Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the continuation of our first series on the works of Vernon Duke, a marvelous composer whose contributions to musical theatre and the classic American songbook are not praised as much as their merit warrants. On Musical Theatre Mondays, we’ve covered Duke’s work for Cabin In The Sky (1940) and both the 1934 and 1936 editions of The Ziegfeld Follies. Now, we’re delving a little deeper, featuring some of the composer’s lesser known scores, which are filled with an embarrassment of riches. So far we’ve covered Walk A Little Faster (1932) and Banjo Eyes (1941). Today…
III. The Lady Comes Across (01/09/42 – 01/10/42)
This major flop, which was produced by George Hale (using sets from She Had To Say Yes, a show that closed out of town) and built around the talents of British musical comedy star Jessie Matthews, ended up opening and closing without its leading lady. Matthews had to be replaced out-of-town when she suffered a nervous breakdown during tryouts — likely due to all the harried and frantic revisions that were being made to the flimsy spy story book. Evelyn Wyckoff stepped in as a replacement, but despite decent reviews, the lack of star power killed the otherwise mediocre show’s chances for success. (That’s not to say it didn’t have a good cast; Ronald Graham, Joe E. Lewis, Wynn Murray, and Gower Champion and Jeanne Taylor, but they couldn’t headline the show to the extent that Matthews’ name was intended.) George Balanchine’s choreography did liven up the production, but Duke and La Touche’s score was considered less than middling. Although little of their work has been recorded, most of these offerings lack our spotlighted composer’s usual knack for crafting haunting melodies. My favorite surviving number is “You Took Me By Surprise,” which was introduced by Wyckoff and Graham as her love interest. Above is Blossom Dearie’s rendition.
Perhaps the most well known number from the score, “Summer Is A-Comin’ In,” was included in The Littlest Revue (1956), and introduced by Charlotte Rae. Above is her recording. Below is a Bagley medley of “This Is Where I Came In,” and “I’d Like To Talk About The Weather,” a cute ditty that was cut before opening.
And we’ll close today’s brief post with the title song, “Lady,” which seemed like a potential hit during tryouts. This rendition is by Anthony Perkins.
Come back next Monday for another Duke musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the final season of Soap!