Robin Miller

Robin died in his London home just before Christmas.  The following interview was done in March 1981.

 

When 42nd Street opened on Broadway, all the major reviews mentioned Dames at Sea, the successful Off-Broadway show of the late 60s.  Dames at Sealed led the way for the nostalgic boom on Broadway.  What may surprise is that the co-author / lyricist of Dames is an Englishman – in fact the quintessence of an Englishman ex Grenadier Guardsman – Robin Miller.

 

Overtures: must have been a strange experience for you to see 42nd Street on Broadway.  What were your reactions?

 

R.M: It was rather strange.  It was like seeing our show in reverse, our show huge, our lines – well not our lines they were the film’s lines – all like a double negative.  This marvelous brilliantly done giant version of what we had made our own had come back again.  My feet started tapping when the overture started.  I love those Harry Warren tunes.  I look around and regardless of age, everyone’s hands and feet were tapping.  And then, the curtain rises not as it does in ours with one person tapping, but 32 people tapping MAGIC!

 

As a writer I always watch shows on two levels; one an enjoyment level, the other a writer’s level.  My feeling was on a writer’s level, they could have perfectly well built in a tiny romance for the girl, as we had, because in most of those films, except in 42nd Street where it was never resolved, but in all the other Golddigger films, Ruby fell in love with Dick.  It would have taken a few lines only.  I loved 42nd Street, it was absolutely sublime.

 

Overtures: The reviews all mentioned Dames at Sea which indicates that it had become a point of reference.

 

RM: They did this when No, No, Nanette opened. It was said that it would never have happened without Dames. We had pressed the button on the whole nostalgia movement, it all started with us. The other big hit the year of Dames’ opening was Promises, Promises a very contemporary show.  The producers had offers to put our show on Broadway, but we knew it would have been a disa¬ster, and refused.  We had already had to move from the Bouwerie Lane Theatre to the De Lys because the original did not have enough seats to make it pay. It's a deceptive piece for although there are only six kids on stage there is a large back-stage staff.

 

There has been talk of doing a revival on Broadway, but I was nervous about it, I felt it had to be looked at again in the light of the time that has passed.  Also knowing 42nd Street was on its way I thought that a revival would be a mistake.  It would now probably cost $400,000 to put on - the 1968 production cost $40,000, which is why a revival would have to be on Broadway and not Off..  But having now seen 42ND STREET, I real¬ise that it could help a revival.

 

Overtures: How did your interest in the theatre start?

 

R.M: As long as I can remember I always wanted to be a dancer - I want¬ed to be a 'hoofer' in the American sense. I came from a conventional family, we lived in the country and my father was in the Army.  Nobody, except my great-uncle, Roger Quilter, who was a successful composer, had anything to do with the theatre.  The first stage show I saw was Where the Rainbow Ends for which my Uncle Roger wrote the music.  I remember meeting the Dragon King on the staircase, his eyes covered in green sequins, and I thought "that's for me".  I was utterly swept away by that marvelous show. It was a Christmas show and it contained everything a child adored: flying dragons, transformation scenes, real water - and it was madly patriotic.  The first adult show I saw was with Bobby Howes and Pat Kirkwood when I must have been about ten.  I remember they did a tap-number called 'I've Got a Pocketful of Dreams'.

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