Frank Loesser's wonderous story about adventure, magic and the pleasures of small town living.
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Full Synopsis

Act One

Young Jabez Briggs runs across the village square without his pants, determined to get a cookie from the lovely Dorrie Whitbred. The citizens of Greenwillow gather in the square, greeting one another and singing of the lovely weather, despite the arrival of the dour Reverend Lapp ("A Day Borrowed from Heaven"). Gramma Briggs arrives to claim Jabez and spies a riddleweed. The plant foretells the arrival of a traveler. Her grandson, Gideon, says a charm over the riddleweed, ensuring that the traveler will bring no harm to Greenwillow ("Gideon's Charm"). Gideon and Dorrie lock eyes, clearly in love. After the Briggs family leaves, Dorrie dreams of a life with Gideon ("Dorrie's Wish"). Her aunts, Emma and Maidy, join her on the porch as a traveler arrives. It is Gideon's father, Amos, a man cursed to wander the world over whenever he hears the "call."

At the Briggs farm, Sheby Briggs chases Jabez, who has lost his pants once again. As Sheby and Gramma dress Jabez, Micah Briggs spies his father coming over the hill. Martha, still deeply in love with her wandering husband, thrills at the sight of him. Nervous to see Amos after so many years, the family tries to look presentable ("A-Tangle, A-Dangle"). Amos is introduced to Jabez, born while he was away, and passes out gifts from abroad. The homecoming is interrupted by Reverend Lapp, who commands Amos to pray for deliverance from the devil's call to wander. In an attempt to change his ways, Amos asks Lapp back to pray over his soul and deliver him from the curse. The villagers gather as Lapp performs an exorcism and proclaims that Amos is saved. Overjoyed, the town welcomes Amos back with open arms as the familiar sights and sounds of home fill his heart ("The Music of Home"). As the villagers disperse, Gideon runs after Dorrie to tell her that the curse on the Briggs family men is broken at last.

At the mill, Gideon catches up with Dorrie and gives her a lovely shawl from Barcelona. Nervous and shy, Gideon and Dorrie confess their love for one another ("Gideon Briggs, I Love You"). They are interrupted by Thomas Clegg, who chides the young couple, reminding them of an old saying: "First love warmed in July will chill in the nip of September." Unwilling to believe it, Gideon proposes to Dorrie, and she accepts.

Couples walk "love promised" among the willows as summer turns to fall. In the church, Reverend Lapp publishes the first and second marriage banns for Gideon and Dorrie. As the town celebrates the engagement in a dance, Amos begins to whistle the "Wandering Theme." He walks aimlessly, as if in a dream. Lapp tries to stop him, but Amos wanders off through the willows, the "call" as strong as ever.

In the village square, the people greet each other on their way to church, ready to hear the third marriage banns published for Gideon and Dorrie. Clegg reminds Gideon that his love for Dorrie – or her love for him – is bound to cool, but Gideon refuses to accept the old man's prediction; he loves Dorrie more than ever ("Summertime Love"). Gideon playfully mimics Lapp, pretending to publish the banns himself. Lapp overhears and retaliates by telling Gideon that Amos is gone, drawn away from Greenwillow by the devil. Disheartened, Gideon runs off. Clegg tells Dorrie that Gideon will soon be gone wandering, like his father. Alone and afraid, Dorrie considers her future ("Walking Away Whistling"). A man comes walking up the lane, his umbrella full of flowers, and introduces himself to Dorrie as Reverend Birdsong, sent to Greenwillow by the Bishop. Whereas Lapp is thin and judgmental, Birdsong is rotund and kind. Dorrie invites him inside for plum fritters.

Halloweve revelers dance around Clegg's house, begging "Fall or favor!" Against his wife, Clara's, kind pleas, Clegg demands that the revelers leave his property. Reverends Birdsong and Lapp tangle over the best way to preach – should they use Birdsong's love-thy-neighbor approach or Lapp's fire-and-brimstone sermons? To avoid further confusion, they agree to preach the same subject on the following Sunday and decide upon the theme: "The Coming of Winter." As Lapp describes the terrifying approach of the devil's own season, Birdsong counters with a joyful celebration of the holiday season ("The Sermon"). After the reverends exit, Halloweve pranksters arrive, carrying a privy with Gramma Briggs trapped inside. She jumps out and tries to steal a cow from Clegg, a cow she believes to be rightfully hers. Caught, she demands that Clegg give her the cow as repayment for keeping her dowry fifty years before, without keeping his promise to marry. They reminisce about their one-time love, a love that fell apart because Clegg was too randy to wait like a proper gentleman ("Could've Been a Ring"). Clegg agrees to loan the cow to the Briggs family with the caveat that the cow be returned when her calf is born.

