Oh! Calcutta!

Last updated
Oh! Calcutta!
Ps the cd70 1090.jpg
Oh! Calcutta! original cast album cover
Music Peter Schickele
Robert Dennis
Stanley Walden
LyricsPeter Schickele
Robert Dennis
Stanley Walden
BookVarious Artists
Productions1969 Off-Broadway
1970 West End
1976 Broadway revival
1977 Madrid

Oh! Calcutta! is an avant-garde theatrical revue created by British drama critic Kenneth Tynan. The show, consisting of sketches on sex-related topics, debuted Off-Broadway in 1969 and then in the West End in 1970. It ran in London for over 3,900 performances, and in New York initially for 1,314. Revivals enjoyed even longer runs, including a Broadway revival that ran for 5,959 performances, making the show the longest-running revue in Broadway history at the time.


As of 2018, its revival was still the longest-running revue in Broadway history; the second longest-running revival, after Chicago ; and the eighth longest-running Broadway show ever.

The show sparked considerable controversy at the time due to its extended scenes of total nudity, both male and female. The title is taken from a painting by Clovis Trouille, itself a pun on "O quel cul t'as!", French for "Oh, what an arse you have!" [1]

Background and productions

Tynan came up with the idea of putting on an erotic revue in the summer of 1966. [2] Tynan had hoped that Harold Pinter would direct the production, in order to give it avant-garde legitimacy, but Pinter declined. Sketches were written by, amongst others, Samuel Beckett, John Lennon, Sam Shepard, Leonard Melfi, Edna O'Brien, Jules Feiffer, and Tynan, and featured the cast naked. Peter Schickele (also known as the creator of PDQ Bach), Robert Dennis and Stanley Walden were the revue's composers, known as The Open Window. Beckett's contribution, Breath , was used as a Prologue in the original New York staging, but Beckett eventually withdrew permission for its use.

The musical opened off-Broadway at the Eden Theatre on June 21, 1969, transferred to the Belasco Theatre on February 17, 1971, and closed on August 12, 1972 after a total of 1,314 performances. It was directed by Jacques Levy (later the songwriting partner of Bob Dylan on his album Desire ) and choreographed by Margo Sappington. The cast included Raina Barrett, Mark Dempsey, Katie Drew-Wilkinson, Boni Enten, Bill Macy, Alan Rachins, Leon Russom, Margo Sappington, Nancy Tribush and George Welbes, [3] as well as the 3 "Open Window" composers. [4]

The musical premiered in London on July 27, 1970, at The Roundhouse, and transferred to the West End Royalty Theatre on September 30, 1970, running through January 27, 1974. The show then transferred to the Duchess Theatre on January 28, 1974, where it ran until February 1980, for a total of 3,918 performances. [5] [6] [7] The London show was produced by Michael White. [8] [9]

Billboard on Broadway in 1981 NYC-Oh Calcutta-1981.jpg
Billboard on Broadway in 1981

A revival opened on Broadway at the Edison Theatre on September 24, 1976 and closed on August 6, 1989 after 5,959 performances, again directed and choreographed by Levy and Sappington. The revival briefly became the longest-running show in Broadway history. It remains Broadway's eighth longest-running show and the longest-running revue in Broadway history. [10]

A pay-per-view video production played on closed-circuit television in select cities in 1971, and was released theatrically in 1972; in both cases many cities and municipalities banned its showing. Frank Herold, an editor who worked on the film, provides commentary on this in a brief post he contributed to the project's Internet Movie Database page. [11]

The Spanish-language premiere production opened on October 9, 1977 at Teatro Príncipe in Madrid, Spain, directed by Juan Jose Alonso Millan, who also translated the show.

Sketches and songs

Note: the musical revue was in the form of sketches. These are taken from the 1971 production shown on pay-per-view. Lyrics and music by Robert Dennis, Peter Schickele and Stanley Walden (unless otherwise noted).

Act 1

Samuel Beckett's "Breath" (until licence withdrawn by author)
Taking Off the Robe

The actors dance and remove their robes to the opening song ("Taking Off the Robe" (Oh! Calcutta!)).

Jack and Jill

A boy and a girl who just met are in their own playland, with the boy constantly trying to find ways to seduce the girl, who is afraid of him because he is a boy. The sketch ends with the girl in a coma after the boy rapes her ("Jack & Jill").

A Suite of Five Letters

A song of five letters written by anonymous authors about their sexual preferences ("Suite for Five Letters"). They were actual letters to the editor from various newspapers from olden times in London and, later in the Suite, contemporary letters from sexual newspapers of the day.

Dick and Jane

An uptight girl gets a lesson in loosening up after her lover is sick of her constantly stiff ways ("Dick & Jane").

Will Answer All Serious Replies

A young couple starts to rethink getting into the swingers lifestyle after meeting the middle-aged couple who answers their ad ("(Will Answer All) Sincere Replies").

