Tag Archives: Female composer

Nr 466: Inner City (1971)

13 Mar

Inner City – A street cantata
1971: Broadway, 97 perf.


Music: Helen Miller
Lyrics: Eva Merriam based on her book The Inner City Mother Goose (1969)

Boys and girls come out to play
The moon doth shine as bright as day
Leave your supper and leave your sleep
And join your playfellows on the street
Come with a whoop come with a a call
Up, motherfuckers, against the wall

– The first 6 lines from the book.


This is the musical that rocked Broadway with its distinctly untraditional take on modern urban life. A series of nursery-rhyme parodies highlighting the diminishing quality of life in the center of America’s cities are presented in song. 
As Inner City lacked a proper book, it was dominated, revue-style, by wall-to-wall music. The songs brought to life the contemporary vignettes taking place in locales from a welfare center to an overcrowded urban school.

The subtitle to Inner City, “A Street Cantata,” pretty much describes what the revue that opened was all about – a celebration of urban life as seen through the eyes of its ghetto citizens, but with a twist. Based on Eve Merriam’s The Inner City Mother Goose, it dealt with the classic nursery rhymes repertory, suffused with social protest attitudes that were not in the original, the whole thing set to music by Helen Miller.

The show won 2 awards: Both The Tony Award for best featured actress in a musical and The Drama Desk Award for outstanding performance went to Linda Hopkins.

This is a score that I’ve always liked a lot ever since I found the lovely gate-fold album in a thrift shop in the early eighties. The music doesn’t belong to the kind that is soothing to the ear but rather to the kind that shakes you up because it feels quite hard, angry and ”street” and therefore the perfect match to the rhymes. It’s an angry album but also one filled with hope and dreams. The music is very diverse and just becomes better with every listening. The only track that I really don’t like is the Street Sermon that comes as the next to last track. It’s an spoken word piece that feels very dated and doesn’t become better with repeated listening. Nowadays I always skip that track when I put on the record. But the rest of the score is really great .

It’s unfortunate that the single-LP cast recording trimmed the expansive, eclectic score from over 50 songs to a mere 29, spread over 15 tracks, 6 of them are medleys with a about 3 songs a piece. I wish they’d given us a double-LP instead or perhaps reinstated the lost tracks when they issued the cd – if those tracks were ever recorded.
The score consists of pop music, soul, gospel, R & B, calypso, the tried-and-true showtune and rock.


Inner City contains what is believed to be the first score written solely by women for the Broadway stage.

The show was musically updated in 1982 and got a new title: Street Dreams: The Inner City Musical.

Miller was a Brill Building tunesmith who had composed such hit songs as Gene Pitney’s It Hurts to Be in Love and the Shirelles’ Foolish Little Girl.

Brill Building (also known as Brill Building pop or the Brill Building sound) is a subgenre of pop music that took its name from the Brill Building in New York City, where numerous teams of professional songwriters penned material for girl groups and teen idols during the early 1960s.

The show’s Associate Producer was Harvey Milk, who went on to become the San Francisco political icon who was tragically murdered in 1978.

The song Deep in the Night, got covered by Barbra Streisand on her Songbird album from 1978. The song was also recorded by Etta James, Sarah Vaughan and The Shirelles.

Videos:
If Wishes Were Horses
From a backer’s audition for Inner City
Etta James’ cover of Deep in the Night

The cover of the 1969 book.

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