Welcome to Musical Theatre Monday! This is the post we’ve all been waiting for – the final in our series on “The Three Best Cole Porter Shows That You’ve Never Heard Of.” In case you missed them, #3 in our list was Fifty Million Frenchmen (1929), and #2 was Nymph Errant (1933).
As I have mentioned in previous postings, Cole Porter is my favorite Broadway composer. Most people are familiar with Anything Goes and Kiss Me, Kate, but his other scores are largely forgotten, even if many of his songs aren’t. Often praised for his wit and sophisticated lyrics, I find myself drawn to many of his memorable ear-catching melodies.
In fact, the show that I have chosen as #1 features two songs that I’m almost positive that you, dear reader, have heard: “Begin The Beguine” and “Just One Of Those Things.” Know the show?
1. Jubilee (10/12/35 – 03/07/36)
The plot of this forgotten wonder is interesting. When news comes of an impending revolution, the Royal Family abandons the castle and sets off individually into society. The King becomes friendly with a society matron and social butterfly, the Queen chases after a swimmer-turned-actor known for his jungle movies, the Prince falls for a spunky lounge singer, and the Princess finds romance with a debonair actor/playwright.
A satirical look at royalty and popular culture, and written by “wonderboy” Moss Hart, many of the characters are based on real people! The King’s acquaintance, Eva Standing, was inspired by world-famous hostess, Elsa Maxwell. The swimmer-turned-actor was based on Johnny Weissmuller, known for playing Tarzan. (The character in Jubilee, Charles Rausmiller, plays Mowgli.) And the Princess’s conquest is a thinly disguised lampoon of the dashing Noel Coward. These connections, surely well-understood in 1935, really make our own appreciation of the show richer in 2013 — if we understand them. But that also goes for a lot of Cole Porter’s lyrics. He was the best name-dropper in the business! The then-contemporary allusions further corroborate my theory that all musicals are period pieces and indicative of the time in which they were written. They should always be treated as such. Like Archie Bunker’s defense of “Richard E. Nixon”, all the things that make this show incredibly 1935 are part of its undeniable charm.
Of course, the best part of Jubilee is Cole Porter’s wonderful score. I mentioned above two of the composer’s most famous songs. Interestingly enough, neither one was a hit until a couple of years after the show closed. In fact, “Begin The Beguine” didn’t enter prominence until it was recorded by Artie Shaw in 1938. This rendition, a classic, is one of my all-time favorites. (Still, I’ve yet to find a vocal rendition of the song that I can call my favorite. If you think you have one, please comment below!) It’s a breathtaking number. Truly. And “Just One Of Those Things” is no lightweight either. I love the seldom performed verse:
As Dorothy Parker once said to her boy friend,
“Fare thee well,”
As Columbus announced when he knew he was bounced,
“It was swell, Isabelle, swell,”
As Abélard said to Héloise,
“Don’t forget to drop a line to me, please,”
As Juliet cried in her Romeo’s ear,
“Romeo, why not face the fact, my dear?”
~ From the verse of “Just One Of Those Things”
In addition to those two classics are many second-tier Porter numbers that are ripe for rediscovery. Among them are the Princess’s “Why Shouldn’t I?”, Eric (the Noel Coward parody) Dare’s “The Kling-Kling Bird On The Divi-Divi Tree”, Eva Standing’s “My Most Intimate Friend”, the King and Queen’s “Me And Marie”, which was expected to be the show’s hit, and the Prince’s duet with sexy Karen, “A Picture Of Me Without You.” Incidentally, Karen, played by June Knight, also got to sing “Beguine” and “Things.”
But what makes Jubilee my #1 choice, beyond the two STANDOUT songs, is the strength of the choral numbers. Shows of the ’20s and ’30s often featured many numbers by the ensemble. Often these pieces would cover set changes, convey location or plot details, or simply buy the leads time backstage. But the songs in Jubilee, not unlike those in Nymph Errant, are so darn catchy! One of my favorites is the jaunty “What A Nice Municipal Park.”
Some of my favorite lyrics from Jubilee include the entirety of “Begin The Beguine”…
When they begin the beguine
It brings back the sound of music so tender,
It brings back a night of tropical splendor,
It brings back a memory ever green.
I’m with you once more under the stars
And down by the shore an orchestra’s playing,
And even the palms seem to be swaying
When they begin the beguine.
To live it again is past all endeavor
Except when that tune clutches my heart.
And there we are, swearing to love forever,
And promising never,
Never to part.
What moments divine, what rapture serene,
Till clouds came along to disperse the joys we had tasted,
And now when I hear people curse the chance that was wasted,
I know but too well what they mean.
So don’t let them begin the beguine!
Let the love that was once a fire remain an ember.
Let it sleep like the dead desire I only remember.
When they begin the beguine.
Oh yes, let them begin the beguine, make them play!
Till the stars that were there before return above you,
Till you whisper to me once more, “Darling, I love you!”
And we suddenly know what heaven we’re in
When they begin the beguine.
~ “Begin The Beguine” (My favorite Porter song!)
Has Mussolini been invited?
What, Benito? Why, he’s delighted,
He’s my most intimate friend.
Gertrude Stein will be there of course,
And Tommy Hitchcock’s bringing his horse,
You know, I taught him how to play polo, isn’t it odd?
And although she’s a dreadful person,
I’ve invited Aimee MacPherson
‘Cause we’re both so intimate with God.
~ Cut lyric from “My Most Intimate Friend”
Although this marvelous score has never been recorded, a complete production was broadcast on BBC Radio in 1999. For all registered subscribers interested in this audio, and/or a copy of the original 1935 libretto, comment below and I’d be happy to send them your way!
Well, that wraps up our series on “The Three Best Cole Porter Shows That You’ve Never Heard Of.” Come back next Monday when we begin highlighting forgotten Gershwin shows! And tomorrow we continue with the best episodes from the third season of I Love Lucy!