As Thanksgiving dinner looms, allow me to take you back into the Broadway vault with the legend of “Turkey Lurkey Time,” an unassuming dance number from a late ’60s musical that has reached iconic status in the musical theater world. Quite frankly, I can’t think of another song in the Broadway lexicon that co-exists with “Turkey Lurkey” in that unique space between wondrous and WTF.
The song is from a 1968 show called Promises, Promises – a musical adaptation of the 1960 classic The Apartment – which featured music by Burt Bacharach, lyrics by Hal David, and a book by Neil Simon. The show follows insurance salesman Chuck Baxter as he gets caught up in the corporate ladder by offering his bosses the use of his apartment for romantic trysts.
During the show’s out-of-town runs in New Haven, Connecticut, and Boston, the creators were having a hard time ending the first act; the show was already running long, and the creative team was stumped. Enter choreographer Michael Bennett, a rising star who had six Broadway credits but hadn’t yet shined (he would later go on to choreograph and direct A Chorus Line and Dreamgirls). Neil Simon equated him to an eager college football player begging the coach to be let in the game. The team gave him a chance, and so, inspired by West Side Story genius Jerome Robbins, Bennett and his assistant Bob Avian took Bacharach’s quickly written “Turkey Lurkey Time” and transformed it into a legend.
Behold, “Turkey Lurkey Time” as performed by the original cast on the 1968 Tony Awards:
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