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 was for On Your Toes (1936). P is for…
P. Park Avenue (11/04/46 – 01/04/47)
The last Broadway show for which Ira Gershwin provided the lyrics, this “smart” musical comedy teamed the surviving Gershwin brother with composer Arthur Schwartz, as they crafted songs around a book by George S. Kaufman and Nunnally Johnson, whose short story served as the basis for the plot. Unfortunately, the premise, which concerned the marriages, divorces, and remarriages of the elite New York jet set, several of which have gathered for the Long Island wedding of two young lovers, was deemed by critics (both out-of-town and in New York) as a one-joke affair that lacked the necessary humor to sustain the trite book. The songs were decried an unexceptional, and the cast (which included David Wayne, Leonora Corbett, and Mary Wickes) was roasted as inferior.
The show was able to coast for two months based on the creative talent involved, but the show’s “flopness” became legendary, and the show wasn’t performed for over 50 years until a small concert was staged in 1999. (To my knowledge, the only other semi-major production of this show was by Lost Musicals! in London back in 2008. I’m sure there have been other smaller productions, though without as much fanfare.) While the accusations leveled at the book seemed well-founded even today, these recent productions have given modern audiences the unique opportunity to hear the score in full and judge for themselves: is it as inadequate as 1946 critics thought?
While the answer (as always) remains subjective, the most truthful way that I can personally answer the question is to confirm that Arthur Schwartz and Ira Gershwin have individually written much better scores than that which belongs to Park Avenue. However, there are a few neglected gems that deserve some renewed attention, but perhaps because of their relative obscurity, seem more exciting than they maybe are. Yet, once again, because of the talent involved, it is imperative that we examine the score (if not the book, which exists only in manuscript form at the New York Public Library). The song that I find to be the most charming — something which was apparently rare in this show — is “There’s No Holding Me,” which was given to the engaged couple (Ray McDonald and Martha Stewart). Below is a rendition by Jackie Paris.
Another number, also for the young pair and recorded by Jackie Paris, is the criminally neglected “For The Life Of Me.” With a title so tritely romantic, you’d think it would have been picked up Sinatra or the like, but such is not the case. This would make a great cabaret song, don’t you think?
Veering from the love songs to the comedic spots, we turn our attention to a lyrically witty ditty entitled “Sweet Nevada,” given to Wayne and Corbett as the divorce lawyer and the bride-to-be’s mother. Never officially recorded, I would be remiss for not including the lyric, which was reportedly one of Ira’s favorites from the show. Initially a waltz that turned into a Western-style hoe-down number, these lyrics are from the initial waltz portion of the song.
Ira was also apparently fond of “Don’t Be A Woman If You Can,” a trio whose anticipatory feministic sentiments were led by Mary Wickes. This recording is by Nancy Walker (appropriate fit), Louise Carlyle, and Charlotte Foley.
Yet another “comedic” character spot was given to Corbett and the young lovers in “My Son-In-Law,” which was recorded on a Ben Bagley album by Paula Lawrence and Robert Marks, and can be heard below.
The show apparently ends with the young couple deciding to call off the wedding, seeing the turmoil that matrimony brings. Perhaps audiences of ’46 needed to believe that the innocents could triumph over the ick and the shtick to find a happy ending — the cynicism, without the humor, was unappealing. However, this plot point did produce one really glorious number for the duo entitled “Goodbye To All That” (or “Good-bye To All That”), which though quite wonderfully written, has only been recorded once. (WHY has no one discovered this one?) We’ll close today’s post with the aforementioned recording, by Gloria DeHaven, as this number is perhaps the best example of a potential gem waiting to be unearthed from a forgotten score.
Come back next Monday for Q! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the fourth season of The Odd Couple!