Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the continuation of our first series on the works of composer Vincent Youmans, best known today for No, No, Nanette (1925), which we covered here in our string of posts on seminal ’20s musicals. Once a prolific musician highly regarded for his melodies (a “gifted human” according to Cole Porter), Youmans hasn’t been afforded by time the same recognition as some of his contemporaries. Hopefully these posts will illustrate why this obscurity is undeserved. We’re covering every stage score for which Youmans is credited as the main composer, save Nanette and Great Day!, both of which have already been featured. So far we’ve covered Lollipop (1924), A Night Out (1925), Oh, Please! (1926), Hit The Deck (1927), and Rainbow (1928). Today…
VI. Smiles (11/18/30 – 01/10/31)
A score by Vincent Youmans, a production by Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. and a cast that featured Marilyn Miller and the Astaire siblings made Smiles seem like a sure thing. Unfortunately, William Anthony McGuire’s book, about an orphaned French girl (Miller) who’s rescued by four benefactors, falls for one of them (Paul Gregory), and then flirts with a society man (Fred Astaire), only to choose the former, seemed stodgy, humorless, and insurmountable. Tensions were high and Youmans’ score became the scapegoat upon which Ziegfeld and his unhappy star could hang their complaints. Numbers were thrown in and out, the hardly written book morphed a bit each evening, and Ziegfeld — after mediocre opening reviews — brought in other non-Youmans songs to bolster the score, including Walter Donaldson’s “You’re Driving Me Crazy” for Ms. Astaire and Eddie Foy, Jr. Nothing worked, and the show closed less than two months after opening.
The only standard to emerge from the score was “Time On My Hands,” (with lyrics by Harold Adamson and Mack Gordon) which Marilyn Miller refused to sing. Youmans would not let Ziegfeld remove the song, so a compromise was made: Gregory would sing the song to her, and she’d sing a refrain with different lyrics. The rendition above is by Al Bowlly.
The rest of Youmans’ score, though not as universally exceptional as past works, is filled with charming numbers, including a duet for Miller and Mr. Astaire, “I’m Glad I Waited.” It is performed above by Maureen Stapleton.
Mr. Astaire received most of the raves, and his tap dance early in Act One to “Say, Young Man Of Manhattan” was a highlight. Above is Cab Calloway’s rendition.
The Astaire siblings got a few duets to themselves, among them “Be Good To Me,” performed above by Joan Morris.
Incidentally, two of the best numbers were cut from the show, “He Came Along,” performed above by Gloria DeHaven, and “More Than Ever,” performed out-of-town by Harriet Lake (before she was Ann Sothern), whom Miller had removed from the show before its New York opening. The below rendition of the latter is by Ann Hampton Callaway.
We’ll close today’s post with brief footage of a mock rehearsal, here.
Come back next Monday for another Youmans musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the final season of Three’s Company!