God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

No one was more surprised than Howard, at the time an unknown and struggling playwright and director, when the beloved writer Kurt Vonnegut agreed to let him turn his novel, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, into a musical. Looking for a composer, Howard was introduced to Alan Menken - and the two began working. In May of 1979 their first musical opened at the tiny WPA Theater and a legendary partnership was formed.

Howard had long admired Vonnegut’s work and especially this satiric yet gentle novel. With the blessing of Mr. Vonnegut, Howard and composer Alan Menken began work and in May 1979 opened their first of many collaborations at the WPA Theater, where Howard was the artistic director.

Enthusiastic reviews encouraged them to move the show to an off-Broadway house. Although the show didn’t have a long run at the Entermedia Theater, Howard went on to direct a revival of the musical at Arena Stage in Washington, DC.

The musical tells the story of Eliot Rosewater, the well-intentioned, deeply neurotic, tragically haunted and operatically lovable heir to one of America’s greatest fortunes. WIshing to do good with his vast wealth, Eliot moves to the family seat - a home never actually occupied by his family - in Rosewater County, Indiana,  to care for the town’s residents.

The theme of the two Americas – the vast gulf separating the rich and the poor is as relevant today as it was when the book (1965) and the show (1979) were originally written.

You see the folks
In this old town
They need somebody to care
They need some help
And they need some cash
And guess who’s got plenty to spare.
Howard came from blue-collar Baltimore, and he loved to write about that Middle America milieu. He related to Eliot Rosewater—this guy with no particular skills, no lust for fame or conquest, who just loved being a volunteer fireman. I think that was Howard’s great achievement: He revealed the simple, surprising poetry of the ordinary person. And he did it over and over. Think about the girl who just wanted to be “Somewhere That’s Green.” Look at what he did for Belle.”
— Maury Yeston
A jauntily misanthropic musical about philanthropy and hypocrisy in everyday life...for the deprived theatergoer, it seems absolutely eleemysonary.
— Mel Gussow, The New York Times May 21, 1979

Video: Kurt Vonnegut & daughter Edith discuss Rosewater in a 1979 morning news program interviewed by Gene Shalit. 

Of all the musicals I’ve composed scores for in my career God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is probably closest and dearest to my heart
— Alan Menken


WPA Theater:  May 1979
Entermedia Theater: October 1979
Arena Stage:  May 1981
Encores at New York CIty Center: July 2016

Encores at New York City Center Cast Recording