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 was for Where’s Charley? (1948). Y is for…
Y. You Never Know (09/21/38 – 11/26/38)
Based on the Austrian play By Candlelight, this Americanized musical comedy tells the story of a Baron’s valet who masquerades as his boss while romancing a wealthy madam, who is actually a maid in disguise. A delightful farce, this story had and has gone through several different incarnations over the years. With a cast that included Clifton Webb (the valet), Lupe Velez (the maid), Libby Holman (the madam), Rex O’Malley (the baron), Charles Kemper (the madam’s husband), and Toby Wing (the baron’s saucy friend), later replaced by Dainty June herself: June Havoc, this adaptation features a book by Rowland Leigh and a score mostly by Cole Porter — the first composed after the riding accident in late 1937 that left him crippled for the rest of his life. Many critics have blamed this show’s quick failure (after a long and laborious tryout season that took them to 12 cities — in which several non-Porter tunes were supplemented in place of his own) on Porter’s lackluster score. Even Porter himself would later cite You Never Know as one of his worst efforts. But I think that’s a gross underestimation of his work here, which includes many ear-catching character songs and one miraculous standard.
Before we get into enjoying the score — which is the primary focus of this post — it is imperative that some of the show’s strange production history be explained. Following its quick demise in 1938, You Never Know seemed to fall into obscurity until a 1973 Off-Broadway revival mounted a production that included a score entirely by Porter. (Of course, five of the tunes were interpolated from other places.) Several of the recordings in today’s post come from that cast recording. Others are from a 2001 studio recording with Kristin Chenoweth, David Garrison, and Donna McKechnie, which was based on a 1991 production at the Pasadena Playhouse that gave the piece another major overhaul and interpolated still other Porter tunes. This version of the show is the one most commonly seen today (even though this show is NOT commonly seen today).
I think the fact that this show has been revised several times in spite of the original production’s failure is a result of the book’s farcical premise, which, again, has been adapted several times in several different mediums. A lot of fun can be had with mistaken identity and class-hopping. But I should also like to add that while every Porter show in revival is usually blessed/cursed with songs not originally from the score, the songs written for You Never Know are classic unknown Porter. They’re better than you’d ever expect. Take, for example, the swingy title tune, sung in the original production by Libby Holman’s character. The recording above comes from the 1973 Off-Broadway album.
Two lesser known duets from the score include “What Is That Tune?” for Holman and Webb and “For No Rhyme Or Reason” for Wing and Kemper. Above is the latter, also from the 1973 Off-Broadway album.
But perhaps the best duet from the score is “From Alpha To Omega,” the latest in Porter’s genre of list songs, boasting the show’s best lyrics and another incredibly memorable tune (that WILL get stuck in your head). Above is another recording from the 1973 album.
One of my favorite songs from the score, however, was given to Lupe Velez’s character. Though sometimes credited with lyrics by Rowland Leigh, Robert Kimball insists that Porter’s sketches indicate that the song is all his. Above is “What Shall I Do?” from the 1973 album.
A song written for Holman (and perhaps performed at some point out-of-town), “I’m Going In For Love,” is another favorite. Above is Chenoweth from the 2001 recording, in which the song was given to the role originated by Velez. Another cut song worth mentioning is “I’m Back In Circulation,” intended for Toby Wing. Below is Angela Teek from the 2001 recording.
There are many other great songs that I’d like to share, but I’ll leave you to seek them out for yourself (or contact me for access to either of the cast albums), and we’ll end today’s post with the standard that I referenced above. Yes, this is “At Long Last Love,” introduced by Clifton Webb, played below by Ozzie Nelson and his orchestra.
Come back next Monday for Z! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the seventh season of All In The Family!