome went on to write Call Me Mister, which boasted a then-unheard of cast of 50 with Betty Garrett, who went on to a career in film musicals, and George S. Irving (Oklahoma!) in multiple roles, and the acclaimed ballerina Maria Karnilova (later Mrs. Irving, and the co-star of the original Broadway Zorba), Alive and Kicking, Wish You Were Here, I Can Get it For You Wholesale (which introduced Barbra Streisand to Broadway), the classic romantic musical Fanny, Destry Rides Again (which starred Andy Griffith and Dolores Gray and marked the only time a classic Western film was adapted for the musical stage).

Rome’s score for Pins and Needles includes "Sitting on Your Status Quo," "Sing Me a Song of Social Significance," “It's Better with a Union Man,” “I’ve Got the Nerve to Be in Love,” “Sunday in the Park,” “What Good Is Love?”, "It's Not Cricket to Picket," and "Four Little Angels of Peace." Jonathan Cerullo is director, with music direction by Mimi Stern-Wolfe.

The revue was conceived by Max Danish, longtime editor of “Justice,” the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU)'s newspaper. The book was by popular liberal writers of the times, including Marc Blitzstein and John Latouche. In addition to Rome’s score, a number of composers contributed special material. Famed contemporary dancer Katherine Dunham directed, a first for an African-American.

It played out 1,100 performances, breaking all Broadway records, became a cause célèbre and ran until 1941. The original cast was an ensemble called the ILGWU Players – union cutters, dressmakers, embroiderers, sewing machine operators, etc. – who rehearsed after working hours. The play was so enthusiastically positive that the cast quit their day jobs, and the production expanded to a full performance schedule of eight shows per week. New songs and skits were introduced every few months to keep the show topical.

In 1962, commemorating the revue’s 25th anniversary, Streisand co-starred with Rome in a studio recording for Columbia Records, which soon after signed her to a long-term contract. In 1978, Roundabout produced a successful revival that ran 275 performances.

Key Subjects: 
Harold Rome, Pins and Needles, La MaMa, Katherine Dunham
Ellis Nassour
October 2012
A Rare Opportunity to See a Classic Musical Revue