Category Archives: musical productions

Sandhog (musical)




Posted here is the music from “Sandhog: A Folk Opera in 3 Acts,” which was performed at the at the Phoenix Theater in New York from November 23, 1954 through January 2, 1955 (at the same time when my own father was the musical director for numerous theatrical productions in Boston). “Sandhog” was a dramatization of Theodore Dreiser’s story “St. Columba and the River.”



Earl Robinson, Singer and Pianist; Waldo Salt, Narrator

1. Come Down; Johnny’s Cursing Song

2. Johnny-O

3. Good Old Days; – Song of the Bends

4. By the Glenside; Sandhog Song

5. Sweat Song; Fugue on a Hot Afternoon in a Small Flat

6. T-w-i-n-s; Katie O’Sullivan

7. Work Song; Death of Tim; Sing Sorrow

8. Ma, Ma, Where’s My Dad?; The Greathead Shield; In the Tunnel; Sam on the Stick; Cursing Song (Reprise); Johnny-O (Reprise); Sandhog Song (Finale)

9. Come Down; Some Said They Were Crazy (Company)

10. Johnny’s Cursing Song (Jack Cassidy)

11. Come and Be Married; Johnny-O (Jack Cassidy, Betty Oakes)

12. By the Glendside (Alice Ghostley)

13. Sandhog Song – Company

14. Katie-O (Edmund Hockridge, 1957)

15. Johnny-O (Felicia Sanders, 1957)

16. Katie-O (Vince Martin, 1957)


The production closed after 48 performances and the show went unrecorded. In 1956, Earl Robinson and Waldo Salt recorded an album of ‘Sandhog’ with Robinson singing the score and accompanying himself on piano and Salt providing linking narration. The album was subsequently issued on the Vanguard label.



Dreiser’s short story “St. Columba and the River” was initially published under the title “Glory Be! McGlathery” in 1925 before being published in 1927 in Dreiser’s Chains: Lesser Novels and Stories.

The initial source for “St. Columba and the River” was an article Dreiser wrote in 1904 for the United Press, “Just What Happened When the Waters of the Hudson Broke into the North River Tunnel.”

The setting is the North River (the earlier name for the Hudson River) Tunnel Works and the surrounding neighborhood in downtown New York in the late 1880’s, as per articles about the disaster and Dreiser’s own retrospective account..

The plot of the story was as follows: An Irish-Catholic immigrant, Dennis McGlathery, is hired by his “fellow churchman,” Thomas Cavanaugh, to dig a tunnel under the Hudson River. Three times the powerful river destroys the tunnel and drowns the “sandhogs,” despite the introduction of improved tunneling mechanisms. McGlathery himself survives each disaster. Cavanaugh sacrifices his own life with courage that both frightens and inspires McGlathery. Encouraged by Cavanaugh’s example, McGlathery plugs a leak with his own body before being blown out of the tunnel up to the river’s surface, thus concluding his tunneling career as a hero.



“Sandhog: A Folk Opera in 3 Acts”


Earl Robinson, Playwright

Waldo Salt, Playwright

Howard Da Silva, Director

Ben Steinberg, Musical Director

Sophie Maslow, Choreographer

Howard Bay, Production and Lighting Designer

Toni Ward, Costume Designer

CAST: Jack Cassidy (Johnny O’Sullivan), David Brooks (Tim Cavanaugh), Betty Oakes (Katie O’Sullivan) Alice Ghostley (Sheila Cavanaugh) Gordon Dilworth (Sharkey) Douglas Collins (Bill Clayton) Paul Ukena (Fred Burger) Michael Kermoyan (Joe Novak).


Earl Robinson was a composer, arranger and folk music singer-songwriter from Seattle, Washington. Robinson is remembered for his music, including the cantata “Ballad for Americans” and songs such as “Joe Hill” and “Black and White”, which expressed his left-leaning political views. He wrote many popular songs and music for Hollywood films. He was a member of the Communist Party from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Robinson studied composition at the University of Washington. In 1934 he moved to New York City where he studied with Hanns Eisler and Aaron Copland. He was also involved with the depression-era WPA Federal Theater Project, and was actively involved in the anti-fascist movement and was the musical director at the Communist-run Camp Unity in upstate New York. In the 1940s he worked on film scores in Hollywood until he was blacklisted for being a Communist. Unable to work in Hollywood, he moved back to New York, where he headed the music program at Elisabeth Irwin High School, directing the orchestra and chorus.

Waldo Salt was an American screenwriter who won Academy Awards for both Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home. Salt’s career in Hollywood was interrupted when he was blacklisted after refusing to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1951. Like many other blacklisted writers, while he was unable to work in Hollywood Salt wrote pseudonymously for the British television series The Adventures of Robin Hood. After the collapse of the blacklist, Salt won Academy Awards for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium for his work on Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home, and a nomination for Serpico.

Howard Da Silva was an American actor, director and musical performer on stage, film, television and radio. He was cast in dozens of productions on the New York stage, appeared in more than two dozen television programs, and acted in more than fifty feature films. Adept at both drama and musicals on the stage, he originated the role of Jud Fry in the original 1943 run of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!

Da Silva was blacklisted the House Committee on Un-American Activities investigation into alleged Communist influence in the industry. He was eventually cleared of any charges in 1960.



“He was a lean, bitter starveling in those days [at the period of time which Dreiser writes about in An Amateur Laborer], seeking fame, self-justification. And the work he did to keep alive–he worked on one of the tunnels, under the waters of Manhattan, became partly deaf.” — Lester Cohen, “Theodore Dreiser: A Personal Memoir,” Discovery no. 4 (1954)

I have wondered about this the accuracy of this comment. Lester Cohen was a reliable writer. But I could find no mention elsewhere (in Dreiser sources) indicting that Dreiser worked as a sandhog. He may well have known and interviewed some.



reviews of “Sandhog”

1 Brooks Atkinson review of ‘Sandhog’ – NY Times 11-24-1954

2 Harry Raymond review of ‘Sandhog’ – Daily Worker 11-29-1954


See also my post:

Theodore Dreiser, “Just What Happened when the Waters of the Hudson Broke into the North River Tunnel”

Theodore Dreiser, “Just What Happened when the Waters of the Hudson Broke into the North River Tunnel”


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   December 2021

Tobias Picker’s opera “An American Tragedy”


Today, I have been listening to a performance I taped in 2005 of Tobias Picker’s opera An American Tragedy, which is based on the Dreiser novel.

The opera is not available for sale in any format: CD or digital.

I found one or two excerpts on YouTube.

The opera got generally favorable (some very much so, some lukewarm) reviews.

It premiered in 2005 at the Metropolitan Opera. There was a follow up production in 2014 by the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, NY of a revised version (by Picker) of the opera.

I attended both the 2005 (Met Opera) and the 2014 (Glimmerglass) productions. I did not think the revised version was an improvement — I could not see the logic behind it — and noted that some of the best sections had been eliminated.

I offered to share my taped version with a very few Dreiser scholars. One was very appreciative. Others, English professors, said they had no interest in opera.

I am not an opera connoisseur. The work is uneven, I would say. But there is much beautiful music, some exquisite passages: for example the opening duet between the young Clyde and his mother, the hymn, and the scene where the libretto is based on Roberta Alden’s letters.

Picker’s opera seems to have been overlooked. I am sure that the fact of there being no available recording has to do with the Dreiser Trust.


— Roger W. Smith

   September 2019