Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the continuation of our six week series on the yet-to-be covered ’30s scores of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, whose work from both the ’20s and ’40s has been well represented here. The only featured shows of theirs from the ’30s — my favorite musical decade — have been Ever Green (1930), Jumbo (1935), On Your Toes (1936), and Too Many Girls (1939). So we still have some rich area to cover! So far in this series, we’ve highlighted Simple Simon (1930) and America’s Sweetheart (1931). Today . . .
III. Babes In Arms (04/14/37 – 12/18/37)
This score is better known than the show, for Babes In Arms is among a handful of ’30s musicals in which over half the tunestack consists of classics that have since become part of the Great American Songbook. But it’s easy to overlook the fact that while many people will recognize most of these songs, the show is almost as esoteric as the others we’ve covered this month. The story, with a book written by Rodgers and Hart, concerns a group of Long Island teens whose parents are off performing. In order to avoid being sent to a work farm, they decide to put on a show. Unfortunately, although the show is an artistic success, they are sent off to the country — where a French aviator comes to their rescue. Through all of this, there are some romantic pairings. What made the show unique was that it actually cast teens and up-and-coming young performers: Mitzi Green, Ray Heatherton, Wynn Murray, Duke McHale, and the Nicholas Brothers. Other cast members include Alfred Drake, Rolly Pickert, Grace McDonald, and, in the ensemble, Dan Dailey. As with On Your Toes, this production also saw George Balanchine earning distinction for his choreography, which included a memorable dream ballet.
A film version was made in 1939 with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, but only two of the songs from the score were used (another case of stupid Hollywood decision making). A revision from the ’50s, which drastically changed the book — removing all elements of ’30s politics, including a potentially insensitive dance number for the Nicholas brothers, “All Dark People (Is Light On Their Feet)” — has been licensed and performed for decades. Thankfully, the original version of Babes In Arms has been resurrected on occasion and actually been recorded twice in near full: once by New World Records (following a 1989 concert) and the other with the cast of the 1999 Encores! production. The former is much better. (For access to a live audio of a 1987 Library of Congress concert, subscribe and comment below.) Nothing, however, beats original cast member performances! Above is the very talented Mitzi Green with a brief rendition of a future Sinatra classic, “The Lady Is A Tramp,” which she introduced, of course. It is taken from a live radio performance years later.
Perhaps the most well known tune from the score (although this is certainly debatable) is Green’s “My Funny Valentine,” which she sings in honor of Heatherton as her love interest, whose name is Valentine. The rendition above is an instrumental one by Edgar Fairchild and Adam Carroll, who were in the original production’s orchestra.
Another original cast performance; above is the ever delightful Wynn Murray with “Johnny One-Note.” This rendition was recorded in studio. (For access to a live radio performance by Murray of the same number, subscribe and comment below!)
Among my favorite Rodgers and Hart tunes is “I Wish I Were In Love Again,” another one of their all time standards. The rendition above is by Rooney and Garland — not from the ’39 Babes In Arms, but from Words And Music (1948).
From the New World Records recording mentioned above, here are two lesser known R&H classics, “Imagine” (above) and “All At Once” (below).
And we’ll close today’s post with my pick for the score’s most haunting, the young lovers’ “Where Or When,” performed by original cast member Ray Heatherton below.
Come back next Monday for another Rodgers and Hart musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the third season of The Jeffersons!