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Gerome Ragni, author-lyricist of the Broadway musical "Dude", was covering the exit of the Broadway theater Wednesday night. He spotted an unsuspecting spectator trying to beat a sneaky retreat, "Go back to your seat," he ordered. "Just go sit down and suffer with everybody else. Suffer!"
Tonight the suffering is over for everybody. After 16 performances and some $950,000, the play is closing.
To many of those who've seen it - including all the critics save Emory Lewis from Cue - the question is not so much why it's closing, but why it opened at all.
Not that there wasn't a lot od anticipation. Ragni, after all, had co-authored "Hair", which has grossed $75 million worldwide. The music was contributed by Galt MacDermot, also of the original "tribal love-rock musical" and subsequently from "Two Gentlemen of Verona". And in the last three weeks before opening, "Dude" was rendered services by director Tom O'Horgan, who went from "Hair" to "Lenny" to "Jesus Christ Superstar".
And what went wrong?
According to Adela Holzer, who co-produced the show with her husband, Peter, president of American Union Transport, Inc., a shipping company, there is nothing wrong with the play. Nothing.
On the other hand, says Madrid-born Mrs. Holzer, 38, rolling her "r's" majestically, there's a lot wrong with the critics. "They all missed the point. It's a new thing and it goes over old people's heads. I admit the book was not the greatest, but in a musical you can't spell out the story. It's not like Ibsen."
That it wasn't. Many who saw Dude found it unintelligible. As much as could be discerned, it deals with the story of creation and man's journey through life faced with the forces and problems of good and evil.
"It's a very existential play," says mrs. Holzer, who claims a Ph.D. in philosophy.
"Well, the book had a lot of problems," explained one man associated with the play, who asks to remain nameless. "What problems? Well, partly the lack of book. The script was a jumble and at the end Ragni was writing on scraps of paper at night. Even when he started, there was no second act, really. I mean, there was no dialogue, no characters, there were just a lot of names he made up.
"It went into rehearsal in late July, without a cast. then it was discovered that the boy who played Dude, Kevin Geer - he's still shown in the advertisements and had played the homosexual's beach boy in "Small Craft Warnings" earlier this year - couldn't sing. He was a friend of Ragni's, and had been chosen by him, but he had to be let go.
"So they rehearsed two weeks without any Dude, and then Ralph Carter, who's ill, was chosen to play the part and eventually Nat Morris was cast as Dude grown-up.
"Meantime, 3-foot-6 Michael Dunn was chosen to play a role they originally wanted 6-foot-5 Will Geer to play and then the part was thrown out all together.
"It opened for previews on September 13, but because of all the audience booing, they closed it on September 18 and fired the director Rocco Bufano and the choreographer Louis Falco."
"Well," says Mrs. Holzer, in the uninterruptable torrent of someone trying to relate a bad dream just woken up from, "Rocco was not experienced on Broadway, and he is Ragni's friend and he understood Ragni better than all the others. Ragni is very different. he doesn't come with a written script like everyone else's; it's all in his head and you have to pull it out."
What had been pulled out of Ragni's head last time out, with "Hair", which he co-authored with James Rado (currently at work on Rainbow, to be presented off-Broadway later this season) netted the Holzers some $120,000 on an original investment of $7,500. This time around, following investments in "Sleuth" and "Lenny" the Holzers raised $350,000 from 53 investors (including $75,000 from Columbia Records), with the remaining $600,000 coming from their own pockets.
"Ragni has the right to choose his own director, the producers are hand-tied by the authors whims," says Mrs. Holzer, "but we needed a stronger director."
O'Horgan, between two other jobs, was brought in and previews started up again on Sept. 26. "I came in as an act od conservation," says O'Horgan, now in Los Angeles, "and because I think it's immoral to waste all that money. I tied to get it back in focus.
"we were hampered by the building codes," O'Horgan adds, thoughtfully, "and the designs Gerry had in mind were all compromises."
The original concept, according to Peter Holzer, was for "an environmental theater." This involved tearing out the interior of the Broadway Theater to create a theater-in-the-round descended upon by actors coming from all directions.
"You never really get what you want," said Ragni yesterday afternoon. "It didn't have a garden, which I wanted. I wanted natural things. I got paper flowers."
And although Ragni's brother Richard, a priest, took it upon himself to paste up mimeographed explanations of the plot line in the theater lobby several days after "Dude" opened, what's ultimately wrong with the production, according to Ragni, "is that it's closing Saturday."
"I don't see why she had to close the show," he says of Mrs. Holzer. "She could hang in there. It would get a good house eventually. You have to lose money to make money."
"I didn't want to make money," says Mrs. Holzer, "I just wanted to follow up my career of helping the theater. I've never been bitter in my life, but this time I think I'm through. I feel so mistreated by the critics."
Ragni, who started out as an actor of high and serious intentions in the late 1950s and worked his way up to spear carrier in Richard Burton's "Hamlet" before growing "Hair", points out that "after all, I subtitled "Dude" the Last Broadway Musical."
As one intermission critic remarked, "Well, if "Hair" was supposed to mirror the marijuana sensibility, maybe "Dude" is just about being burned out on speed."
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