since Richard Rodgers first saw Diahann perform he knew he wanted to work
with her. He had her audition for the lead in Flower Drum Song in 1958,
but they couldn't make her look oriental enough (as the role required). A
few years later Mr. Rodgers saw her perform on the Jack Paar show, and he
decided to contact Diahann again about a possible role in a musical. Diahann
writes in her 1986 book, Diahann!: "The phone rang and a voice announced,
'Miss Carroll, Richard Rodgers is calling.' 'Of course he is,' I answered.'And
this is Greta Garbo.'"
Soon enough Diahann was convinced it really was Mr. Rodgers, and they decided to meet the next day for lunch. This was the beginning of what would become No Strings. Mr. Rodgers actually had Diahann Carroll in mind from the beginning, and when they first met over that lunch, he hadn't yet actually written the musical, but wanted to see if Miss Carroll was interested in it before he went on conceiving it.
Richard Kiley was choosen for the male lead, Joe Layton became the director, and on Diahann's suggestion, Peter Matz was choosen as conductor. Ralph Burns wrote the arrangements. Diahann had a wonderful time during the rehersals. Layton was not only a gifted director, but also very good at negotiating - something you need when working with theater people... Richard Kiley and Diahann also had a very good working relationship. But when it was time for the first tryout (in Detroit) it was a fiasco. Diahann recalls in her book;
"When we opened in Detroit it was our first night before
a live audience. Once onstage, I must have blocked out everything except what
I needed for the performance, and
what I thought I needed was to perform as a singer, not a dancer. In any case,
I concentrated so heavily on the singing that I did not take one single dance
step the entire night. The dancers were very kind. Some of them grabbed the
back of my coat and pulled me out of the way, then the others pushed me off
to the side. It was so embarrassing, but I sold those songs!
"When the show was over, we all met downstairs in the lower lobby. I was mortified. I thought I'd never be able to live it down. 'What can I tell you, Joe [Layton, director]?' I asked him. 'Now you have positive proof that we don't all have rhythm.'"
The director then restaged the scenes so that Diahann
only had to walk through them. But this was only a minor problem. More serious
was the fact that they all had problems communicating with Richard Rodgers.
Diahann was used to working with Harold Arlen, whom had been nothing but warm
and friendly during her House of Flowers years. Richard Rodgers was
totally different - according to Ms. Carroll he was much more formal, even
insensitiv. Several incidents during these years made Diahann Carroll never
to trust Richard Rodgers again. When Warner a couple of years later discussed
making a movie of the musical, Mr. Rodgers did nothing when the movie company
wanted to have an
Eurasian actress named Nancy Kwan as the leading female. Diahann had to find
this out reading the morning paper - needless to say she was furious. Mr.
Rodgers said it was out of his hands, but Diahann never believed him. (NAACP
ultimately protested against the lack of Black actors and actresses in Warner
movies, and the movie project was shelved.)
No Strings opened in New York on March 15, 1962. Carroll and Kiley remained in the musical until July of 1963, for a total of 580 performances. During that time Diahann Carroll won the Tony for best actress in a musical (tying with Anna Maria Alberghetti in Carnival!), Rodgers won for best musical score, and Layton for his choreography.
The following is taken from the "No Strings"
CD booklet, written by David Foil.
This was Richard Rodgers' first musical without writing partner Oscar Hammerstein. Rodgers had wanted to use Diahann Carroll in a musical ever since he'd seen her in the Harold Arlen show "House of Flowers". He had tried to work her into Flower Drum Song, the 1958 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about Chinese- Americans in San Francisco but abandoned the idea after Carroll endured an unsuccessful makeup test. Carroll was a beautiful young woman and a splendid singer with a charming personality, made for Broadway stardom at a time when the Broadway musical was a robust and lively medium. As an African- American, though, in the late 1950s, she faced limited options. So she largely gave up on Rodgers' interest in her.
That is why she thought someone was playing a joke on her when she got a phone call from Rodgers on an April morning in 1961, after she had appeared the night before on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. It really was Rodgers, and he invited her to lunch. In her autobiography Diahann!, Carroll recalled that she decided to enter Gallagher's, where she was to meet the composer, as a vision in pink Givenchy. She had no idea that Rodgers was about to pitch to her the idea of starring in an original musical about an African-American fashion model living Ia dolce vita in Europe.
There were elements in the idea that were daring for the time. Carroll had avoided Broadway since House of Flowers because she was tired of being offered patronizing material. This proposed musical would have to be set in Europe, since it was not yet possible for an African-American woman to achieve that kind of broad success as a fashion model in the U.S. The subject of race would never be mentioned. It would just be a fact in the show's sophisticated setting, for the audience to accept.
