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An Autobiography: Chapter 25, Dear World

Georgianna and I went to New York for our 25th wedding anniversary, and on April 14, 1969, we saw Jerry Herman’s grand musical, Dear World, starring Angela Lansbury, at the Mark Hellinger Theatre. Originally built by Warner Bros. as a deluxe movie palace to showcase their films on Broadway, the theatre opened as the Warner Bros. Hollywood Theatre on April 22, 1920.

Although built as a cinema, the theatre’s stage, one of the largest on Broadway, was designed with the capacity to present large musical shows. As early as 1933, the Hollywood began presenting legitimate Broadway musicals, returning to films between live engagements. In 1948, it was renamed the Mark Hellinger Theatre, in honor of the noted Broadway journalist, and the Hellinger continued to primarily showcase musicals. The venue had its greatest success with the smash hit My Fair Lady, which ran from 1956 to 1962, with 2,717 performances.

The rococo interior is typical of the 1920s movie palace design. The coved ceiling has dozens of murals reminiscent of Boucher and Watteau, depicting 18th-century French aristocracy

. The spectacular rotunda lobby is dominated by eight fluted Corinthian columns and a ceiling that is decorated with colorful murals of classical scenes. This and other interior spaces were designed by Leif  Neandross, chief designer of the Rambusch Decorating Company. The auditorium seating capacity is approximately 1,506, one of the largest in the theatre district. The stage is among the largest and best-equipped of all of New York's theaters. A large plaster-of-Paris crown rests above the proscenium.

The Nederlander Organization purchased the theater in 1970, and later sold it to the Times Square Church. They have maintained the theater's historic interior décor, and it is open to the public regularly for services and tours.

Dear World is based on Jean Giraudoux's play The Madwoman of Chaillot as adapted by Maurice Valency. It focuses on the Countess Aurelia, Constance and Gabrielle, who deviously scheme to stop businessmen from drilling for oil in the Parisian neighborhood of Chaillot. The forces of idealism, love and poetry win over those of greed, materialism and science.

Someone has wounded you, dear world,
Someone has poisoned you, dear world.
And those who love you definitely insist
That you get off that critical list.
So make your recovery quick world.
We want you dancing tomorrow afternoon,
So be a dear world,
Take the stitches out, dear world,
Rip the bandages off, dear world,
And get well soon!

Dear World 

Jerry Herman was Broadway’s youngest lyricist-composer, with Milk and Honey, and his blockbuster hits Mame and Hello Dolly! were on Broadway at the same time as Dear World! Angela Lansbury won the Tony for Dear World, Best Leading Actress in a Musical. She has won a total of five Tony Awards.

Angela Lansbury 

Angela Lansbury 

The record album of Dear World was played often in our home, but it wasn’t until about 56 years after we saw the show on Broadway that I realized the story of Dear World became more contemporary with each passing year – the story of the wise old woman who saves the Earth from greedy oil barons.

My life’s work was centered around Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Albert Schweitzer, and I had produced the successful 16-day peace event: Symposium 2000 – World Peace through Reverence for Life, so the idea came to me to produce a major CD with words and music for peace and the environment, and call it Dear World. 

The idea evolved into a 56-page book with two CDs, containing 18 songs and 15 tracks of spoken words. The project took almost two years, and I heard more than 50 recordings, which were under consideration, and read thousands of words, including those of philosophers, Nobel Peace Laureates and presidents. To produce a work that would make people realize that our world is too beautiful to destroy was a great challenge.

The book was masterfully designed by artist Tony Gerber, and the CD was mastered by one of the best in the business, Bob Olhsson. The introduction is spoken by Stefani Powers, President of the William Holden Wildlife Foundation. Music highlights include the title song from the original Broadway cast album featuring Angela Lansbury; Let There Be Peace On Earth – Gladys Knight; I Want to Live – John Denver; and two beautiful numbers by Olivia Newton-John: Silent Ruin and Don’t Cut Me Down. Also included is the recording of my song, Childhood Dreams, performed by the Hiroshima Boys’ Choir.

Stefani Powers 

Stefani Powers 

One song I felt was very important for the CD was Malvina Reynolds’ What Have They Done To the Rain? sung by Rosalie Sorrels. Of  Ms. Reynolds’ songs, Judy Collins wrote … “inspiring, uplifting and provocative. Rosalie Sorrels’ striking renditions lend an immediacy to the lyrics.”

Just a little breeze blowin’ through the sky
The leaves pat their hands as the breeze blows by
Just a little breeze it’s got smoke in its eye
What have they done to the rain?
Just a little boy standing in the rain
It’s the gentle rain that falls for years
And the grass is gone, the boy disappears
And the rain keeps falling like helpless tears
What have they done to the rain?
What have they done to the rain?

I drew from the words of Albert Schweitzer, spoken by Christiane Engel, Dr. Schweitzer’s granddaughter, and Robert Thurman, chair of Religious Studies at Columbia University, and recognized international authority on religion, Asian history, and Tibetan Buddhism. There are words by Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, James Madison and Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, spoken by his daughter. Robert Thurman speaks the words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Arun Gandhi speaks the words of his grandfather, MahatmaGandhi.

One of the most moving tracks in the 2-CD set contains the words of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, spoken by Donna Stephenson.

Saturday, July 15, 1944 

It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering, and death. I see the world slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better,  that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realize them. 

Anne Frank 

Anne Frank 

The Dear World 2-CD set is on the Tennessee Players website, It was released on Earth Day, April 22, 2007, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Albert Schweitzer’s “Declaration of Conscience” speech – April 12, 1957.

Here are the final words of the Dr. Schweitzer’s speech:

America and Soviet Russia and Britain are telling one another again and again that they want nothing more than to reach an agreement to end the testing of atomic weapons. At the same time, however, they declare that they cannot stop the tests as long as there is no such agreement. 

Why do they not come to an agreement? The real reason is that in their own countries there is no public opinion asking for it. Nor is there any such public opinion in other countries with the exception of Japan. This opinion has been forced upon the Japanese people because, little by little, they will be hit in a most terrible way by the evil consequences of all the tests. 

An agreement of this kind presupposes reliability and trust. There must be guarantees preventing the agreement from being signed by anyone intending to win important tactical advantages foreseen only by him. 

Public opinion in all nations concerned must inspire and accept the agreement. 

When public opinion has been created in the countries concerned and among all nations – an opinion informed of the dangers involved in going on with the tests and led by the reason which this information imposes – then the statesmen may reach an agreement to stop the experiments. 

A public opinion of this kind stands in no need of plebiscites or of forming of committees to express itself. It works through just being there. 

Albert Schweitzer 

Albert Schweitzer 

The end of further experiments with atom bombs would be like the early sunrays of hope which suffering humanity is longing for.

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