The Song Is… Kern In The ’30s (I)

Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the start of our three week series on the early ’30s musical theatre works of Jerome Kern!

 

I. Music In The Air (11/08/32 – 09/16/33)

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Ethan Mordden’s summation of the plot is pleasantly succinct: “In contemporary Bavaria, boy and girl visit Munich, get involved in local show biz, quarrel, get hurt, and go home to patch it up and plan the wedding.” It’s a fairly simple backstager — but with a twist: the heroine bungles her chance for stardom and must contend with love and marriage over success. Often compared to the previous year’s The Cat And The Fiddle (1931) with a score by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach (covered here), Hammerstein and Kern’s Music In The Air also boasts wonderful integration of story and song. Both imbued with European sounds and concerned with music/performance, they are regularly cited among a handful of musicals (or operettas, in this case) between the infamous benchmarks — Show Boat (1927) and Oklahoma! (1943) — that seek to use music as a means of storytelling, enhancing, and occasionally advancing, the plot. Although in my study of both pieces, I have come to the conclusion that The Cat And The Fiddle is probably the more integrated (albeit slightly), Music In The Air is better constructed, and thus more accessible. In fact, many of my longtime musical theatre friends, connoisseurs, and readers regard Music In The Air with a special affinity, believing it to be one of the decade’s shamelessly neglected works — and one of Kern’s best.

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In addition to original productions on both sides of the Atlantic and a 1934 film adaptation with Gloria Swanson (in which the stage show’s most famous number was deleted before release), Music In The Air was performed sporadically around the country in the ’40s and ’50s. A Broadway revival in 1951 starring Jane Pickens led to an album of its leading lady singing most of the songs. But to this date, as with The Cat And The Fiddle, no complete recording of the score has been produced, despite a well regarded 2009 production at Encores! (Music In The Air has probably been seen a bit more than The Cat And The Fiddle, however, which I think speaks to its slight favor.) As is usual with a Kern score, this world would be a better place if a full cast recording existed, for his music is a delight. The classic song alluded to above is “The Song Is You,” which composer Bruno Mahler ironically sings to “his inspiration,” our ingenue, Sieglinde.  The recording below is by the always dependable Thomas Hampson.

Walter Slezak played our juvenile, wunderkind schoolmaster and aspiring songwriter, Karl, who co-wrote “I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star,” which is heard many times throughout the score and has also gone on to become a Jerome Kern standard. The recording below is by Jane Pickens.

We’ll close today’s post with Jeanne Lehman’s “In Egern On The Tegern Sea.” (For those interested in hearing the full score, subscribe and comment below for access to an audio of the entertaining Encores! production.) Hopefully a full scale recording will one day give everyone a chance to experience the miracle of Kern and Hammerstein’s Music In The Air.

P.S. Vivian Vance made her Broadway debut in the original 1932 ensemble.

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Come back next Monday for another Jerome Kern musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the second season of The Bob Newhart Show!

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6 thoughts on “The Song Is… Kern In The ’30s (I)

  1. How I love this show and the Encores production!! I wish there was a way that that “recording” could be fully released.

    • Hi, bobster427! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Hopefully a full studio cast recording will one day be produced. We’ve got SHOW BOAT (1927) and ROBERTA (1933) [stay tuned next week…]; now it’s time to fill in the gaps!

  2. just finished watching music in the air on youtube. it was good. i am doing my own jerome kern in hollywood salute. i watched sweet adeline and high wide and handsome yesturday . they were good . i bought a vhs copy of joy of living cheap. i intend to watch it tonight.keep up the good work ., you are doing what i planned to do when i retired now i can set back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. bob k

    • Hi, Bob. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Thanks for the kind words; you can’t go wrong with Jerome Kern!

      Be sure to check out some of our past Kern posts, including entries on SHOW BOAT (1927), SWEET ADELINE (1929), and VERY WARM FOR MAY (1939), the last of which boasts some of my favorite songs ever written.

  3. Hello Upperco! I just found your site and wanted to say thanks for all the informative posts on Kern’s music; I’m going to have to take some time to look through them all! I’ve only discovered the wonders of Jerome Kern’s music in the past year and it’s been a bit hard navigating what shows/recordings are out there. I’d love to hear the recording of Music in the Air you mentioned, and any other Kern recordings you’d be willing to share.

    I’d also love any advice you have about Kern recordings available for purchase; as I said it’s a little hard to figure out what’s available. I got the John McGlinn recordings of Showboat, Sitting Pretty, Kern Treasury, and Broadway Showstoppers. I heard that noncommercial McGlinn recordings exist of Leave it to Jane and O Lady! Lady!! which I’d love to hear, but haven’t found anywhere online (such a shame his plan of recording every Kern show fell through). Otherwise I’ve really enjoyed the 2014 Roberta, Lost Treasures, Bolcom and Morris’ Silver Linings, Cabaret Girl by the Ohio Light Opera, and Lost Broadway 6. I also have the revival recordings of Leave it to Jane and Very good Eddie.

    Other Kern discs, like Ben Bagley’s revisited series and Jerome Kern in London and Hollywood seem to be unfortunately out of print and only available for exorbitant prices. I also found the Comic Opera Guild’s site, but didn’t know if their recordings were good or not.

    Anyway, thanks for the information and any help!

    Blaine

    p.s. you also seem to have good taste in sitcoms; any fan of cheers is a friend :)

    • Hi, Blaine! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Please subscribe to this blog using your preferred email address and I’ll send the MUSIC IN THE AIR recording your way! Also, once subscribed, you can check out our other Kern entries and if you find any available audios you’d like, please feel free to comment in each of those individual posts and let me know — I’ll send them your way as well.

      In terms of other commercially released Kern recordings, I think the Bagley albums are indispensable (as is “Jerome Kern in London and Hollywood”). I can’t offer those to you here, but if you’re in a pinch and can’t obtain them, I may be able to help you track them down. Otherwise you have most of the material you need — although I’d also voice some favor for the album “Early Kern,” which contains a few rarities. As for the Comic Opera Guild CDs, they’re not aurally satisfying, but there’s material on them that you won’t find elsewhere, so if you’re a collector, they’re a necessity.

      There’ll be another Kern series, on his earlier works, coming up before 2016 is through, and excerpts from the unreleased McGlinn albums will be featured, as they were in our 2014 post on LEAVE IT JANE. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to offer those to you here as there’s still an effort to get those commercially released — and I have to be careful about what I offer. But I hope you’ll stay tuned, because there’s more Kern stuff that I WILL be able to share!

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