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), No, No, Nanette (1925), Dearest Enemy (1925), “The Cocoanuts” (1925), Oh, Kay! (1926), Good News! (1927), and Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds Of 1928. Today, we’re back in the realm of operetta…
XI. The New Moon (09/19/28 – 12/14/29)
No, this has nothing to do with vampires, twilight, or Kristen Stewart! This New Moon (formally, The New Moon) tells the overblown story of a 1792 French aristocrat and freedom fighter who flees to New Orleans after being accused of murder, falls in love with a planter’s daughter, is deported back to France aboard The New Moon, stages a mutiny, and sets up his own republic on the Isle of Pines. Oh, and he gets the girl too. If you think the plot seems particularly grand (even in the encapsulated form above), you’re not alone — but that’s exactly part of its charm. This is full-scale operetta, and it’s not trying to be anything else.
Earlier in this series, I presented Friml, Stohart, and Hammerstein’s Rose-Marie (1924), an operetta with a score that I believe is one of the most accessible to audiences who’ve not yet cultivated a taste for the distinct genre. Well, The New Moon — given how laughably stylized it is today — must not only be appreciated for its glorious Romberg and Hammerstein score, but also for its, well, BIGNESS. It’s here, it’s operetta, and it’s wonderful. And though Rose-Marie (1924) may seem just a trifle closer to what we have come to know as musical comedy (i.e. silliness, peppy danceable foxtrots, etc.), you would be hard-pressed to find an operetta score as sublime as The New Moon‘s — especially since its sound transcends both operetta and musical comedy in its audibly aesthetic ability to move its listeners. (You’ll find out in a moment.)
The score is precisely why this show has never faded from Broadway’s collective conscious. In addition to two sound film adaptations, the show was seen on Broadway several times in the ’40s, and enjoyed a renaissance in the ’80s with a handful of concert and brief revival productions. The most notable recent production was at Encores! in 2003, earning favorable reviews and the first complete recording of the score. Since the principal aim of Musical Theatre Monday is to introduce musical theatre fans to shows they’ve never known or appreciated before, I want to take the rest of the post to share some of the excellent score. First, here’s the hero’s (that’s Robert) initial serenade to the heroine (that’s Marianne). This is “Marianne,” sung by Howett Worster of the Original 1929 London cast.
Now, here’s Marianne’s first number, “The Girl On The Prow.” This comes from the Encores! recording.
The secondary (and comedic couple), Alexander and Julie have the wonderful “Gorgeous Alexander.” This comes from the Original London cast with Dolores Farris and Gene Gerrard. Of all the songs in the score, these two get the most contemporary sound.
Here they are again, also from the Original London recording with “Try Her Out At Dances,” which is preceded by the brief “Marriage Number.”
One of the score’s most famous numbers was sung by William O’Neal, who played Phillipe, one of Robert’s friends. This is O’Neal with “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise.” Mesmerizing!
Another fondly recalled number is the male ensemble’s oft-repeated “Stouthearted Men,” led by Robert and Phillipe. This is from the Encores! recording.
The hits continue with Marianne’s “One Kiss.” Here’s Jeanette MacDonald from the 1940 film adaptation.
The lovers’ big duet is the sumptuous “Wanting You.” Here again is Howett Worster with Evelyn Laye of the Original London cast.
To end this collection of extraordinary Romberg tunes, let us look no farther than the iconic “Lover, Come Back To Me.” Here’s Evelyn Herbert of the Original 1928 Broadway Cast.
I hope with this post (and the earlier one on 1924’s Rose-Marie), I’ve given a few previously uninterested parties cause for — at least — appreciating samples of the work of Romberg and Friml, the two most important operetta composers of the ’20s. After all, once you strip all the stylistic differences between operetta and musical comedy away, the most important thing remains: exquisite talent.
Come back next Monday for another ’20s musical! And tune in tomorrow for more That Girl!