Rodgers moved swiftly once Carroll indicated her enthusiasm. He decided on Samuel Taylor to write the show's book. Taylor had great success in the 1950s as a writer of such romantic comedies as The Happy Time (which Rodgers and Hammerstein had produced on Broadway), Sabrina Fair, and The Pleasure of His Company, and the screenplay for The Moon Is Blue. He and Rodgers hammered out a story in which Carroll's character would become involved in Paris with a burned-out expatriate (and white) American novelist. She helps him regain his desire to write, but Paris is too alluring and he realizes that he can't work unless he goes home to Maine. They realize that their relationship could never work there, and they part.
The show began with Carroll, spotlit in a glamorous white gown, singing what would become score's hit song THE SWEETEST SOUNDS. With her would be a flutist, who would open the show with a striking, bittersweet solo that eventually partnered Carroll. Across the stage, her lover-to-be - unknown to her at the moment - picked up the song, accompanied by a clarinet.
Richard Kiley was eventually signed to play the cynical novelist opposite Carroll. Choreographer Joe Layton would direct and choreograph the show, which would have an oldfashioned chorus line as well as fresh ideas about how the story and, literally, the show would move. The youthful Layton came to Rodgers' attention as the choreographer of Once Upon a Mattress, and he was hired to stage the dances in The Sound of Music. The scenery and lighting by David Hays would be simple and clever, and the costumes by Fred Voelpel and fashion designer Donald Brooks would evoke the elegance of Parisian haute couture and the ennui-ridden jet set. As usual, Rodgers would produce the show. A March, 1962 opening was announced for the Mark Hellinger Theatre (where My Fair Lady was winding down its record- breaking six-year run), and an advance sale began to pile up for Broadway's first Rodgers and Rodgers musical.
A squabble over the Mark Hellinger was an early problem for No Strings. Rodgers made a deal with the theater's owners, who thought they had grounds to evict the My Fair Lady production. But that show's producer Herman Levin clung tenaciously to his view that his show should stay. The upshot was that No Strings opened several blocks north, at the 54th Street Theater.
No Strings began its out-of-town tour in Detroit on January 15, 1962, and the opening night was hardly promising. For one thing, Carroll, who sang beautifully but had failed to convince Layton that she really couldn't dance, "went up" on the choreography she'd been given. But a more serious problem was the show's book. Carroll found herself disappointed in the end that the script completely avoided the issue of race, spending almost two hours bringing these lovers together only to pull them apart at the curtain because 'it wouldn't work." Out-of-town critics weren't buying the plot either.
Carroll recalled in her autobiography that she and Kiley kept insisting that the characters go back to the U.S. together, but they were firmly rebuffed by Taylor and Rodgers. No Strings might raise some eyebrows, but it wasn't going risk angering its pre-Civil Rights Act audience. (As an example of the atmosphere of the time, it's interesting to note that Carroll's character was referred to in one New York gossip column - in a misleading attempt at flattery, apparently as a "colored Frenchantress.") During the tryout period, it was decided to repeat the opening - the wistful, hope-filled ballad THE SWEETEST SOUNDS, sung by two lonely strangers abroad - to leave the impression that the love affair might have been simply a pleasant dream.
Between Toronto and New Haven, prior to opening or Broadway, Rodgers decided to add a week of performances in Cleveland. (Alan Jay Lerner had told him that Camelot had gone straight from Toronto's vast O'Keefe Center to a smaller house, with disastrous results "It was," Lerner said, "like walking out of Grand Central into a phone booth.") The extra week would allow the show more time to settle in before getting closer to New York and the incessant, sometimes damaging gossip that got around when a show was playing in New Haven.
The story of No Strings begins in Paris, where a beautiful fashion model named Barbara Woodruff (Diahann Carroll) is about to meet and fall in love with an expatriate American novelist named David Jordan (Richard Riley). In the prologue, neither knows the other yet but there's a sense of love in the air (THE SWEETEST SOUNDS).
They meet when David drops in on his friend, the fashion photographer Luc Delbert (Alvin Epstein). David kids Luc's assistant Jeanette Valmy (Noelle Adam) and fashion editor Mollie Plummer (Polly Rowles) with his feelings about women (HOW SAD), when Barbara - Luc's top model - flies into the room. David is immediately taken with her and offers to walk her home. On the way, she expounds her philosophy of life (LOADS OF LOVE).
She is drawn to David but suggests they not see each other again. Waiting for her at home is her lover Louis de Pourtal (Mitchell Gregg), a rich playboy very pleased with himself (THE MAN WHO HAS EVERYTHING). Their relationship is loveless, though, and Barbara can think only of David.