Later that evening, Dorrie, Sheby and Jabez run into Gideon at the mill. The children run off, claiming that Gideon has been mean since their father left. In an awkward exchange, Gideon tells Dorrie that his mother is pregnant, and vows that he will never leave a wife behind while he's out wandering. Dorrie insists that she doesn't mind waiting. For a moment, it looks as if they will reconcile, but Gideon pushes Dorrie away, afraid that his love will only hurt her. Gramma Briggs interrupts and gives Gideon the cow, telling him that it is his. Happy, he leads the cow away, leaving Dorrie behind ("Gideon Briggs, I Love You").

At the Brigg's farm, the Halloweve pranksters dance. Jabez wishes that he could hear the "call." Micah tells him that, if he ever does, he'll have to eat cookies baked in hell. The Halloweve dancers swirl around Jabez, pulling him into a nightmare where he meets the devil and tries a hell-baked cookie. Jabez calls for Gideon, who rescues him from the dream. The pranksters now come for Gideon, threatening to tie him up and take him to Dorrie's porch. Gideon makes a narrow escape as the pranksters run off into the night. Part of the merrymaking, Birdsong encourages Gideon to accept his call when it comes and to make up with Dorrie. He insists that God would never want him to deny his true love. Gideon is unconvinced ("Never Will I Marry").

Birdsong and Lapp's pulpits stand on opposite sides of the church. Birdsong conducts the choir in a cheerful carol ("Greenwillow Christmas"). The candlewalkers enter, Dorrie among them. Greenwillow lore states that, if a maiden walks around the church on Christmas Eve without her candle blowing out, she will get her wish, no matter how fast the boy might run. Dorrie is afraid to wish for Gideon's love. She wants him to love her of his own accord, not because of a wish. Against the advice of Birdsong and her aunts, Lapp encourages Dorrie to wish Gideon out of her heart forever. Dorrie agrees with Lapp and starts out for her walk around the church.

The townspeople gather in the village square to watch the candlewalkers come around the side of the church. As Dorrie appears, Gideon tries to stop her, thinking that her wish is to charm him into marrying her. Dorrie crosses the finish line and reveals that she has wished Gideon out of her heart. Gideon hugs Dorrie and kisses her, but she is unmoved. Pretending to be glad, Gideon wishes everyone a happy Christmas and leaves. Dorrie thanks Lapp for his help as the carolers launch into song. As they come to the penultimate moment, Birdsong kicks Lapp, sending him sprawling.

Act Two

Villagers greet each other on the way to a wedding at the church ("The Music of Home"). A group of boys waits to see who Dorrie will choose to take her to the wedding. Gideon arrives to pick up his Jabez and is immediately jealous of the other suitors. He speaks harshly to Dorrie, saying that she has no love in her to give, having wished it all away. But the aunts remind him that Dorrie only wished to stop loving Gideon. Hurt, Dorrie tells the boys to go away; she won't be going to the wedding at all. The aunts console Dorrie and assure her that the right young man will come along someday. Dorrie is left alone with her thoughts ("Faraway Boy").

A few days later, the cow gives birth to a beautiful calf at the Briggs' farm. The family decides to baptize the new arrival ("Clang Dang the Bell"). Clegg interrupts their merriment and reclaims the cow, forcing Gramma Briggs to confess that the cow was a loan. Gideon is crushed. Clegg asks God to strike him down with the shrivelly fever if the cow does not rightfully belong to him. Gramma Briggs feels awful, but Birdsong reminds her that it's the devil's fault that people sin, not hers ("What a Blessing").

