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 was for Me And My Girl (1937). N was for The Night Boat (1920). O is for…
O. On Your Toes (04/11/36 – 01/23/37)
When we first did our Musical Theatre Monday series on shows “Ripe For Revival” and came to 1936, I decided against featuring On Your Toes, arguably the best musical of the year, because I felt it didn’t need any championing. That is, this show is among a rare company of ’30s musicals that have been revived successfully in major Broadway productions. (And not once, but twice — each directed by George Abbott, who helped write the original 1936 book.) The show is so well known that Encores! did a production last year. However, while On Your Toes is popular among more advanced theatre aficionados, the title means practically nothing to a generation of young fans who haven’t been around for one of the three big Broadway mountings. Because of this, O is definitely for On Your Toes.
Hailed as being one of the first shows to successfully incorporate dance into its book, On Your Toes, with an A+ score by Rodgers and Hart, tells the story of a former vaudeville hoofer (Ray Bolger) turned music teacher who goes to the Russian ballet with an idea of a jazz ballet. He becomes embroiled in a love triangle with a glamorous ballerina (Tamara Geva) and one of his eager students (Doris Carson) — not to mention the ballerina’s jealous lover and co-star. Luella Gear and Monty Woolley played the manager and company director, respectively.
The climax of the show is a huge ballet sequence, “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue,” in which Bolger’s character dances frantically and delays the number’s conclusion (which also includes Geva and George Church) so as to avoid the gunfire of the jealous lover’s gangster friend. Choreographed by George Balanchine, this was recreated for the 1939 film adaptation (which jettisoned the brilliant score) with Vera Zorina and Eddie Albert. (See a clip — not my video, mind you — here.)
While dance, and the blurring of its genres, seemed to be the major attraction, Rodgers and Hart gave us a smart, literate, and hummable score (what else is new, right?) that turned out several standards — including “It’s Got To Be Love” (above) and “Glad To Be Unhappy” (below). Both are from the 1954 Revival cast recording with Bobby Van, Kay Coulter, and Joshua Shelley.
Another modest hit was “There’s A Small Hotel,” for Bolger and Carson. This rendition comes from the 1983 Revival cast recording and is performed by Lara Teeter and Christine Andreas.
Also from the 1983 recording, here’s Dina Merrill and George S. Irving with a number originally duetted by Gear and Woolley, “Too Good For The Average Man.”
Gear teamed with Bolger for “The Heart Is Quicker Than The Eye.” From the 1954 recording, here’s Van with Elaine Stritch.
We shall end today’s post with the snappy title song, courtesy of Jack Whiting from the original 1937 London cast!
Come back next Monday for P! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the third season of The Odd Couple!