A LITTLE SONG, A LITTLE DANCE: Musical Revues of the Early ’30s (IV)

Welcome to another Musical Theatre Monday and the start of a new week here on That’s Entertainment! Today’s post concludes our month long series on musical revues of the early ’30s. This blog has already covered The Band Wagon (1931), As Thousands Cheer (1933), and Ziegfeld Follies of 1936. This month we’ll be highlighting just a few revues from 1930-1935. So far, we’ve covered Three’s A Crowd (1930), George White’s Scandals Of 1931, and Life Begins At 8:40 (1934). Today, we’re in 1935…

 

IV. At Home Abroad (09/19/35 – 03/07/36)

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The best musical revue of the year, At Home Abroad was special not only for its literate Schwartz & Dietz score, its flashy direction by Vincente Minnelli (his first), and its remarkable cast that included Beatrice Lillie, Ethel Waters, Herb Williams, Eleanor Powell, Paul Haakon, Reginald Gardiner, Eddie Foy Jr., Vera Allen, and John Payne, but because the entire production was unified into a singular overarching theme: a trip around the world. This focus, as had been the case with 1933’s As Thousands Cheer, helps connect the songs and the sketches — all the while allowing for a delicious variety that showcases the beautiful design and the unique stars.

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The best way to appreciate the score is to see (or at least, hear) it firsthand with the stars for whom it was written. As you know, that’s an opportunity rarely afforded to us when it comes to shows of the ’20s and ’30s. However, the Smithsonian Institute put together an archival reconstruction (later issued to disc by AEI) that utilizes official recordings by the original cast members alongside LIVE audio of the original cast as performed on radio in 1935. You want to taste an authentic ’30s revue? Here’s your chance. Throughout the rest of this post, I’ll be featuring a mix of original recordings with said live audio — as released by AEI. We start in England with dancing Eleanor Powell’s clipped “That’s Not Cricket.”

The track below, from AEI, is a combination of the 1935 radio audio of a hilarious sketch entitled “Double Damask Dinner Napkins,” with an earlier recording of Cecily Courtneidge performing the same bit. (Note that this sketch was previously used in a 1932 British revue entitled Clowns In Clover with Courtneidge.) Though not part of the score, to understand the ’30s revue, one must also have an idea of what the comedy was like!

Ethel Waters brings us to Africa (by way of Harlem) with the sizzling “The Hottentot Potentate.” (You’ll notice how brilliant Dietz’s lyrics are!)

Next on our tour — Lillie takes us to the ultra-witty “Paree,” which she performed on a swing while throwing garters to the audience.

One number not recorded by the original cast or included in the release of the radio audio was the beautiful (a Schwartz staple) “Farewell, My Lovely.” This is a 1974 recording by Clifford David. It was originally sung by Woods Miller and danced by Paul Haakon with Nina Whitney.

Waters returns for her big spot, “Thief In The Night,” in which she confronts her philandering ex, Slinky Johnson!

In this mix of live audio and official recording, Powell taps her way through one of the score’s eventual standards, “What A Wonderful World.” (Not to be confused with the Sam Cooke song of the ’50s.)

We find ourselves with Waters in the West Indies, backed by the Six Spirits of Rhythm, with “Loadin’ Time.” This is the live recording.

One of my favorite numbers, also for Waters and recorded live on radio, is “Steamboat Whistle,” which presumably followed the above.

The highlight of the evening, however, took place in Japan with the kimono-clad chorus girl’s “Get Yourself A Geisha,” in which Lillie stepped out of the chorus with a one-liner that brought the house down: “It’s better with your shoes off!” Lillie recorded the whole number herself, as heard below.

In the final number for today’s post, spicy Waters joins snappy Powell for the boisterous “Got A Bran’ New Suit.” Now, THAT’S entertainment, folks!

 

 

Come back next Monday for the start of a new musical theatre series of blogposts! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the first season of Here’s Lucy!

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