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 was for Park Avenue (1946). Q was for Queen High (1926). R was for Red, Hot, And Blue! (1936). S is for…
S. Show Girl (07/02/29 – 10/05/29)
I teased a few weeks ago in a post celebrating Mr. George Gershwin’s birthday that Show Girl may soon be making an appearance on Musical Theatre Mondays — and I’ve lived up to my word. Produced by the great Florenz Ziegfeld, with a score by the Gershwin brothers (and Gus Kahn, who joined Ira as co-lyricist), and a book adapted loosely from J.P. McEvoy’s novel of the same name, Show Girl starred Ruby Keeler, then married to Al Jolson, as Dixie Dugan, a wannabe Broadway starlet who’s chased by four different suitors — a salesman (Eddie Foy, Jr.), a dancer (Joseph Macaulay), a tycoon (Austin Fairman), and a writer (Frank McHugh), before choosing the latter and finding success on the Broadway stage. Also around for laughs are the team of Lou Clayton, Eddie Jackson, and Jimmy Durante. If you have a haunch telling you that the book is probably thin — you’re right. Ira Gershwin was quoted as saying, “Everything considered, I wouldn’t be surprised if Show Girl set a record for sparseness of dialogue in a musical.”
The production was troubled. As is always the case with a Ziegfeld show, lavish would be an appropriate adjective. The show had expert songwriters, Al Jolson’s wife as the headliner, and an assortment of speciality performers — comics, singers, dancers — on hand to liven up the purportedly “sparse” action. Meanwhile, Ziegfeld hoped the Jolson connection would help boost ticket sales, especially if, should we choose to believe the legends, he would appear in the audience during the tryouts, stand during the final number, and join his wife in an “impromptu” rendition of the final — and best remembered number, “Liza (All The Clouds’ll Roll Away).” Yet the critics did not rave, and Keeler left the show within a month after its opening. She was replaced by Dorothy Stone, and Show Girl closed about two months later.
And while this seems the case with every show featured here, the score is truly the most memorable thing about Show Girl. Gershwin’s music is varied (and includes a minstrel show AND the original incarnation of the “An American In Paris” ballet, danced by the Albertina Rasch dancers), exciting (one can only imagine how it must have sounded played by the Duke Ellington Orchestra), and unique — even though much of it has unfortunately been written off as some of the composer’s lesser work. Even at the time, it wasn’t highly regarded — numbers came in and out, songs by other composers came in (Durante had four specialty pieces of his own), and only about half of the Gerwhsin numbers written for the show made it to opening night. The only song from the score to truly get the recognition it deserves is the aforementioned “Liza,” which is heard above and sung by Mr. Jolson himself!
Two numbers that I would love to see become standards include the moderately well known “Do What You Do!” a bouncy duet for Keeler and McHugh that’s reprised several times throughout the show and becomes the main love duet after starting as merely an audition song, and “Feeling Sentimental,” a beautiful ballad (with great lyrics) that was cut before opening night. Above is the former (about which I’m just nuts), performed by the Ipana Troubadours, and below is the latter, performed by Bobby Short.
Short also recorded the comedic “I Must Be Home By Twelve O’Clock,” heard below.
From the Show Boat parody that opens the show (produced by Ziegfeld and titled “Magnolia”) is a simple and sweet number for the secondary female, played by Virginia Newberry, entitled “My Sunday Fella.” The only recording of this number, heard below, is by Victoria Hart. (This was featured in the Gershwin birthday post from a few weeks ago.)
Never officially recorded, “Harlem Serenade,” was introduced by Keeler and the girl ensemble, near the close the first act. The rendition featured below is taken from a YouTube recording of pianist Peter Mintun, who also does the vocals. Love this song!
And I thought we’d end today’s post with “Home Blues,” a number based musically on the “An American In Paris” ballet. You’ll recognize the melody. This rendition is by Bruce Hubbard.
Come back next Monday for T! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the second season of All In The Family!