Top of the Heap
Music by Jeffrey Lodin, Book & Lyrics by William Squier
The curtain rises on a live television studio in the 1950's, moments before airtime. An Actress appears to usher us into the show-within-a-show that is about to be broadcast: Top of the Heap.
New York City. 1955. The Brooklyn Dodgers are about to square off with the Yankees in World Series. But, our story centers on a “team” of Brooklyn Bums who face even longer odds. Ronny Mauro and Gil Webster are a pair of standup comics who have seen the seedy nightclubs where they appear being driven out of business by the rise of television. Ronny’s response to the problem? Break their act into t.v. But how to do it? The answer comes when Edgar Callahan, the ‘Ed Sullivanesque’ host of t.v.’s most popular variety program, ‘Top of the Heap,’ announces that he’s headed to Brooklyn for a live broadcast tied into the Series. It’s the perfect opportunity.
When Ronny tries to convince his partner to help him get their act to Callahan, however, Gil begs off. Gil clearly has ideas of his about what they need to do to survive, but Ronny doesn’t want to hear it. Instead, Ronny crashes Edgar’s arrival party and “connects” with Elsa Orwell, an elegant, aging newspaper columnist on the make. They strike a bargain: Ronny will bed Elsa in exchange for an “intro” to Mr. Callahan.
Meanwhile, Gil’s been working on a new routine – edgier, honest stuff. Ronny appears and announces that they have a “meet” with the Edgar Callahan, forcing Gil confesses the reason for his reluctance: he’s embarrassed by their act. He longs to ditch their bits and shtick for the story-telling style of comedy he’s seen over in the Greenwich Village clubs. To buy his cooperation, Ronny agrees to put some of Gil’s new material into their act. When the boys finally audition for Edgar, it’s the new material that clinches them a booking on the show.
As it happens, Edgar Callahan is something of a manipulator. At present, he’s attempting to coerce his program’s sleek commercial pitch gal, Meryl Dean, into continuing a love affair with him -- an affair that Meryl wants to end. At the show’s dress rehearsal, she latches onto Gil to keep Edgar at bay, and they end up heading down to ‘The Village.’ By the next day Edgar has learned of their activities. In retaliation, he cuts Gil’s new jokes just before airtime, claiming they’re too risky to broadcast. Gil wants to walk off the show, but Ronny pleads with him to stay. Gil relents, but then, stops dead in the middle of the live program and appeals directly to the studio audience to listen and judge his new material. The show ends in a shambles, with Edgar swearing revenge on the both of them. Word spreads and the boys are left devastated.
Act One ends. Lights ghost back up. The Ensemble is present in the studio environment, milling around, smoking, studying their scripts -- as if the intermission was a commercial break.
As Act Two begins, Ronny learns that Harmon Laybourne, owner of a large suburban nightclub, is looking for him. It turns out Edgar has arranged for Meryl to appear there as a singer. She, in turn, has convinced Harmon to add Ronny and Gil to the bill. Ronny’s far too angry with Gil to agree, though he knows his options are few. Edgar gets wind of it and co-opts Ronny into double-crossing the others by promising him a solo career. So as not to arouse suspicion, Edgar tells Ronny to take the gig and asks simply to be kept informed of Meryl’s activities.
As they rehearse for their gig, Gil begins to fall in love with Meryl. He admits as much and Meryl asks for time, but doesn’t turn him down. Edgar goes to see Meryl the night before her opening, during which they argue, Edgar loses control and beats her severely. Once he regains his senses, Edgar sees a way to turn his rashness to his advantage. He arranges for Gil to be identified as her attacker and arrested in front of a packed house at the club. A few of the onlookers -- such as Harmon and Elsa -- suspect Edgar of manipulating the situation.
Edgar sets Ronny up with a solo television spot to buy his silence. But, the comic is racked with guilt about all that has happened and uses his on-air appearance to implicate Edgar. Ronny and Gil reunite. Ronny offers to step aside so that Gil can develop the act to which he aspires. Gil refuses to do it without Ronny. So, Ronny takes a stab at Gil’s kind of comedy and, to his surprise, gets a laugh. Encouraged, the boys head off to the old neighborhood where there’s a celebration going on: the Dodger’s have won the World Series.
The broadcast ends. The white light of the television studio fills the stage. The Ensemble appears to collect their belongings and head for home. The curtain falls.
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NORMA (ELSA’S ASST. aka ACTRESS #1)
MERYL DEAN (aka ACTRESS #4)
EDGAR CALLAHAN (aka ACTOR #3)
COOCHIE KOVACK (aka ACTRESS #2)
HARMON LAYBOURNE (aka ACTOR #4)
ELSA ORWELL (aka ACTRESS #3)
SIDNEY (T.V. FLOOR MANAGER (aka ACTOR #1)
JOEY FINK (TRIO aka ACTOR #2)
BENNY CORTONA (TRIO, BARTENDER aka ACTOR #3)
PHYLLIS (TRIO, EDGAR’S WIFE aka ACTRESS #5)
ENSEMBLE plays CLUB PATRONS, RESIDENTS OF GREENWICH VILLAGE, STUDIO AUDIENCE, etc...