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 was for Great Day! (1929). H was for Hot-Cha! (1932). I was for Irene (1919). J was for Jumbo (1935). K was for Knickerbocker Holiday (1938). L was for Leave It To Jane (1917). M is for…
M. Me And My Girl (12/16/37 – 1941)
One of the few musicals we’ve featured on this blog that opened in London rather than New York, this British musical comedy, with music by Noel Gay and lyrics by Douglas Furber and L. Arthur Rose, became one of the West End’s seminal and most successful works of the interwar era — running for over 1600 performances. Capitalizing on a 1935 comedy that starred Lupino Lane, Me And My Girl took the character and built a whole musical around him. (A theatrical spin-off!) The plot concerns Lupino’s street vendor character, Bill Snibson, the illegitimate heir of a recently deceased lord. The family’s initial horror at their inspection of the working class Bill becomes a challenge, as they hope to make a gentlemen out of him (shades of Pygmalion) and separate the heir from his street smart sweetheart, Sally. But Sally won’t take that lying down!
As noted above, the original production of Me And My Girl was a tremendous smash, thanks in part to a fortuitous BBC radio broadcast of the entire show in early 1938. Additionally, the show was televised — yes, televised — on the BBC in May of 1939. (Meanwhile, a film adaptation with Lane was produced in England in 1939, but only used several songs from the score. I have yet to see this picture, entitled The Lambeth Walk. If you have, comment below and tell us what you think of it!) It is uncertain how much of either BBC broadcast survives, but below is audio from the 1938 recording, in which the cast does the score’s biggest hit, the rowdy “The Lambeth Walk,” in which the cockneys teach the aristocrats how to dance. Click here to see a snippet from the TV production — not my clip.
The original production played through the early years of World War II, which saw the closings of most shows and the destructions of many theaters. Me And My Girl hung on until 1941, when it was forced to re-close. It reopened shortly after, and was a popular and oft-revived piece throughout the next two decades. Noel Gay even composed new numbers for the licensed amateur production edition, released in 1952. And like so many shows on this blog, Me And My Girl went several decades without a major revival. That is, until 1985, when Gay’s son teamed up with Stephen Fry to present a revised production that starred Robert Lindsay and Emma Thompson, and ended up running eight years — double the success of the original production. The success of the West End production brought the show to Broadway the following year, where it made its official American debut. No major revivals have come since, but thanks to the success of the two ’80s productions — each of which yielded cast recordings — the show is very much in theatergoers collective consciouses, especially in England, where it remains one of their crowning achievements in musical theatre.
The plot is fun, but, as is often the case, it’s really the score that triumphs, and let me tell you — this score, if you haven’t heard it before, may knock your socks off. Most of the tunes are catchy, especially the title number, recorded by the original 1937 cast and heard above. Below, also recorded by the original cast, is “Take It On The Chin,” sung by Teddie St. Denis’ Sally.
From the 1985 London recording, here’s a duet for Jackie and Gerald, the secondary couple, who split when the former hopes to seduce the recently wealthy Bill. This is Susannah Fellows with “Thinking Of No One But Me.”
Also from the 1985 recording, Jackie and Bill duet in this seduction song, “You Would If You Could” (a.k.a. “I Would If I Could”).
Though the ’80s productions supplemented several of Noel Gay’s more famous ’30s tunes, I won’t include them in today’s post because they weren’t written for Me And My Girl. However, as mentioned above, Gay wrote several new numbers for the amateur edition in the ’50s. One of these is “Once You Lose Your Heart,” given to Sally. This is Emma Thompson from the ’85 recording.
Fun show, catchy tunes. Is it ready for another major revival? Comment below with your thoughts!
Come back next Monday for N! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the first season of The Odd Couple!