Clegg has been struck down with the shrivelly fever. As he lies dying, Lapp struggles to save his soul. Birdsong attempts to comfort Clara as the townspeople gather. Finding a moment alone, Gramma Briggs begs Clegg to repent and give the cow back to the Briggses. He refuses and dies as mean as he lived. Struck with an idea, Gramma Briggs tells everyone that Clegg repented at the last minute and, as an act of goodwill, gave the cow and calf to the Briggs. Clara, Lapp and the villagers rejoice, sure that Clegg is in heaven, but Birdsong knows that Gramma Briggs is up to something ("He Died Good").

After two weeks of courting, Dorrie agrees to marry Andrew, a local Greenwillow boy in good standing. Andrew, in a daze at his good fortune, dances the story of his courtship with Dorrie. When Gideon arrives to fetch the midwife for his mother, he discovers that Dorrie is engaged. Lapp stops him from interfering, saying that Dorrie will be happier with a steady man. Lapp leaves as memories fill Gideon's heart ("Summertime Love – Reprise"). Birdsong arrives just as Gideon begins to hear the first rumblings of his "call." As he wanders off, the new couple comes out of Dorrie's house. Birdsong tells Dorrie that Gideon has heard his call and will be gone in the morning. Dorrie, upset, confesses that she never meant to wish Gideon out of her heart.

The next morning, Martha struggles to deliver her baby as Gideon is heard whistling the "Wandering Theme." His siblings chase after him, but he can't hear them, as the voices calling him to wander are too strong. Birdsong sends Jabez to fetch Dorrie. As tensions mount, Gramma Briggs admits that Clegg died unrepentant. Birdsong steps in and manages to save Clegg from hell by allowing him to do one good, posthumous deed. The cow and calf are given back to the Briggs, and Birdsong declares that Clegg is, once again, in heaven. Lapp realizes that Birdsong saved Clegg when he never could. From inside, the midwife cries that the baby won't come. In an act of generosity, Birdsong prompts Lapp to lead a prayer for the family. Miraculously, the baby is born safely. Micah calls to Gideon, trying to tell him they have a new baby sister, but the voices calling him to wander swell, preventing him from hearing ("Gideon's Call"). Dorrie arrives and adds her voice. The whole town joins together, calling Gideon to stay. Finally, the sounds of home, of love, of friendship and family are loud enough to drown out the wandering call. Gideon emerges from his trance and realizes that his true calling is to stay in Greenwillow and love Dorrie forever ("The Music of Home").

← Back to Greenwillow
Cast Size: Flexible Cast Size
Cast Type: Star Vehicle Female
Dance Requirements: Standard

Character Breakdown

Jabez Briggs
The youngest member of the Briggs clan. He is a rambunctious child who loves baked goods, hates wearing pants, and gets into as much trouble as he can.
Gender: male
Age: 6 to 9
Vocal range top: D5
Vocal range bottom: E4
Clara Clegg
Mrs. Preebs
Mrs. Lunny
Reverend Lapp
A foil to Birdsong, he is the fire-and-brimstone reverend of Greenwillow. He is constantly warning the villagers of the pits of hell. Pessimistic and controlling.
Gender: male
Age: 35 to 55
Vocal range top: D3
Vocal range bottom: A2
Gramma Briggs
Amos's mother and Gideon's no-nonsense grandmother. She unofficially runs the household in Amos's absence and adores her family.
Gender: female
Age: 60 to 70
Vocal range top: E4
Vocal range bottom: E2
One of Dorrie's two aunts. She is the harsher of the two and wants Dorrie to be happy, whether with Gideon or another man.
Gender: female
Age: 30 to 40
Gideon Briggs
The second-in-command of the Briggs clan. He loves Dorrie but is plagued by the fear that he will be called to wander and end up abandoning his family like his father. Smart, handsome, tough.
Gender: male
Age: 20 to 30
Vocal range top: G5
Vocal range bottom: B3
Dorrie Whitbred
She longs for Gideon's love and doesn't understand the call to wander he tells her will eventually befall him. Loves to bake for the village. Pretty. Shy. Innocent. Sweet.
Gender: female
Age: 18 to 25
Vocal range top: A5
Vocal range bottom: B3
Amos Briggs
Gideon's father. Handsome and well-intentioned but a largely absent father unable to resist the voice that calls him to leave his family for travel.
Gender: male
Age: 45 to 55
Vocal range top: E5
Vocal range bottom: B3
Micah Briggs
Gideon's little brother. Though he is not the oldest, he tries to be a 'man' in the Briggs household. Worships his brother and wants happiness for he and Dorrie.
Gender: male
Age: 13 to 16
Vocal range top: D5
Vocal range bottom: C4
Martha Briggs
Gideon's mother and the matriarch of the Briggs family. A loving mother who cares for her children and husband, and does the best she can to provide for them in his absence.
Gender: female
Age: 40 to 50
Vocal range top: E5
Vocal range bottom: D4
Sheby Briggs
Thomas Clegg
The Briggs' crabby old neighbor and Gramma's former flame. He is pessimistic and insists that Gideon and Dorrie shouldn't be together. Resigns himself to being a helpless sinner.
Gender: male
Age: 60 to 70
Vocal range top: D4
Vocal range bottom: C3
Reverend Birdsong
The new and second reverend in the town of Greenwillow. Plump and always pleasant, he is the antithesis of Lapp. A jolly schemer who always looks for the good and uplifting parts of the Bible.
Gender: male
Age: 50 to 60
Vocal range top: E5
Vocal range bottom: B3
Full Song List
Greenwillow: Overture - A Day Borrowd From Heaven
Greenwillow: The Music of Home
Greenwillow: Greenwillow Walk
Greenwillow: Summertime Love
Greenwillow: Walking Away Whistling
Greenwillow: The Sermon
Greenwillow: Greenwillow Christmas (Carol)
Greenwillow: Could've Been a Ring
Greenwillow: Dorrie's Wish / Gideon Briggs, I Love You
Greenwillow: Never Will I Marry
Greenwillow: Faraway Boy
Greenwillow: Clang Dang The Bell
Greenwillow: What A Blessing
Greenwillow: He Died Good
Greenwillow: Summertime Love (Reprise)
Greenwillow: Finale Act II

