The Song Is… Kern In The ’30s (III)

Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the conclusion of our three week series on the early ’30s musical theatre works of Jerome Kern! We covered Music In The Air (1932) and Roberta (1933). Today…


III. Three Sisters (04/09/34 – June 1934)

sheet music

Bearing no relation to the Chekhov play of the same title, this British musical comedy about three sisters and their romantic entanglements before, during, and after the Great War has since been deemed the most obscure of Jerome Kern’s ’30s stage scores. Premiering at the Drury Lane with a cast that included Victoria Hopper, Stanley Holloway, Adele Dixon, Esmond Knight, and Charlotte Greenwood, Three Sisters met with mixed reviews upon opening, folding in less than two months. Kern’s work, along with the lyrics and libretto by the legendary Oscar Hammestein II, never received an American production until 1995, when 42nd Street Moon partially reconstructed the piece. Finally in 2011, a full restoration by the same company led to what has been named its American premiere. Contemporary reviewers were startled by both the complexity of the characters and by the exceptionalism of the score. In fact, two songs written for Three Sisters later had lives of their own in iconic films. The most famous is “I Won’t Dance,” which was added to the 1935 film adaptation of Roberta with revised lyrics by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh. Although these lyrics are the most familiar, below is a recording that uses Hammerstein’s 1934 originals.

The other tune that made its way into another work was “Lonely Feet,” which was added to the 1934 film adaptation of Sweet Adeline. Below is a recording by Rebecca Luker.

Several members of the original cast, including Dixon and Knight, recorded a few selections from the score. Here’s Stanley Holloway with “Hand In Hand.”

And here’s Holloway again with “Keep Smiling.”

Among my favorite songs from the score is “You Are Doing Very Well,” taken below from the Jerome Kern In London And Hollywood album.

And, as a capper to this post that has hopefully proven what a marvelously neglected score Kern and Hammerstein crafted, from the same album, here’s “Funny Old House.”



Come back next week for another Musical Theatre Monday! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the fourth season of The Bob Newhart Show!

7 thoughts on “The Song Is… Kern In The ’30s (III)

  1. youve done it again. never heard of the three sisters. its nice starting off my week with some good old show music and a cup of coffee. thanks again . bob keuscher

    • My pleasure, Bob! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Glad to be able to present stuff for which obscurity is clearly no indication of quality; some real good stuff in this score, huh? Stay tuned next week for the start of an extended series of posts on the early musical theatre works of Rodgers and Hart!

  2. Who is the performer (dates and other credits if available, too?) on the clip of “I Won’t Dance” with the original lyrics?

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