Steeplechase The Funny Place
“Steeplechase” sung by Donald Corren and Company. Music and Lyrics by Matty Selman.
CHORUS: WE LIVE FOR THOSE WHO LOVE US / FOR THOSE WHOSE HEARTS ARE TRUE, FOR THE GOD THAT REIGNS ABOVE US / AND THE GOOD THAT WE MAY DO.
(A spotlight hits Angelo, a dwarf, sitting astride a wooden wheeled Steeplechase horse in front of the close curtains. The Goils – Mavis, Maude, and Medea – brush the horse’s tail and garland it and Angelo with flowers.)
ANGELO: In 1897, George C. Tilyou had those words carved on the Steeplechase bells. And it was in that glorious year of 1897 that they rang open the eighth wonder of the world – fifteen acres of dirt between Surf Avenue and the beach put under a roof as the only amusement park where you would never get wet. Every day George C. Tilyou would pray for rain.
(An unseen Chorus sings…)
CHORUS: THERE’S NO RAIN IN STEEPLECHASE PARK, / NO, THERE’S NO RAIN AT ALL; / REMEMBER THE SUN AND THE RAIN DOESN’T FALL.
(…and continues as Angelo speaks.)
ANGELO: Built on the only beach in the world where no one comes just to swim, Steeplechase Park charged you one dollar for the privilege of making a jackass out of yourself. And the showcase ride – the Gravity Steeplechase Race Horse – didn’t go very fast, wasn’t very flashy, didn’t wink, move, or wiggle, but it had something no other ride had – a very small seat for two.
(The Goils climb onto the horse, squeezing and hugging Angelo as they do.)
In 1897, and on into the twentieth century, it was an important necessity of life to have a place where you could squeeze your sweetie under the guise of savin her life, where you could let out that Coney Island Cry –
(The Goils let out a long shriek of fear and pleasure.)
– where you could laugh together at other people and at yourself, and you know somethin? If you squeezed and laughed long enough, love wasn’t too far behind.
(The music stops.)
And then in 1907, Steeplechase burned to the ground. And on the morning of the very next day, amidst the ashes and smoke, Tilyou put up a sign:
“I HAVE TROUBLES TODAY THAT I DID NOT HAVE YESTERDAY, I HAD TROUBLES YESTERDAY THAT I HAVE NOT TODAY!
On this site will be erected shortly a better, bigger, greater Steeplechase Park. Admission to the Burning Ruins – ten cents.”
CHORUS: SOME SAY THAT HAPPINESS IS AN ILLUSION, / SOME SAY THIS WORLD OF OURS IS PRETTY SAD, / HERE AIN’T SO BAD…
ANGELO: And it was here, July the Fourth 1935, that I, Angelo, son of an Irish leprechaun and a Lithuanian troll, was first loved by a beautiful lady. Because here, at Steeplechase Park, at night, through the smoke of roasting wienies, anyone can look good.
HERE WITH A TEN CENT DOLL AND A BAMBOO CANE / PRETEND YOU’RE A KID, BE YOUNG AGAIN, / FEEL THAT SUN AGAIN!
CHORUS: FEEL THAT SUN! / THERE’S NO RAIN IN STEEPLECHASE PARK, / NO, THERE’S NO RAIN AT ALL –
ANGELO: (over the Chorus) So as you’re ridin high with your sweetie on the Ferris Wheel, or the roller coaster, or the Chair-o-plane, circling the lovers underneath, wave to the immigrants sailing into New York Harbor – for you they see long before Lady Liberty!
CHORUS: REMEMBER THE SUN AND THE RAIN DOESN’T FALL! / THERE’S NO RAIN…NO RAIN….
Coney Island, 1936. Where everyone is in love with the wrong person, and it takes a magic hot dog and a Lithuanian troll to straighten things out.
Steeplechase is the bright sister to Jass. There is no darkness here, not really. A few shadows, perhaps, but they are mostly in the future. Angelo is the optimistic ballyhooer of life, unlike Jerico’s seductive purveyor of death. Steeplechase is all cotton candy.
I first met Matty Selman shortly after I moved to New York City in 1977. He had written this musical called Steeplechase, a show filled with glorious songs but minus a solid book. Some time in the mid- ‘80’s I asked him if I could write the book; an idea had struck me while walking in the woods in Cold Spring, New York that Coney Island was the perfect forest for a musical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Matty said yes, and Steeplechase was born.