Welcome to the start of another week on That’s Entertainment! Following our fifteen week series on musicals ripe for reviving from the period in between Show Boat (1927) and Oklahoma! (1943), we’ll be spending these next three weeks examining three little known musicals from the ’30s that maybe aren’t great candidates for reviving, but not surprisingly, have extraordinary scores. (Following that, we’ll be picking up with musicals produced after Oklahoma!)
1930. Fine And Dandy (09/23/30 – 05/02/31)
With a score by Kay Swift and Kay’s husband, acting under the alias of Paul James, Fine And Dandy
is often incorrectly labeled as the first Broadway musical with a complete score by a woman. That’s not entirely true, as Alma Sanders was the first, also composing music to her husband’s lyrics. But Fine And Dandy is the first female-scored musical that can match others — Rodgers, Gershwin, etc. — in quality. Interestingly, the show enjoyed tremendous success in 1930, and little was made of Swift’s gender at the time, further proving that the show had actual strength. A longtime paramour of Gershwin’s, Swift had previously written several numbers interpolated into various revues, but this was her first of two complete Broadway scores. A smash hit, it was primarily remembered for its star, comic Joe Cook, and for the tap stylings of young Eleanor Powell.
What of the book by David Ogden Stewart? The show opens in the Fordyce Drop Forge and Tool Company, where widow Cynthia Fordyce has assumed control following the death of her husband. She arrives to inspect the inheritance with her daughter Marabelle, who has recently become infatuated with Yale graduate, George, son of plant manager Mr. Ellis. George hopes to work his way to the top for Marabelle. Meanwhile, Joe Squibb (Joe Cook, of course), the most popular worker in the plant, enjoys challenging the management’s authority. Mr. Ellis’s daughter Nancy, engaged to assistant plant manager Edgar Little, has a thing for Joe. Meanwhile, Mrs. Fordyce decides the company needs to be run in younger hands, and replaces Ellis with Joe, with whom she also has a crush. But Joe soon realizes that general manager isn’t the right job for him, although he agrees to stay in the position at the behest of Ellis, who borrowed money from the company after the market crashed, and is desperately trying to repay the “loan.” Joe’s secretary, Miss Hunter (Eleanor Powell), tries to give him on-the-job training, and eventually falls for him as well. The act ends as Joe livens up the Fordyce Night School, while both George and Nancy find themselves with broken engagements.
The second act opens as Joe has made many changes in the plant, all to the workers’ benefit, and Nancy is disgusted at the flirtation between Joe and Mrs. Fordyce. As the show nears to an end, a double wedding is planned — one for Edgar and Marabelle and the other for Joe and Mrs. Fordyce. But Marabelle declares her love for George, and shareholders bribe Joe to leave the company. He gladly accepts, which means his relationship with Mrs. Fordyce is off. Fortunately, Edgar’s there to take Joe’s place at the altar. Now Joe and Nancy can pursue each other, even though Joe reveals that he’s married with four kids. Oh, well. Everything’s still fine and dandy.
Not surprisingly, there’s a silly plot. But it was constructed around the talents of Joe Cook, a former vaudevillian who was known for his incredible skill set — juggling, tight-rope walking, pantomiming, etc. — and for his unique way of spinning nonsensical stories. The star, and naturally, the most memorable attraction of Fine And Dandy, Cook only had one song. It was the title song, a bouncy duet with Alice Boulden’s Nancy. With topical lyrics and an infectious tune, this is the epitome of 1930 musical comedy fun.
Blouden’s Nancy also got two excellent numbers all to herself. The first was the show’s hit, “Can This Be Love?” which she sang in the first act in reference to Edgar Little. The second was the torchy “Nobody Breaks My Heart,” which is in reference to Joe’s relationship with Mrs. Fordyce, but does not appear in any playbills. (Any information about this song’s inclusion would be appreciated!)
Eleanor Powell got two solo spots of her own, one of which was “The Jig-Hop,” a big production number that opened the second act. The other was the more musically interesting “I’ll Hit A New High.” Really bluesy!
The main lovers, George and Marabelle, played by Wagstaff and Nell O’Day respectively, got one charming duet in “Rich Or Poor,” one of those numbers that seems pedestrian, but swings with originality.
Wagstaff had one tune all to himself, the shockingly excellent “Starting At The Bottom.”
Wagstaff’s George and Blouden’s Nancy teamed for the Act One closer, the rambunctious “Let’s Go Eat Worms In The Garden.” A really crazy song title, right? I thought so too, but it’s such fun — both musically and lyrically.
I promised you an excellent score, and I’m confident that Fine And Dandy provided one above and beyond the call of duty. I’m pleased to say that virtually the entire score was recreated and recorded in 2004. An excellent cast, with sublime arrangements of a syncopated score, make this one of my favorite studio recordings of a ’30s show. If you love a good show tune, you’ll enjoy this recording.
I’ve never read the book, though I’ve heard mixed things. But it was an unequivocal hit at the time, no doubt due to the star power of the largely forgotten Joe Cook. So while we might never see this piece in its full glory, at least we can enjoy the score, which in addition to possessing some mild historical significance, is one of the most exciting and unrecognized scores of the decade.
Come back next week when we examine another excellent ’30s score that you probably haven’t heard! And tune in tomorrow for the best from Season Four of The Lucy Show!