Dancing Time: Kern in the ’20s (I)

Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the start of our eleven week series on the yet-to-be covered ’20s scores of composer Jerome Kern, who’s responsible for some of the most glorious contributions to the American songbook! So far on That’s Entertainment, we’ve covered these Kern ’20s shows: The Night Boat (1920), Sally (1920), Show Boat (1927), and Sweet Adeline (1929). In this series of entries, we’re filling in all the gaps, featuring shows from both sides of the Atlantic. We’re starting things off today with . . .

 

I. Good Morning Dearie (11/01/21 – 08/26/22)

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Kern paired with one of his lesser known partners, Anne Caldwell, one of the country’s first notable female lyricists and an underrated talent (dwarfed, unfortunately, by the brilliance of Wodehouse and Hammerstein), for this Dillingham produced Cinderella-esque tale about a couturier’s assistant who falls for a member of the wealthy elite (who is affianced to  someone in his own social strata). Things are complicated by the return of her gangster ex-boyfriend, who plots a jewelry heist at a rich matron’s party. Things work out in the end when the lovers save the day, and all the romantic entanglements are conveniently sorted out. As you can tell, the premise is nothing spectacular, but the show fared well due to both the cast, which included Louise Groody (remember her — she’d go one to be Nanette), Oscar Shaw (love interest), Harland Dixon (bad guy), John Price Jones, William Kent, and Adah Lewis (Groody’s boss), along with the fine score, which we’ll be sampling below. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is a great candidate for major revival, due to the particularly insensitive racial characterizations (and numbers — thanks to Kent’s undercover detective), and the lack of true excitement within the premise. As a piece of history, however, there’s much to recommend.

The hit of the show was the Hawaiian inspired “Ka-Lu-A,” which was taken up by dance bands, and included in the 1922 British show The Cabaret Girl, which we’ll be covering here next week. The rendition above comes from the only cast recording of this score, the 2006 Comic Opera Guild Cast. It’s great for research (and in the case of the above, you can hear all the lyrics), but not fantastic listening.

Another great source for early Kern is, not surprisingly, the Ben Bagley albums. In addition to the charming title song (heard above), I’m quite partial to Bobby Short and Barbara Cook’s rendition of “Blue Danube Blues,” which takes the “Blue Danube Waltz” and forms a deliciously hot counter melody. It’s my favorite piece from the score. Hear it below.

Another cute, but far less known, duet for the lovers is “Niagara Falls,” taken below from the Comic Opera Guild cast recording.

And we’ll close today’s post with the score’s most beautiful, “Didn’t You Believe?” It is performed below by George Dvorsky and Rebecca Caine — and with original orchestrations.

 

 

Come back next Monday for another Kern musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the seventh season of The Jeffersons!

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