On Musicals

On Al Carmines and Maria Irene Fornes

May 2, 2019 by New York City Center

Featuring music by Al Carmines and book and lyrics by Maria Irene Fornes, the original production of Promenade opened at the Judson Poets’ Theater at Judson Memorial Church on April 9, 1965. The three-weekend engagement was followed by a commercial run Off-Broadway in 1969 at the Promenade Theatre – named so for the production. Encores! Off-Center presents this Obie Award winning avant-garde masterwork for two-nights-only July 10 and 11. Learn more about these pillars of the experimental theater movement from Fornes contemporary John Guare and our very own Jack Viertel.      

John Guare on Maria Irene Fornes…
“In the early ‘60s, Maria Irene Fornes began writing plays like no one had ever seen in 2500 years. She took a mad swan dive deep into her subconscious and unleashed a new freedom in the American theater.

Along with Sam Shepherd and Lanford Wilson, and the Caffe Cino, Café La Mama, and Judson Church, the Off-Off Broadway movement created a new American theater: joyous, spontaneous, liberating, exhilarating. Fornes was its undisputed queen constantly opening new doors, discovering new paths.

Hail to Encores! Off-Center for giving Promenade, her musical triumph with its score by Al Carmines, a long over-due revival. Feast in the wonder that was and is Maria Irene Fornes.

She famously said ‘I know everything. Half I do know. The other half I make up.’ Thank God for the other half! She’ll liberate you.”

Jack Viertel on Al Carmines…
“If you were lucky enough, as I was, to be a young audience member in the era of the real Off-Broadway ferment of the '60s and early '70s, there was no greater hero than Al Carmines.

Lanford Wilson was emerging. Edward Albee was already among us and famous. But Al Carmines—the Reverend Al Carmines, pastor of the Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square South—was the underground’s mad master, a minister whose piano was a veritable music box of delight. His subject matter was wild and sometimes challenging: Joan of Arc, gay romance, gun violence, and Gertrude Stein.

The man seemingly wrote a musical a minute—more than 40 of them, with titles like Gorilla Queen (I loved Gorilla Queen) and Home Movies, which featured a passionate ode to peanuts. He was a fearless tragi-comedian from whom memorable tunes flowed like whiskey at an Irish wake. And for all that, he wrote exactly one show that was made it to commercial Off-Broadway and became a hit: Promenade.

In my teens I saw it a few times, but I never ever dreamed I’d get to have the pleasure again. It was, in many ways, the apotheosis of all the boldness, the experimental passion, and the audacity that was the hallmark of that great period: the theater of the fearless.”

Promenade is part of the 2019 Encores! Off-Center season along with Working: A Musical and Road Show.