Dancing Time: Kern in the ’20s (III)

Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the continuation of our eleven week series on the yet-to-be covered ’20s scores of composer Jerome Kern, whose responsible for some of the most glorious contributions to the American songbook of all time! 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. So far we’ve covered Good Morning Dearie (1921) and The Cabaret Girl (1922). Today . . .


III. The Bunch And Judy (11/28/22 – 01/20/23)


Jerome Kern and Anne Caldwell with the score? Charles Dillingham with the production? Fred and Adele Astaire with the headlining? If an affirmative answer to all three of those prospects fills you with excitement, now you know how 1922 audiences felt upon the opening of The Bunch And Judy, for although the dancing duo were still young upstarts, Dillingham and Kern practically guaranteed a rollicking good time. Unfortunately, the show, which became nicknamed The Bust And Judy, almost unanimously disappointed theatergoers and critics; they mostly took aim at the thin book, which told the story of a Broadway starlet who gives up showbiz to marry a Scottish nobleman, only to return to the stage: her true love. (How foreboding for Ms. Astaire!) And not surprisingly, the plot was filled out with specialty acts and a much-too-long show-within-a-show operetta sequence. However, the score wasn’t well received either, and frankly, that’s a mystery to me, for I find (almost) everything that I’ve heard from The Bunch And Judy to be deliciously jazzy and Kernly melodic. In fact, I like it better than some other scores from this period of the composer’s oeuvre. But, don’t take my word for it — here’s Arthur Siegel with a melody of two of the top tunes, Adele’s charming “Morning Glory” and the siblings’ (they were lovers in the show) jaunty “Every Day In Every Way.”

The only place to hear most of the score is a Comic Opera Guild cast recording. From that album, here’s the secondary couple’s cute “Hot Dog,” which was cut soon after opening.

Here’s a piece from the operetta portion of the show, “Pale Venetian Moon,” also from the Comic Opera Guild recording.

And while I could share every song from that album in today’s post (except oddly, “How Do You Do, Katinka?” which was the only number singled out by critics, due to the Astaire’s dancing — nothing to do with the song itself, surely), I’ll leave you to seek out the recording for yourself, and conclude today’s entry with the score’s best song, truly one of the most ripe Kern rarities for rediscovery, “Have You Forgotten Me (Blues).” Truly — one of my favorites!



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

6 thoughts on “Dancing Time: Kern in the ’20s (III)

  1. Jackson, it seems to me that the faults with the show you cite in your intro indicate Kern needed his old partners Bolton and Wodehouse to flesh out the book and put some poetry in the lyrics.

    • Hi, Noel! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, the book certainly seems to have been the principle problem with this show, but as noted above, the critics’ disappointment with the score remains a mystery to me. While Kern’s melodies definitely remain the prime attraction, Caldwell’s words don’t disappoint either. (And they often don’t, for that matter.) Of course, Bolton and Wodehouse were masters of their craft and most of Kern’s partners in this era pale in comparison to them. But Wodehouse’s presence alone doesn’t always guarantee magic (especially when Kern’s not at his best) — as we shall see with this week’s score, coming up in a few hours . . . Stay tuned!

  2. thanks for reviewing The Punch and Judy. I have the Comic Opera Guild CD of this show. Thanks to them filling in a lot of blanks to shows that the average person would never here about except in musical comedy history. You are doing the same thing. You give your audience a taste for forgotten musicals and the history behind them. Thanks Bob K.

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