Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday! Today, we’re continuing our series of alphabetically ordered posts on forgotten musicals from the ’10s – ’40s. Over the next 25 weeks (note that I will not be doing a post for the letter X), I’ll be covering a different forgotten musical. The only criteria, it has to begin with that specific letter of the alphabet. A was for Are You With It? (1945). B was for Best Foot Forward (1941). C is for…
C. The Cat And The Fiddle (10/15/31 – 09/24/32)
With a book and score by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach, this operatically swinging clash between operetta and swing has the distinction of being one of the most musically integrated shows of the entire decade. Not only do the songs seem to arise from the action, but they pop up spontaneously and in snippets — almost to the point where, there are no songs proper, just recurring musical themes that serve to interrupt the dialogue. This works because of the story, in which a Romanian opera composer (George Metaxa) falls in love with a jazzy American composer (Bettina Hall) hired by a lascivious producer to interpolate some of her popular songs into his latest piece, The Passionate Pilgrim. Thus, the music, the battle and eventual blending of two dichotomous forms, becomes part of the story. How novel and exciting!
Of course, while certain parts of the score undoubtedly swing, it would be foolish to pretend that the musical, like its composer, doesn’t have an operatic bias. It’s this bias, I personally think, that has kept this work from ever getting a major revival. (No doubt, the title brings recollections of both the nursery rhyme and the musical’s 1934 silver screen adaptation with Ramon Navarro and Jeannette MacDonald — operatic to a fault. And as we’ve discussed before on this blog, operetta is a dirty and foreign word to modern audiences.) Of course, the fact that the music is interwoven into the book also serves as a major drawback to modern producers who wouldn’t dream of mounting a ’30s musical without extensive script renovations. (Gee, wonder why?) It’s a shame, because the music is everything we’d want it to be. I like the jazz and the opera. So when they DO meet, it’s thrilling.
Probably the most recognizable number from the score is “She Didn’t Say Yes,” one of the American composer, Shirley’s, hits, which is reprised several times throughout the show. Narratively, this is most effective in Act Two when she puts on the record of this — her song — and makes her escape from the horny producer’s place. Above is Peggy Wood from the Original London cast.
Another recognizable number from the score is “The Night Was Made For Love,” one of the Romanian composer, Victor’s, hits, which is sung initially by Pompineau, a guitar strumming chansonnier. Above is a period rendition by the Leo Reisman orchestra.
We can also hear the alternating styles affecting one another in a couple of excellent tunes. Above is Peggy Wood with Shirley’s foxtrot-y, but grand “Try To Forget.” Below is “One Moment Alone,” the tune which Victor first writes, and on which Shirley later comes in to collaborate in a romantic moment in the second act.
This is Joan Morris and William Bolcom’s rendition of “Poor Peirrot,” which is one of Victor’s numbers in The Passionate Pilgrim.
Peggy Wood also recorded Victor’s second act spot, “A New Love Is Old,” another example of Shirley’s style influencing his.
We’ll close out this post on one of the most integrated musicalss of the 1930’s (paving the way for 1932’s Music In The Air), with one last tune. Here’s George Dvorsky with “The Love Parade.”
Come back next Monday for D! And tune in tomorrow for the best from Season Four of Here’s Lucy!