Little Mary Sunshine is an American musical in emulation of older operetta, with book, music, and lyrics by Rick Besoyan. It was premiered on November 18, 1959 at the Orpheum Theatre in New York.
(This musical is not to be confused with a silent film of the same title from 1916.)
This musical was conceived and executed as a loving sendup of the operettas of Victor Herbert, Rudolf Friml, and Sigmund Romberg. The original production was staged and choreographed by Ray Harrison and featured Eileen Brennan in the title role, with musical accompaniment supplied by two pianos. When chosen by Capitol Records to be issued that firm's first original cast recording of an off-Broadway show, the musical was fitted with orchestral accompaniment.
The original West End cast of the show was directed by Paddy Stone and starred Patricia Routledge.
Despite objections to this musical which claim that it stereotypes Native Americans, mutilates Dakota/Lakota language, and demeans women, Little Mary Sunshine continues to be produced in local theaters in the United States.
Characters and setting
Time: Early in this century [i.e., 20th]]
Act I. As the story begins, we learn that Chief Brown Bear, upon Mary's advice, has taken the Kadota's claim to the land to the courts. Meanwhile, Mary, the foster-daughter of Chief Brown Bear, has fallen behind on her mortgage payment to the United States government for the land on which her Inn stands.
The Forest Rangers have arrived in the area, in the midst of tracking down a disruptive group of Indians. They come across several young ladies staying at the inn who are on vacation from the Eastchester Finishing School.
Captain Jim tells Mary that the leader of the wayward Indians is Yellow Feather, who turns out to be Brown Bear's son, thought dead, and who threatened to harm Mary. Captain Jim and Fleet Foot set off to find Yellow Feather.
Act II. General Fairfax arrives, assumes command of the Rangers, and sends them off to find Captain Jim so as to have the ladies to himself. Outside at night, Mary is captured and tied to a tree by Yellow Feather, but is rescued by Captain Jim. The Rangers, whohave surrounded the Inn, capture Yellow Feather as he tries to escape.
Fairfax then tells everyone that the United States government has decided in Brown Bear's favor, and so Brown Bear gives Mary the land that the Inn stands on, rendering the rest as a national park.
(Not to be omitted are the love interests in the plot: by the end of the story, Jim and Mary become engaged, as do the other pairs of Ladies and Rangers; flirty Nancy and jealous Billy seem finally to be getting serious about each other, and there seems to be something in store for Oscar and Ernestine.)
The musical numbers for Little Mary Sunshine are appropriately tongue-in-cheek, but are nevertheless well-crafted, in both words and music. Besides the title song, there is the "Colorado Love Call" (invoking duets between Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy), the hopelessly optimistic "Look for a Sky of Blue," the soft-shoe-styled "Once in a Blue Moon", and other characteristic songs such as "Mata Hari" and "Do You Ever Dream of Vienna?" Perhaps as part of the overall playful treatment of the subject and genre, the most complex part of the score occurs during one of the least crucial scenes -- i.e., the meeting of the Rangers and the ladies. In this scene we hear three songs -- "Playing Croquet," "Swinging," and "How Do You Do?" -- first separately, and then combined.
Here is a list of the numbers: