Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the start of our six week series on the yet-to-be covered scores of George Gershwin. Although we’ve highlighted a lot of the master composer’s work in the past, the entries in this series are either really early in his career or once deemed too popular and well known to be considered “forgotten.” But the time has come to give all of his brilliant work fair play, starting today with…
I. La-La-Lucille! (05/26/19 – 10/11/19)
The first book musical for which George Gershwin was employed to provide the entire score, La-La-Lucille! featured a book by Fred Jackson and lyrics by Jackson’s brother, Arthur, and B.G. DeSylva. (Other lyrics came by way of Ira, Lou Paley, and Irving Caesar.) It was also the first musical comedy co-produced by the Gershwins’ future collaborator, Alex Aarons. Based on a WWI-era bedroom farce, the story concerns John Smith, a man whose wealthy aunt leaves him a two million dollar inheritance on the condition that he divorce his vaudevillian wife (the titular Lucille). They devise a plan in which John will take their Japanese super’s Irish wife to a Philadelphia hotel to fake a tryst. But complications arise when Lucille finds John with the female half of a newlywed pair, and he finds her with the newlywed gal’s disapproving colonel father. Fortunately, all’s well that ends well when the Smiths reunite and learn that his aunt, still alive, was just testing their resolve — the money is theirs!
La-La-Lucille was a hit and spawned a national tour and a 1920 film adaptation. Eight songs were published, and Gershwin made piano rolls of four. Yet despite all the rave reviews, the show (and score) faded into obscurity. Aside from a one-night only concert performance of the recently discovered score in 2013 (which I’m hoping was recorded for posterity), there have been no revivals or public re-mountings. And no songs went on to become classics; the closest hit was “Nobody But You,” which was added several weeks into the run. Gershwin thought well enough of the song to include it in his published 1932 songbook. It’s a beautiful tune, with the cheekiness of 1919 and the snappiness of 1924 (and what’s to come). The rendition above is by Julie Hill.
From the aforementioned piano rolls, here is Gershwin himself with a song for Lucille and her performer father, “Tee-Oodle-Um-Bum-Bo” (above), reportedly the audience’s favorite, and the lovers’ simply sweet (but definitely Gershwin) “From Now On” (below).
And we’ll close today’s post with “There’s More The Kiss Than The X-X-X,” which was first written in 1917 (and features lyrics by Irving Caesar), but not included in any stage shows until La-La-Lucille. Originally performed by the newlywed gal, this rendition comes from a Ben Bagley album and includes Barbara Cook, Elaine Stritch, Anthony Perkins, and Bobby Short.
Come back next Monday for another George Gershwin musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the fourth season of Taxi!
I’ve never heard anything about the discovery of the score to La La Lucille. Do you know exactly what was discovered and where? Anything you could share would be appreciated.
Hi, Roland! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Rick Benjamin of the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra found most of the score (although I believe a few songs still remain missing) in either D.C. or a NY theatre basement — depending on the source — and debuted Gershwin’s original overture for the show at a summer concert. You can read more about that here: http://www.examiner.com/article/paragon-ragtime-orchestra-to-play-long-lost-gershwin-score-new-jersey
I also recall, although I can’t find the source at this time, that the group indeed played several other selections from LA-LA-LUCILLE!, indicating a concert-like presentation of some sort (but that might have been a different event). I tried reaching out to the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra for more information, but so far it’s been to no avail.