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 rectifying that now, and so far we’ve covered The Girl Friend (1926), Lido Lady (1926) Peggy-Ann (1926), and Betsy (1927). Today…
V. A Connecticut Yankee (11/03/27 – 10/27/28)
Perhaps my favorite Rodgers and Hart score of the decade for its joyfulness, A Connecticut Yankee was based on the Mark Twain novel and featured a book by Herbert Fields, while his father, Lew, once again, produced. The original 1927 production starred William Gaxton and Constance Carpenter. Busby Berkeley was the choreographer. The plot concerned a man named Martin, whose jealous fiancé catches him with another woman, Alice, and hits him over the head with a champagne bottle on the eve of their wedding. He dreams that he’s back in the court of King Arthur, with his fiancé in the role of the nasty Morgan Le Fay, who promptly captures his love interest, Alisande. Just as Martin is able to rescue the lass, he wakes up and decides to pursue his true love.
The 1927 production was a smash and led to a national tour and a brief London production in 1929. A Connecticut Yankee is the only Rodgers and Hart musical to receive a major revival during the lyricist’s life time. In fact, the duo wrote six new songs for a 1943 production that updated the book and expanded the part of Morgan Le Fay, which was now a star turn for R&H favorite, Vivienne Segal. (Meanwhile, Vera-Ellen played the female half of the secondary couple.) These new numbers were the last Larry Hart would ever write.
A faithful TV production aired in 1955, and the show continued to be seen in several small productions over the ensuing decades. The most recent major production was a revisal that occurred in 2001 at Encores! A combination of both the 1927 and 1943 evenings, it is now available for licensing. Although a Broadway revival seems unlikely, the score — which was partially recorded by the 1943 revival cast — is truly a delight. The biggest hit of the 1927 production was “My Heart Stood Still,” for modern day Martin and Sandy. Originally included in a 1927 British revue entitled One Dam Thing After Another, Rodgers and Hart had to buy back the American rights for their song from producer Charles Cochran, who also received an offer from Ziegfeld, hoping to the use the number in his 1927 Follies. The rendition above is by one of this country’s finest, Ella Fitzgerald.
Another duet that caught on was “Thou Swell,” which I must admit is my favorite Rodgers and Hart song due to its happy melody and painfully clever lyrics. Take a listen to the rendition above by Douglas Sills and Rebecca Luker to hear what I mean. (And click here for a brief rendition by Bill Gaxton himself on Toast Of The Town.)
The secondary couple, Sir Galahad and Lady Evelyn, were blessed with two very amusing duets. Above is “On A Desert Island With Thee,” performed by Chester Stratton and Vera-Ellen of the 1943 cast. Below is another one of my favorites, “I Feel At Home With You,” performed by members of the 1955 TV cast.
The most well known number from the ’43 revival was Morgan’s brilliant “To Keep My Love Alive.” Hear Segal delivering primo Lorenz Hart lyrics below.
And we’ll end today’s post with the last song (allegedly) for which Hart wrote lyrics, Morgan and Martin’s “Can’t You Do A Friend A Favor?” The rendition below is by Blossom Dearie and Bobby Short.
Come back next Monday for another Rodgers and Hart musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the third season of Maude!