Delicious Indignities

A chaste woman is caught by her admirer, who then proceeds to learn that she is not as chaste as he thinks she is ("Delicious Indignities (or The Deflowering of Helen Axminster") was written by Sherman Yellen).

Was It Good for You, Too?

A man participates in a sex study and the whole experience ends up turning into one big farce ("Was It Good For You Too? (Green Pants, I Like the Look)"). The scene plays like the Marx Brothers at a sex research facility.

Act 2

"Who, Whom (Exchanges of Information)" (Added during run)
Life Is Over Much Too Soon

A pre-filmed section, where the actors are nude outside doing interpretive dance ("Much Too Soon"), music and lyrics by Jacques Levy, Dennis, Schickele, and Walden.

One on One

Another nude interpretive dance ("One on One (Clarence and Mildred)").

Rock Garden

After a man rambles on about painting the fence and building a rock garden, his son talks about what girls really like ("Rock Garden").

Four in Hand

A newcomer to a masturbation game cannot seem to think of anything to masturbate to ("Four in Hand"). (The first draft of this sketch was written by John Lennon.) [12] [13]


Players come out to sing the final song and dance, also doing voiceover as to what the theater patrons are really thinking about the experience. Examples include: "She has pretty eyes" (the joke being that all of the actors are nude at this point), "How come none of the guys have hard-ons?" "That's my boyfriend—that IS a hard-on", and "If they showed this in Washington, Agnew would shit!" ("Coming Together, Going Together").

Critical response

Clive Barnes, in his 1969 review for The New York Times , wrote that "the humor is so doggedly sophomoric and soporific", adding "The failure here is almost exclusively a failure of the writers and the producers. The director, Jacques Levy, has done his best with the weak material at hand ... the nude scenes, while derivative, are attractive enough. The best effects—including the rather sweet grope-in immediately after the intermission—have been taken from Robert Joffrey's ballet 'Astarte', and the show uses the same projected media designers ... In sum, Oh! Calcutta! is likely to disappoint different people in different ways, but disappointment is the order of the night." [14]

Irving Wardle, writing in The Times in 1970, said: "I have seen better revues than Oh! Calcutta! but none based on ideas that strike me as more sympathetic. Namely that the ordinary human body is an object well worth attention: and that there is no reason why the public treatment of sex should not be extended to take in not only lyricism and personal emotion but also the rich harvest of bawdy jokes." He noted that the enjoyment and lack of embarrassment of the cast helped the audience to accept the more insubstantial elements of the revue's material and that the stage sets' screen projections assisted the dance numbers considerably, concluding: "In many ways, it is a ghastly show: ill-written, juvenile, and attention-seeking. But it is not a menace." [15]

Obscenity allegations

The 1970 production at The Roundhouse, London, attracted the attention of the Metropolitan Police's Obscene Publications Squad, which sent two officers to a preview of the show. One of the officers returned twice more, before recommending a prosecution under the Theatres Act 1968 for obscenity. The Director of Public Prosecutions sent its panel of experts, including two retired headmistresses, to see The Roundhouse production. Their judgement that it was not obscene enabled it to transfer to London's West End. [16]

Related Research Articles

Peter Schickele American composer, musical educator, and parodist

Peter Schickele is an American composer, musical educator, and parodist, best known for comedy albums featuring his music, but which he presents as being composed by the fictional P. D. Q. Bach. He also hosted a long-running weekly radio program called Schickele Mix.

Breath is a notably short stage work by Samuel Beckett. An altered version was first included in Kenneth Tynan's revue Oh! Calcutta!, at the Eden Theatre in New York City on 16 June 1969. The UK premiere was at the Close Theatre Club in Glasgow in October 1969; this was the first performance of the text as written. The second performance, and the English premiere, was at a benefit held at the Oxford Playhouse on March 8, 1970. “The first accurate publication appeared in Gambit 4.16 (1969): 5–9, with a manuscript facsimile.”

Kenneth Tynan

Kenneth Peacock Tynan was an English theatre critic and writer. Making his initial impact as a critic at The Observer, he praised Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1956), and encouraged the emerging wave of British theatrical talent. In 1963, Tynan was appointed as the new National Theatre Company's literary manager.

Roundhouse (venue) performing arts and concert venue in London, England

The Roundhouse is a performing arts and concert venue situated at the Grade II* listed former railway engine shed in Chalk Farm, London, England.

This is a selected list of the longest-running musical theatre productions in history divided into two sections. The first section lists all Broadway and West End productions of musicals that have exceeded 2,500 performances, in order of greatest number of performances in either market. The second section lists, in alphabetical order, musicals that have broken historical long run records for musical theatre on Broadway, in the West End or Off-Broadway, since 1866, in alphabetical order.

Camille Clovis Trouille, worked as a restorer and decorator of department store mannequins, but is remembered as a Sunday painter who trained at the École des Beaux-Arts of Amiens from 1905 to 1910.

