Top Banana, which opened at the Winter Garden on Broadway November 1, 1951, was a musical that took as its setting a variety television series not unlike The Milton Berle Show. The comic Phil Silvers, who, ironically, would go on to earn his most widespread fame for his own television series, The Phil Silvers Show (1955-1959), on which he immortalized the character of Sgt. Bilko, played Jerry Biffle, the Berle-like "top banana," an egotistical vaudevillian struggling to find romance and please his sponsor, Blendo Soap. Rose Marie (later of The Dick Van Dyke Show) also played a comic role. The clowns entirely overshadowed the inevitable romantic couple (Lindy Doherty and Judy Lynn), and they also got the best songs in Johnny Mercer's excellent score. Mercer, always better known in Hollywood and on Tin Pan Alley than on Broadway, was nevertheless writing his fourth stage musical, and the first for which he wrote the music as well as the words. The music was fine, but the words were terrific. Mercer had fun sending up the advertising/television culture that was just being born in the early '50s, but his gift for wordplay was best expressed in "A Word a Day," a Phil Silvers/Rose Marie duet in which the meanings of lots of big words were hilariously mangled, though the extended metaphor between boxing and lovemaking that is "I Fought Every Step of the Way" runs a close second. The show played ten months all told, which was about as long as the principals were willing to stick with it, and that wasn't enough to turn a profit. It was such a star vehicle that it had little life beyond the Broadway production, though there was, interestingly, a film actually shot on-stage during the run.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
feat: Joey Faye