At the moment, David is doing what he does best these days - freeloading off rich Americans. He and his gigolo friend Mike Robinson (Don Chastain) are enjoying the generosity of Comfort O'Connell (Bernice Massi), a down-home American heiress. When Luc arrives with his new girlfriend Gabrielle (Ann Hodges), they celebrate the life of the freeloader (BE MY HOST). Jeanette's sudden arrival puts Luc in an embarrassing situation, but Gabrielle's departure solves that problem and he celebrates with Jeanette (LA LA LA).
When Luc throws a party for Comfort back in Paris, David is upset to see Barbara with Louis. He tells her he loves her and wants her to stop seeing Louis. She is angered by his suggestion (YOU DON'T TELL ME), and he storms out. Mollie and Comfort, watching all this romantic intrigue, are amused (LOVE MAKES THE WORLD GO).
At home and alone, though, Barbara's feelings for David and her concern for him are beginning to bother her. He appears and asks her to join him in Honfleur, where they can be alone. She thinks this will be good for him and she finally admits that she loves him. They embrace and admit that they've both been tormented by their teelings (NOBODY TOLD ME). The second act begins in Honfleur where David and Barbara are blissfully happy (LOOK NO FURTHER). They describe their childhoods - David's in Maine and Barbara's in Harlem (MAINE). Despite Barbara's best intentions, David isn't getting much writing done and he longs to be in Deauville for the parties during Easter Week. Barbara is furious at his frivolous attitude and, accusing her of meddling, David leaves her for the party crowd.
Barbara returns to Paris, where Louis offers to forgive everything. She can't accept his cynically generous offer, though, and she lashes out at herself for the way she treated David (AN ORTHODOX FOOL). David is once again with Mike and Comfort, who's looking for new kicks (EAGER BEAVER). But he's confronted with the worthless existence he's been leading when his two friends begin to quarrel. He rushes back to Paris, finding Barbara in Luc's studio. They confess their love again (NO STRINGS) but Barbara convinces David that he must return to Maine in order to seriously begin writing again. He asks her to join him but she can't leave Paris. Sadly, they part, as if they'd never met, still hoping for the real thing (THE SWEETEST SOUNDS).
As they were during the tryouts, the reviews
were mixed when No Strings arrived in New York. Howard Taubman of The New
York Times was perhaps the most positive. The critics were
unanimous about one thing'. Rodgers' confidence in Carroll, which had paid
off handsomely, made her a star overnight. Despite the tempered nature of
the show's reception, No Strings had a healthy run of 580 performances, spending
its last year in the heart of the theater district at the Broadhurst Theatre.
Carroll won the Tony for best actress in a musical (tying with Anna Maria
Alberghetti in Carnival!), Rodgers won for best musical score, and Layton
for his choreography.
Capitol Records entered into a partnership with Rodgers to make the original cast recording. As usual, Rodgers retained creative control but he relied on Capitol's ability to get airplay for his songs. Capitol artists began recording songs from the score, and the original cast album won a Grammy.
Film rights for No Strings were sold to Warner Bros. - Seven Arts for a reported potential return of $2 million. Though the film was never made, Carroll became angry when she read speculation that Eurasian actress Nancy Kwan was being considered for her role onscreen. Rodgers told her that the matter was out of his hands, though Carroll didn't quite believe him. Her relationship with Rodgers had, from her point of view, changed since they had began working together as she discusses candidly in her autobiography Diahann!. It was a collaboration that began with affection and excitement and ended strictly as business.
Carroll and Kiley remained in No Strings until July of 1963, when they were replaced by Barbara McNair and Howard Keel. Critics returned for a look and they concluded that, while MoNair was a beautiful singer, she wasn't the sensational star Carroll was, and that Keel's superior singing voice didn't compensate for a performance that was more superficial than Kiley's. The show closed less than a month later.
Barbara Woodruff.........DIAHANN CARROLL
David Jordan......................RICHARD KILEY
Louis De Pourtal.............MITCHELL GREGG
Jeanette Valmy.....................NOELLE ADAM
Mollie Plummer..................POLLY ROWLES
Mike Robinson...................DON CHASTAIN
Comfort O'Connell.............BERNICE MASSI
Luc Delbert........................ALVIN EPSTEIN
Gabrielle Bertin......................ANN HODGES
Music and Lyrics: Richard Rodgers
Book: Samuel Taylor
Director and Choreography: Joe Layton
THE COSTUMES WAS DESIGNED BY DONALD BROOKS
More information about the songs in the Discography section.