By Ryan Leeds
Gretchen Cryer (mother of television/80s movie star Jon Cryer) has an interesting tale to tell about her intimate, Off Broadway show, I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking it On the Road. In the liner notes, Cryer (book and lyrics) and composer Nancy Ford described an unfortunate meeting that the pair had with director Joseph Papp, the legendary founder of the Public Theater. After 10 days of rehearsal, Papp decided to cancel the show, citing a lack of humor as the main reason. Long story short: They convinced him to wait for three more days and Papp allowed the show to open. It was killed by the critics but surprisingly ran for seven months at the Public before moving to Circle in the Square where it ran for three years.
It’s not hard to understand why the critics were unkind. Even as the feminist movement was at its apex by the late 70s, I’m Getting My Act… (released this week from the archives by Masterworks Broadway) is mostly rife with clichés and lukewarm inspiration. It does, however, have some poignancy and some will enjoy this nostalgic trip down memory lane.
I’m Getting My Act… opens as Heather Jones (Cryers) rehearses a new act for her 39th birthday. She’s tired of living life to please everyone but herself. She’s got new material—and apparently wrinkles and gray hair—at 39! (Thank God lifespans have increased since 1978.) Nothing gives her more of a thrill than “singing with a rock and roll band” in “Natural High.”
She then remembers her younger days when she would “smile for daddy” in a waltz/vaudeville style number called “Smile.” The objectification of women continues with “Miss America”:
“Your husband’s out on business, his business is his life. He pretends to be your husband, you pretend to be his wife.”
As a recent divorcee, Heather picks herself up by the bootstraps in “Strong Woman Number,” which has the essence of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” or “I Am Woman (Hear Me Roar.)” Heather and her friends will not wait for love! They have their self-esteem. Heather then softens the militance with a song about her ex, “Dear Tom.” It is a touching and painful moment that recalls a love that simply could not be.
Video footage from the Encores! Off-Center production of “I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road,” starring Renée Elise Goldsberry.
While she tries out the new songs, her old friend and manager, Joe (Joel Fabiani) listens and she sings a song dedicated to him, “Old Friend.” It is another sweet moment that highlights the benefits of life-long platonic companionship.
“Put in a Package and Sold” decries the dating scene. “Lonely Lady” is the quintessential “poor me I’m so alone” song that Heather sings before rediscovering her “arms that can see and a voice that can sing a celebration of me” in “Happy Birthday.” Finally, Heather is ready to take on the world again—or at least take her act on the road—in a reprise of “Natural High”
Musically, there are elements of Hair, Pippin, Carole King and The Carpenters here. Cryer has a soothing and welcoming voice and her backup singers; Alice (Margot Rose) and Cheryl (Betty Aberlin) serve the music quite well.
I’m Getting My Act… offers a slice of history that may serve as remembrance for baby boomers who recall the original production. But it is also a reminder of who paved the road in song for the likes of Sex and The City, Girls and Inside Amy Schumer, and for that, Cryer and Ford deserve credit where credit is due.
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook