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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The crisis on Wall Street has a lot of people singing the blues, but critic Bob Mondello says you can also take your cues both musical and financial from 1960s Broadway.

(Soundbite of musical "Subways Are for Sleeping")

(Soundbite of song "Capital Gains")

Mr. SYDNEY CHAPLIN: (As Tom Bailey) (Singing) Capital gains, non-taxable corporate capital gains with pre-paid interest. Swiss francs and Swiss banks...

BOB MONDELLO: Back in the 1960s if you were putting on a Broadway musical, you wanted it to appeal to a guy called the tired businessman. Before tourists took over the Great White Way, he was the target audience, rich, bored, and sitting in an office at show time right near the theater district. But he was the tired businessman because he just spent all day at work. So, rather than put him to sleep with love songs, producers pushed chorus girls doing high kicks, vaudeville-style comedy, and in "Subways Are for Sleeping," a story about a guy he could identify with. Sydney Chaplin played a high-powered businessman, a speculator who rose from kid-with-vision to real-estate-mogul all using the bank's money, which proved his downfall.

(Soundbite of musical "Subways Are for Sleeping")

Mr. CHAPLIN: (As Tom Bailey) (Singing) (Unintelligible).

MONDELLO: Given that title "Subways Are for Sleeping," audiences didn't have to know much about finance to realize that this guy's bubble had burst. The character was living in Grand Central Station. He was a former businessman.

(Soundbite of musical "Subways Are for Sleeping")

Mr. CHAPLIN: (As Tom Bailey) And then one day, one little check just didn't come through on time.

(Soundbite of song "Capital Gains")

Mr. CHAPLIN: (As Tom Bailey) Well, my credit was a myth, the kid with vision was a crook, and that was the end of those....

(Singing) Capital gains, nontaxable corporate capital gains...

MONDELLO: This was maybe too clear a picture of a speculative bubble bursting to be very popular with its intended audience, however pretty the music. The character kept saying how he was glad to be out of the rat race, and audiences seemed to feel the same way about being out of the musical. It did not run long, perhaps because "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" was at that same moment offering a sunnier version of corporate life.

(Soundbite of musical "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying")

(Soundbite of song "The Company Way")

Mr. ROBERT MORSE: (As J. Pierrepont Finch) (Singing) I play it the company way. Wherever the company puts me, there I stay.

Mr. SAMMY SMITH: (As Twimble) (Singing) But what is your point of view?

Mr. MORSE: (As J. Pierrepont Finch) (Singing) I have no point of view.

Mr. SMITH: (As Twimble) (Singing) Supposing the company thinks...

Mr. MORSE: (As J. Pierrepont Finch) (Singing) I think so, too...

MONDELLO: "How to Succeed" wasn't the only show that offered instruction in things financial. A remarkable number of '60s musicals spend a lot of their time singing about money, crooning hopefully in the Marx Brothers' tuner "Minnie's Boys."

(Soundbite of musical "Minnie's Boys")

(Soundbite of song "Rich Is")

Mr. MORT MARSHALL: (As Al Shean) (Singing) Rich is never letting money burn a hole in your pocket...

MONDELLO: Philosophically in "Fiddler on the Roof."

(Soundbite of musical "Fiddler on the Roof")

(Soundbite of song "If I Were a Rich Man")

Mr. ZERO MOSTEL: (As Tevye) (Singing) If I were a rich man...

MONDELLO: Sarcastically in "Cabaret."

(Soundbite of musical "Cabaret")

(Soundbite of song "The Money Song")

Mr. JOEL GREY: (As Master of Ceremonies) (Singing) I've got all the money I need...

MONDELLO: And just a tad greedily in "I Can Get It for You Wholesale."

(Soundbite of musical "I Can Get It for You Wholesale")

(Soundbite of song "The Sound of Money")

Mr. ELLIOTT GOULD: (As Harry Bogen) (Singing) The sound of money, the lovely sound of money...

MONDELLO: And if money appealed to the tired businessman, how about mutual funds? In a 1967 show called "How Now, Dow Jones," a stock ticker was jangling as the curtain went up.

(Soundbite of musical "How Now, Dow Jones")

(Soundbite of song "ABC")

MONDELLO: That's about as clever as the show got. The plot has something to do with a man who won't marry his girlfriend until the Dow Jones average crosses 1,000. This was 1967, remember? And since she was the gal who announced the stock exchange totals, she just said it had. Meanwhile, politicians were colluding with bankers.

(Soundbite of musical "How Now, Dow Jones")

(Soundbite of song "A Little Investigation")

Unidentified Chorus: On the two investigation, an honest effort to capture the vote meets Wall Street's true approbation as long as you go for the other guy's throat.

MONDELLO: "How Now, Dow Jones" was so awful it really should have put the kibosh on all future musicals about finances, but the '60s were a time of economic optimism, and if real estate and stocks couldn't be stuffed effectively into musical numbers, there were still the banking and bond markets to consider. They came to the fore in "The Rothschilds," a musical about Europe's premier banking family in the 19th century. So influential that they secured a declaration of rights for European Jews. They did it, in the show, at least, by forcing the hand of Germany's Prince Metternich, when he tries to finance a war with Napoleon by selling bonds. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Prince Metternich was an Austrian statesman and diplomat; Germany wasn't a nation until 1871.]

(Soundbite of musical "The Rothschilds")

Unidentified Man: Ladies and gentlemen, a limited number of the new peace bonds are still available. The price, a mere 23. Thank you, sir. You may claim your certificate when convenient.

MONDELLO: The Rothschilds in the show had older bonds and they undercut the prince by selling them at a loss in a song that pretty clearly articulates not just how governments raise money, but how the private sector can affect its ability to do so.

(Soundbite of song "Bonds")

Show Ensemble: (Singing) Low price, no price, lower it if you find one. Let us know! This is it, we hit rock bottom, step right up and come and get 'em, just as soon as someone's got 'em, that's the end of our portfolio.

MONDELLO: This song about bonds, a big production number with folks racing around the stage buying things, was the climax of "The Rothschilds," not romance, and if it was invigorating enough to keep the show in the black for more than a year, it also proved the tired businessman's last hurrah. Within just a few seasons, producers were courting tourists more than New Yorkers, and Broadway had removed from its portfolio, more or less permanently, its little seminar on Wall Street. I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News.

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