Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday — our first of 2015. Much of this year will be spent finishing off our coverage on the works of some of my favorite composers from the ’20s-’40s. I have a huge master list of musicals I want to cover on this site, and 2015 is the year in which we’ll be checking many of them off! We’re starting with a five week series on Gershwin musicals of the ’20s. Of George’s output this decade, we’ve already covered Lady, Be Good! (1924), Oh, Kay! (1926), Funny Face (1927), Treasure Girl (1928), and Show Girl (1929). Today, we’re kicking off the series with…
I. Sweet Little Devil (01/21/24 – 05/03/24)
George paired with lyricist Buddy DeSylva to create the score for this cutesy musical comedy that opened only a month before the legendary debut of “Rhapsody In Blue.” Like many scholars, I tend to consider “Rhapsody” a major milestone in the evolution of Gershwin’s sound; unlike every piece that came after the composition, his signature style is sometimes difficult to ascertain in his pre-1924 works. This particular score is right at the cusp of his blossoming genius, and the songs teeter between Gershwin exceptionalism and typically pleasant but forgettable ’20s fare. Fortunately, 21st century Broadway buffs now have the opportunity to hear the score in full, as a marvelous studio recording was released by P.S. Classics in 2012. You can purchase it here. (Be sure to get the physical copy for the liner notes.)
The story itself is fairly routine, although many of the critics at the time were entertained. Constance Binney played a wholesome country girl who moves to the big city and lives with her cousin, a chorus girl in the Follies. Binney becomes pen pals with one of her cousin’s admirers, who is under the impression that he is indeed writing to the chorine. As you can imagine, complications and hijinks arise when he comes to town to meet his love. It’s innocent ’20s fodder that merely functions to set up a good tune. (Read more about the book in the aforementioned liner notes.) And this Gershwin score boasts more than a handful. One of my favorite numbers was recorded for the first time in 2012. Entitled “You’re Mighty Lucky (My Little Duckie),” this duet was cut out-of-town but reinstated for the post-Broadway tour. (It’s highly evocative of several songs from 1933’s Pardon My English.) Here are real-life marrieds, Danny Burstein and Rebecca Luker.
Two songs from the score became semi-known among fellow vintage musical lovers when they were included on Ben Bagley’s George Gershwin Revisited album. Elaine Stritch recorded Binney’s “Virginia (Don’t Go Too Far),” so named for the character’s name and home state. Though Stritch’s rendition is far from how it would be performed in the show, it’s a lot of fun.
From that same album, Anthony Perkins and Barbara Cook recorded the secondary couple’s charming “Under A One-Man Top,” which includes a marvelous reference to Henry Ford. Here they are below.
There are several other numbers worth highlighting (“Matrimonial Handicap,” “Just Supposing,” “Hey! Hey! Let ‘Er Go!”) but I’ll leave them for your own discovering. We’ll end today’s post with the requisite dancing craze number, “The Jijibo.” Hit it!
Come back next Monday for another Gershwin musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the third season of Sanford And Son!