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 was for The Cat And The Fiddle (1931). D was for Du Barry Was A Lady (1939). E was for Ever Green (1930). F was for Funny Face (1927). G is for…
G. Great Day! (10/17/29 – 11/16/29)
One of the most obscure musicals we’ve yet to cover on this blog, this 36-performance flop, produced by composer Vincent Youmans himself and featuring lyrics by Billy Rose and Edward Eliscu, was a victim of both a tempestuous out-of-town tryout period and the infamous crash of Wall Street shortly after the show’s opening. Youmans, smarting after the failure of Rainbow (1928) and eager to compete with Kern’s Show Boat (1927), set about telling the lavish tale of an impoverished Southern belle who hopes to save her Louisiana plantation from her shifty boss, and the romance that develops between she and the young engineer who steps in to protect her home. After a reportedly disastrous tryout in Philadelphia, Youmans fired a good majority of the cast and crew, and began major rewrites to both the book and score. (The show became nicknamed Great Delay!) Helping him transcribe these revisions was a young Harold Arlen, who had a small role in the show until he voluntarily departed before the Broadway opening.
When the show finally opened in October 1929, the show’s biggest draw was the comedic stylings of Miller and Lyles, a duo whom you may remember as having been featured in Shuffle Along (1921), a show we covered here back in February. Unfortunately, after much hype and even more backstage turmoil, the final product left much to be desired. Even without having access to the book that played New York audiences, it is still easy to imagine that the overproduced and melodramatic story, which belied its thin plotting, is the most important cause for its less-than-stellar reception. And when the stock market crashed twelve days later, Great Day!’s fate was sealed. It has never been revived since, although MGM purchased the rights and began production on a 1930 film adaptation with Joan Crawford. (Yes, Joan Crawford!) But when initial rushes proved disappointing, the film was shelved indefinitely and talked about only in whispers.
Yet, what survives of the score (and many numbers were cut and added and shifted around all throughout the process, seemingly lost to time) illustrates Youmans at his musical finest. In fact, Great Day! boasted three standards (and several forgotten tunes) that I’m pleased to share with you today. Probably the most well known, though this is arguable, is the southern belle’s big solo spot, the torchy “More Than You Know.” The rendition below was shared on a Wildcard Wednesday post in July of last year. It is by Hadyn Gwynne, and was featured on the cast recording of the 1989 British jukebox musical, Ziegfeld.
This little known gem was featured in the same Wildcard Wednesday post as the above. Titled “Open Up Your Heart,” it is performed by Joan Morris and William Bolcolm, and was sung in the show by the belle’s brother and his love interest (a.k.a. the obligatory secondary couple). Unknown gem here, folks!
One of the other standards to emerge was the poignant (though sometimes jaunty) “Without A Song,” introduced by Lois Deppe’s plantation hand character, and backed by the Jubilee Singers. This rendition is a 1959 live TV performance of the number by Tony Bennett.
Another forgotten tune, a duet for the main couple, has only been recorded a scant number of times. The first recording was by Libby Holman, and here she is below with “Happy Because I’m In Love.”
And now, let’s end this post with the score’s last standard. Here is the grand and peppy title song, as performed by Judy Garland in a 1964 episode of her single season musical variety show. Lots of people have recorded this song, but she does it with such energy; so joyous.
Come back next Monday for H! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the second season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show!