W Is For… WHERE’S CHARLEY? (1948)

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 was for Show Girl (1929). T was for Take A Chance (1932). U was for Ups-A-Daisy (1928). V was for Very Warm For May (1939). W is for…   

 

W. Where’s Charley? (10/11/48 – 09/09/50)

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A vehicle for the rubbery-legged Ray Bolger, this musical adaptation of the 1890’s British farce Charley’s Aunt featured a riotous book by George Abbott and a charming score by Frank Loesser (two years prior to Guys And Dolls). A big success during its original run — spawning a seldom seen 1952 film adaptation that featured Bolger and his Broadway leading lady — Where’s Charley? is the sort of show that only inspires recognition among a select generation of theatergoers. While the piece has been revived several times (with Bolger in a limited engagement in ’51, Raul Julia in the ’70s, and most recently at Encores!) it’s never quite earned the popularity that it deserves. I believe the reason for this is twofold. One, the show had the unfortunate distinction of opening during a musician’s strike, meaning that the show never got a cast album, which had recently become in vogue. (Bolger later went and recorded two of the numbers during the run, but otherwise, we’ve got nothing from the original production.) Second, the show — predicated on a man dressing up as his matronly aunt — requires an unbelievably talented lead with a skill set akin to one possessed by Bolger. And while several men have played the role since, the “Ray Bolger type” has gotten harder and harder to fill with each passing year (starting in the ’50s, even).

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The book is very funny. It’s set during graduation time at Oxford University in 1892. Two seniors are awaiting the arrival of the eponymous aunt, who will serve as a chaperone while their sweethearts come to visit. When the Brazilian woman’s arrival is delayed, Bolger’s Charley dons his costume for the school play and masquerades as his own aunt in an attempt to fool his girlfriend’s strict father. Meanwhile, as Charley tries to avoid his future father-in-law’s advances, his roommate’s father (who’s nearly broke) has been encouraged to court the wealthy aunt as well. Complications arise when Charley’s real aunt arrives. Naturally, everything gets straightened out as both the seniors get blessings to marry their girls, and Charley’s aunt reunites with an old flame — her nephew’s roommate’s father.

Loesser’s score is one of my favorites — sweet, fun, and often character-driven (a quality he would really master in his next show). The most well-known number is Bolger’s “Once In Love With Amy,” a show-stopping song and dance routine in which Bolger even invoked audience participation. I’ve shared the above clip from the 1952 film in a past Wildcard Wednesday post, but here it is again — a treat for musical comedy fans of ANY age. While this was one of the two cuts recorded by Bolger in early ’49, it’s more fun to hear him do the number live. So click here to hear Bolger’s rendition of the song, also shared on this site once before, from a 1951 episode of The Big Show.

The second biggest hit from the score is “Make A Miracle,” Charley’s duet with the aforementioned Amy, in which the lovebirds look to the future. Click here to hear the 1949 studio recording by Bolger and Allyn Ann McLearie. Above is audio of the two performing the number from the 1952 film.

The 1958 London cast with Norman Wisdom is the only complete recording of the score. From that recording, here’s the four love interests’ jaunty “Better Get Out Of Here” (above) and the ensemble’s glorious, “The New Ashmolean Marching Society and Students’ Conservatory Band,” (below) whose tune I’m sure you’ve heard before.

And finally, also from the 1958 London recording, here’s a beautiful duet for the secondary couple (one half of which was played in the original production by Doretta Morrow), “My Darling, My Darling.”

 

 

Come back next Monday for Y! (There’s no X, remember.)  And tune in tomorrow for the best from the sixth season of All In The Family!

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