"A show for the ages... a score full of sophisticated comedy numbers that would make Cole Porter proud... the lyrics are so cleverly constructed, the rhyme schemes so elegantly intricate, and the messages so rich and ripe that they make a mockery of most of today's Broadway show scores." – TheaterMania.com
Miss Gulch Returns! is my musical comedy valentine to the romantically disenfranchised, who can find a new metaphorical spokesperson in Miss Gulch, the ultimate "spinster" (as they used to be known). In this "musical vivisection of a stereotype," a contemporary sophisticate trades identities with the infamous curmudgeon, now liberated from her two-dimensional, sepia-toned moorings on the screen. She wrestles with her old-Hollywood stereotype in her new, unlikely profession – cabaret entertainer in a Judy-Garland-obsessed world.
Miss Gulch Returns! began as a five-minute cabaret turn. The full show premiered in January, 1984, to national press, winning a 1985 Back Stage Bistro Award for Musical Comedy Performance. Miss Gulch Returns! played long runs in New York's cabarets, followed by engagements in cities around the country.
The 1986 recording remains a popular seller, over twenty years after its initial release. Miss Gulch's song "Pour Me A Man" is now a cabaret standard, sung on three continents. The show has received award-winning, critically-acclaimed productions in regional theatres around the US and England, and I presented a revised 20th Anniversary production in New York in 2004.
Miss Gulch is me in a bad mood. I wrote the songs because I hear so many gushy love songs everywhere: "I love you," "I'm glad you love me," "you used to love me," "I wish you still loved me," on and on and I thought, how about some songs for single people who haven't found someone to sing gushy love songs about in the first place? Poor Miss Gulch, trapped in that starchy old stereotype as the old-Hollywood spinster – what if she got a chance to let down that iron hairdo of hers and let loose with a ditty or two in a cabaret? Voila – Miss Gulch Returns! "I'm A Bitch" is her theme song – Miss Gulch knows who she is and she loves every minute of it. Almost. "Pour Me A Man" is the big comedy number something Fats Waller might have written if he were a big old lady sitting in a bar without a date. She can have every drink the bartender knows how to make, but who would sit drinking in a bar if the bartender could pour her (or him, depending on who you are) a swell fellow (or whatever you're into) to take home and canoodle with?
But the big song is "Everyone Worth Taking's Been Taken." Ever been single and surrounded by happy couples at a party? Or looked at the Wedding Announcements page in the New York Times? How dare happy people ram their happiness in our faces like that! If they want to be happy, that's their own private business, but do they have to rub our faces in it? That's the Miss Gulch in all of us – the only stimulation she gets is from a bicycle. Here are two of my favorite reactions I've gotten from the show. A young, apparently single woman came up to me afterwards and said, with the faintest tear in her eye, "How did you know what it's like?" "Believe me," I answered, "I know what it's like." On another occasion, after the show a fellow said to me, "I've never seen anyone put on such a ridiculous get-up and become so naked on stage." That got me right where I live (I wonder if they got that comment down at Naked Boys Singing.)
(from the original LP liner notes)
Wrong – she is not Auntie Mame's secretary (that was Agnes Gooch). She is, of course, the dog-snatching, bicycle-riding, spiteful spinster-next-door who had it in for Dorothy's little Toto. Of all Hollywood's ornery old maids, crotchety battle-axes, and crusty curmudgeons, Miss Gulch is the unquestioned queen; she is the ultimate Hollywood stereotype. Pity her! Born to higher things, why was she sentenced to serve forever as two-dimensional comic relief? And why should her formidable figure invariably inspire hoots and hilarity? Perhaps today's sophisticates are amused by quaint Hollywood psychology, in which a severe Miss Gulch becomes a terrifying Wicked Witch in the subconscious mind of a pubescent Midwestern teenager. Or is it possible that we prefer the safety of identifying with victimized superstar heroines; that the startling image of the underdog supporting-player's sexually frustrated spinster hits a deep nerve of unsettling self-recognition that can acknowledge only with laughter?
Poor Almira! For fifty years she has intrigued us, but never got to give us her side of story. She has remained misunderstood, underestimated, and unappreciated. And through the decades, frustrated fans have hungered for solutions to the mysteries surrounding the legendary Miss Gulch. Why does she ride that bike? What does she have against neighborhood girls and their little dogs too? What becomes of her after the tornado? Did she have a happy childhood? And most of all – who is the real woman beneath that ferocious facade?
Enter Fred Barton, budding composer-lyricist-author-actor-singer-musician, armed with a penchant for triple entendres, triple rhymes, honky-tonk rhythms, and determined to revive the long-dormant special-material comedy song tradition. In Miss Gulch, he finds the ideal icon for today's disillusioned souls, the perfect symbol of the frustrated aspirations of our age. He furnishes himself with an armful of devastating new songs, a tastefully outrageous black dress, a wig, a hat, a wicker basket, a grand piano, and voila: Miss Gulch Returns! And Mr. Barton does the old girl proud. All her dreams finally come true: long-running New York engagements rife with raves, guest appearances in cities from coast to coast... a cult following of her own... and, of course, the album!
The Bitch is back in all the glory Hollywood denied her. She sings (at last!). She plays a mean piano (and what other kind?) She gives us the dirt. She dumps Hollywood and gives the real world a try – and lands a job as well as the next man (and lands the next man, as well). She lays her soul bare, and yours if you dare. So turn on the phone machine, turn Judy's picture to the wall, turn up the volume, and welcome to the wit and wisdom of Miss Gulch – "Entertainesse Extraordinaire!"
Read more about the history of Miss Gulch Returns!