Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the continuation of our two month series on the 1920s book musicals of Rodgers and Hart, a team whose ’30s and ’40s work has been fairly well represented here in the past. But the only ’20s work of theirs covered has been Dearest Enemy (1925). We’re going to rectify that now, and so far we’ve covered The Girl Friend (1926) and Lido Lady (1926). Today…
III. Peggy-Ann (12/27/26 – 10/29/27)
Rodgers and Hart teamed once more with producer Lew Fields and his librettist son Herbert for another musical comedy that starred Helen Ford (the leading lady of Dearest Enemy). Based on a 1911 musical called Tillie’s Nightmare, Peggy-Ann told the story of a New York country girl who, following a quarrel with her poor fiancé, falls asleep in an armchair and dreams of an inverted world in which all of her real life acquaintances are opposites. Peggy-Ann journeys through the streets of New York, where her fiancé is a wealthy department store manager, hops on a yacht charted by a gang of prudish pirates headed to Cuba, and finally gallops to a racetrack in Havana, which doubles as a nightclub, where everyone bets on a horse named Peggy. Filled with nonsensical bits and nary an attempt to construct a narrative that allowed for organic character growth, Peggy-Ann fascinated audiences both then and now for its sheer absurdity. In fact, several scholars have since tried to credit Peggy-Ann for being a forerunner to the “concept musical,” which puts more stake in thematic conventions than traditional storytelling.
Certainly Peggy-Ann was different than most, starting and ending with book scenes, but looking for an allegorical or meaningful theme would be fruitless. Though touted as being “Freudian” for its dreamlike structure — and to be fair, the proceedings were disjointed and confusing, like actual dreams — Peggy-Ann is nothing more than a surrealist take on the Cinderella story: waif goes from rags to riches and finds romance along the way. It’s pure musical comedy — and with a delightful score. Unfortunately, it’s never been recorded in full. Following the original 1926 Broadway production, Fields took the show to London with Dorothy Dickson in 1927. Since then, there have been no major revivals, and the complete score has not been heard outside of small scale limited run concert productions, the most recent of which was produced by UnsungMusicals in 2014. (And thanks to a gracious friend, I have a live audio of the production.) However, a few of the songs have been awarded a notability that has transcended this 1926 musical, particularly “Where’s That Rainbow?”, one of the duo’s finest. The rendition above is by Dickson. The other standard to emerge from the score, heard below, is a “A Tree In The Park,” performed by Kim Criswell and Cris Groenendaal.
Another song that has come to be regarded quite highly among scholars, because of Hart’s excellent lyrics, is Peggy-Ann’s “A Little Birdie Told Me So,” sung below by Lee Wiley.
Personally, I’m also quite partial to “Give This Little Girl A Hand,” in which Peggy-Ann’s companion, Mrs. Frost does an homage to Texas Guinan. Again, listen to those marvelous lyrics, performed below by Capathia Jenkins from the 2014 UnsungMusicals production.
There are a handful of other marvelous songs worth seeking out, including “Havana” and “Chuck It,” both of which are in the 2014 audio but haven’t ever been recorded outside of an instrumental. (Also, please check out the divine “Maybe It’s Me,” which was originally used in 1926’s The Fifth Avenue Follies.) But, we’ll close today’s post with a live audio of Rebecca Faulkenberry and Nick Verina performing my favorite little known gem from Peggy-Ann, the secondary couple’s “Hello!” (For access to an audio of the complete production, subscribe and comment below!)
Come back next Monday for another Rodgers and Hart musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the first season of Maude!