Welcome to another Musical Theatre Monday and the continuation of our extended series on the best musicals from the 1920s! This infamous decade was a booming time for musical theatre as the emergence of new talent — both onstage and off — led to a culture that more than ever celebrated outstanding individuals and their creative accomplishments. Broadway was the brightest place on Earth. Though the incredibly important Show Boat (1927) appeared three-quarters through the decade, its narrative strength wouldn’t begin appropriation to other musicals until midway through the next decade. This landmark musical aside, the musicals of the 1920s are largely frivolous affairs — trivial books (if there IS a book) with sizzling scores, memorable dances, lavish production values, and the most exciting musical theatre stars of the century. Over these next few months, we’re going to be looking at some of these notable musicals. We’ll be going chronologically, but we won’t be doing one per year like we have in the past; some years will be skipped, others will house multiple shows. In these regards, I really am presenting to you what I think is the best of the best. We’ve covered Sally (1920), Shuffle Along (1921), Rose-Marie (1924), Lady, Be Good! (1924), and No, No, Nanette (1925). Today we’re covering another show that premiered on Broadway in 1925.
VI. Dearest Enemy (09/18/25 – 05/22/26)
This show is notable for a number of reasons. In addition to an incredibly sophisticated and melodious score by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (for their first book musical success), and a book by the busy Herbert Fields, Dearest Enemy has the fascinating distinction of being based on a real life American Revolutionary War event. The plot takes the legendary story of Mary Lindley Murray, who, supposedly under orders from General George Washington, delayed the British troops (under General Sir William Howe) at her home long enough for the rebel soldiers (under General Israel Putnam) to retreat from Kips Bay and reassemble in Harlem Heights, where they eventually fought a successful counterattack. The musical added in some romance — as musicals often do — both for Mrs. Murray’s daughter Jane with Captain Harry Tyron, son of British General Sir George Tyron, and Mrs. Murray’s niece Betsy with British Captain Sir John Copeland.
The wonderful Rodgers and Hart score can be described as closer to operetta and the works of Herbert, Friml, and Kern, than the bouncy and flashy tunes for which the songwriting duo was most known in the 1920s. However, the musical tone of Dearest Enemy, aside from being exhilaratingly fresh, works sublimely well for this 1776 score, combining a soaring classicalism with distinctly modern sensibilities about sex and romance. As I’ve mentioned in past Musical Theatre Monday posts, I feel that all musicals should be regarded as period pieces — even if they’re set in the time in which they were first performed. In the case of Dearest Enemy, we have a 1925 look at what might have occurred at Mrs. Murray’s house in 1776. Revivals should embrace both eras and what each one brings to the work. Given the content of the piece, I should think Dearest Enemy would be excellent fodder for reviving — both out of historical significance and aesthetic appreciation.
However, revivals have been scarce. Like many musicals from the era, Dearest Enemy was given a moderately faithful TV adaptation in the ’50s, but aside from the original productions in New York, London, and Australia, it has only been seen (with some exceptions) from places like Musicals Tonight! or Goodspeed — the latter of which inspired a disappointing studio recording several years later. Fortunately for musical lovers everywhere, a fabulous new and complete recording was released by New World Records with restored and reconstructed orchestrations by friend-of-the-blog Larry Moore. It comes with the highest recommendations. You can (and should) purchase the physical CD — which includes an informative booklet — here.
This new recording is the best way to hear the score, and since it is recent and readily available, I’m only going to tease a few of the numbers from the show in the hopes that you’ll seek out this recording for yourself. As a taste, above is “Where The Hudson River Flows,” sung by Mrs. Murray, the two British Generals, and company. I’m crazy about this song and this arrangement.
Though we’re before the era of cast albums, the original Betsy, Helen Ford, performed two songs on the radio in 1934. They were released as bonuses on the 1955 TV Soundtrack release. Here she is with Douglas Danbury in the show’s two biggest hits “Bye And Bye” (above) and “Here In My Arms” (below). The latter is one of my favorite Rodgers and Hart songs of all time.
The TV Production from 1955 is surprisingly enjoyable as well, and is available on both CD and DVD. Here’s Cyril Ritchard and company with “Cheerio!”
As an example of the kind of fun we’d be treated to with a revival of Dearest Enemy, here’s a video of “Sweet Peter” from that TV production.
Those are just a few of the wonderful songs from this score. There are a dozen more. So, as usual, there’s little else to say except: great score; needs to be revived. I’d go and see it. Wouldn’t you?
Come back next Monday for another 1920s musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from Season Four of Green Acres!