Show History


Greenwillow is a musical with a book by Lesser Samuels and Frank Loesser (Guys and Dolls, How to Succeed in Business...), along with a score by Loesser. It is based on the 1956 novel of the same name by B.J. Chute.

Producer, Robert A. Willey, first went to the composing team of Lerner and Loewe to create Greenwillow. When they turned him down, he went to Frank Loesser, who volunteered to do the book, music and lyrics after his work on The Most Happy Fella. Soon into the process, though, he found the need for a bookwriter. After several major figures turned the job down, Loesser and Willey settled on minor screenwriter, Lesser Samuels.


Greenwillow held a pre-Broadway tryout at the Shubert Theatre in Philadelphia before opening at the Alvin Theatre on Broadway on March 8, 1960. It closed on May 28 of the same year after 97 performances. In 2004, the musical returned to New York City as a part of the York Theatre Company's "Musicals in Mufti" series.

Cultural Influence

  • The song, "Never Will I Marry," went through several covers by significant artists. It can be found on albums from Barbra Streisand, Nancy Wilson and Judy Garland.


  • The Broadway production of Greenwillow was nominated for seven Tony Awards and one Outer Critics Circle Award.
  • The Broadway production of Greenwillow starred Anthony Perkins, Pert Kelton, Cecil Kellaway, William Chapman and Marian Mercer.

Critical Reaction

"[Takes] Loesser's beautifully varied score and [fits] it into a magical story that is both touching and funny. ...This show is blessed with spirit."
– Variety

"Out of his bountiful music box Mr. Loesser has provided a warm and varied score that captures the simple moods of the story.... The makers of Greenwillow have never faltered. Mr. Loesser has taken care of that by writing music out of personal musical convictions."
– The New York Times

"Loesser's enchanting score for Greenwillow was the finest heard on Broadway since the premiere of Candide in 1956. Greenwillow offers one of the greatest scores in the history of musical theatre."
– The Complete Book of 1960s Broadway Musicals

"Greenwillow has a grand score."
– TheaterMania

"Perhaps Loesser's greatest set of music and lyrics."
– Ethan Mordden



Based on the best-selling novel, Greenwillow by B.J. Chute


You must give the authors/creators billing credits, as specified in the Production Contract, in a conspicuous manner on the first page of credits in all programs and on houseboards, displays and in all other advertising announcements of any kind.
Percentages listed indicate required type size in relation to title size.
Music and Lyrics by FRANK LOESSER (75%)
Based on a novel by B.J. Chute (50%)

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