Prince of Wales Theatre West End theatre in London, England

The Prince of Wales Theatre is a West End theatre in Coventry Street, near Leicester Square in London. It was established in 1884 and rebuilt in 1937, and extensively refurbished in 2004 by Sir Cameron Mackintosh, its current owner. The theatre should not be confused with the former Scala Theatre in London that was known as the Prince of Wales Royal Theatre or Prince of Wales's Theatre from 1865 until its demolition in 1903.

Jacques Levy was an American songwriter, theatre director and clinical psychologist.

Sherman Yellen is an American playwright, screenwriter, and political commentator.

Broadhurst Theatre Broadway theatre in Manhattan, New York

The Broadhurst Theatre is a Broadway theatre located at 235 West 44th Street in Midtown Manhattan.

Belasco Theatre Broadway theatre in Manhattan, New York

The Belasco Theatre is a Broadway theater which opened in 1907 at 111 West 44th Street in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Originally known as the Stuyvesant Theatre, it was designed by architect George Keister for impresario David Belasco. The interior featured Tiffany lighting and ceiling panels, rich woodwork and expansive murals by American artist Everett Shinn, and a ten-room duplex penthouse apartment that Belasco utilized as combination living quarters/office space.

Norman Frederick "N. F." Simpson was an English playwright closely associated with the Theatre of the Absurd. To his friends he was known as Wally Simpson, in comic reference to the abdication crisis of 1936.

<i>Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris</i>

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris is a musical revue of the songs of Jacques Brel. Brel's songs were translated into English by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman, who also provided the story. The original 1968 Off-Broadway production ran for four years and spawned international and regional productions, as well as a West End production and Off-Broadway revival, among others. A film adaptation was released in 1975.

Edison Theatre

The Edison Theatre was a Broadway theatre located in the Hotel Edison at 240 West 47th Street in Midtown Manhattan.

<i>As Thousands Cheer</i>

As Thousands Cheer is a revue with a book by Moss Hart and music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, first performed in 1933. The revue contained satirical sketches and witty or poignant musical numbers, several of which became standards, including "Heat Wave", "Easter Parade" and "Harlem on my Mind". The sketches were loosely based on the news and the lives and affairs of the rich and famous, and other people of the day, such as Joan Crawford, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Noël Coward, Josephine Baker, and Aimee Semple McPherson.

Noël Coward English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer

Sir Noël Peirce Coward was an English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, known for his wit, flamboyance, and what Time magazine called "a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise".

Roderick Cook was an English playwright, writer, theatre director and actor of stage, television and film. Cook is known for creating, directing and starring in the musical review Oh, Coward! and portraying Count Von Strack in the Oscar-winning film Amadeus.

Margo Sappington is an American choreographer and dancer. She was nominated in 1975 for both a Tony Award as Best Choreographer and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Choreography for her work on the play Where's Charley?. In 1988, her ballet Virgin Forest was the subject of an award-winning documentary by PBS. In 2005 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award for choreography from the Joffrey Ballet.


  1. Clovis Trouille's portrait of a reclining nude shown from behind entitled "Oh Calcutta, Calcutta!", a pun in French, was chosen as the title for the 1969 musical revue. (The French phrase "oh quel cul t'as" translates roughly as "oh what a lovely arse you have".)
  2. Tynan, Kathleen (editor) Kenneth Tynan Letters, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1994
  3. Front piece, OH! CALCUTTA!, Copyright 1969 by Grove Press, Inc.
  4. Soloski, Alexis (June 17, 2019). "'Oh! Calcutta!' at 50: Still Naked After All These Years". The New York Times. Retrieved September 8, 2019.
  5. Oh!Calcutta! listing guidetomusicaltheatre.com, accessed July 31, 2009
  6. Oh Calcutta West End listing broadwayworld.com, accessed July 31, 2009
  7. Tynan, Kenneth, The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan, A&C Black (2002), p. 76, footnote 1
  8. Walsh, John (23 October 2011). "John Walsh meets... Michael White, sultan of swingers". The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media Ltd. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  9. Roberts, Lesley (3 November 2013). "New movie reveals life of producer and playboy Michael White who was secret king of showbiz in Scotland". Daily Record. Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail Ltd. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  10. Rich, Frank."The Asterisks of Oh Calcutta" New York Times, August 8, 1989
  11. Oh! Calcutta! imdb.com
  12. John Lennon at the Internet Broadway Database
  13. "Lennon Lore & Legacy: Oh! Calcutta!". Absolute Elsewhere: The Spirit Of John Lennon. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  14. Barnes, Clive. "Theater: 'Oh, Calcutta!' a Most Innocent Dirty Show". The New York Times , June 18, 1969.
  15. Wardle, Irving (28 July 1970). "Sometimes funny – not a menace". The Times (57929). Times Newspapers Limited.
  16. Travis, Alan (23 December 2000). "How two dames saved Oh! Calcutta!". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 November 2015.