Dancing Time: Kern in the ’20s (VI)

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, who’s 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 highlighted Good Morning Dearie (1921), The Cabaret Girl (1922), The Bunch And Judy (1922), The Beauty Prize (1923), and The Stepping Stones (1923). Today . . .

 

VI. Sitting Pretty (04/08/24 – 06/28/24)

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Kern’s last partnership with lyricists and book writers P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton, the three of which formed the team responsible for the highly lauded Princess Theatre shows of the decade prior, is as much a throwback to the past as it is a look to the exciting future. The book, like all Bolton and Wodehouse works, is cohesive and coherent, but it’s delightfully old fashioned — as is the premise, which contends with a millionaire who disinherits his family and intends to leave his estate to two adopted orphans: a shady chap named Horace who schemes with his uncle to rob the millionaire, and May, one half of a pair of female twins. Romantic entanglements involve May and the millionaire’s nephew, Bill, and Horace with his new adopted sister’s twin, Dixie. Amusing musical theatre fun ensues. But what really makes Sitting Pretty sing is Kern’s exceptional score, which I would argue is the best of his pre-Show Boat works of the decade. So the production’s truncated run is a bizarre shame (although it did tour after closing), as is the lack of longevity in the show’s wonderful songs.

Sitting Pretty was among the discoveries made in that glorious Secaucus warehouse, and following a concert production in 1989, a full album was recorded by New World Records. It’s exquisite, and I highly recommend it to all musical theatre lovers, especially since so many of these pieces are seldom heard, like “Shufflin’ Sam,” performed by Dixie and the ensemble, and heard above (from the studio album) by Judy Blazer.

While “Shufflin’ Sam” is hot and jazzy, a lot of the score will lyrically and thematically remind of the Princess Theatre shows, like the beautiful “The Enchanted Train” (above) and the hilarious character spot for Horace’s uncle, “Tulip Time In Sing Sing” (below). Both come from Ben Bagley recordings.

I really want to share the whole New World album (like “Worries, “Bongo On The Congo,” “All You Need Is A Girl,” and “Shadow Of The Moon”), but instead I’ll urge you to buy it here and share one more tune, the miraculously and undeservedly esoteric, “There Isn’t One Girl,” a complex little tune that helps personify the Kern’s growing genius. Here’s Davis Gaines.

 

 

Come back next Monday for another Kern musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the first season of Cheers!

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2 thoughts on “Dancing Time: Kern in the ’20s (VI)

  1. Dear Mr. Jackson: It was a wonderful, serendipitous day two months ago when I stumbled onto your blog. Everything you write is interesting and worthwhile, but what I like best is your work on the great musicals of the past, especially Rodgers & Hart and now Jerome Kern. I already had a lot of these in my collection, but certainly not all, and lack the background and comparison listening that you’ve done so brilliantly and lovingly. Heartfelt thanks. A few thoughts? You mention the famous Secaucus warehouse and, in the Sitting Pretty post above link to the John McGlinn version based (I believe) on orchestrations found in the Secaucus warehouse. During the decades after its discovery, I was one of those musical fans who rushed to buy anything recorded that came out of that goldmine. Would you know if anyone has done a history of the discovery of the Secaucus warehouse and whether everything in it is now restored? Will there be more music from there still to be recorded? And then, that great John McGlinn who, I understand, went to heaven some years back. Are there recordings of his still to be released, or partials or bits and pieces someone might someday put into a collection? Finally, if you’re looking for a project after Kern, have you considered Victor Herbert and some of his contemporaries (De Koven and others?) I’ve tried to collect as much of the pre-Kern, pre-Irving Berlin American musical as I could find over time but am sure there are pieces I’ve missed, plus your commentary would make everything come alive. Also love what you write on the old movies, and your insights on TV situation comedies. Will follow your taste and curiosity wherever it leads. Again, many thanks. Paul

    • Hi, Mr. Paul! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I really appreciate your kind words. I’ve never been able to locate a complete index of all that was found in the Secaucus warehouse because I believe the discoveries came in waves and everything had to be filtered through the individual estates of each composer. There were a lot of forgotten ’20s scores, but the main attraction was the heavy concentration of Kern and Gershwin. I wish I could give you a more concrete answer, but I’m not sure that anyone has one.

      There are a handful of McGlinn recordings that have not been released; BABES IN TOYLAND, THE LADY AND THE SLIPPER, HAVE A HEART, LEAVE IT TO JANE!, and OH, LADY! LADY!! are the ones I know and have. I’ve heard of a partial OH, BOY!, but that’s never surfaced. I am acquainted with someone who insists that these will be released one day, so some hope still exists. The Kern titles will be sampled here in another series (probably next year), but I have no plans — at this time — to dedicate a collection of posts to Herbert.

      The earliest Musical Theatre Mondays will be going is Berlin’s WATCH YOUR STEP in 1914, which I think begets the era of musical theatre that we discuss here. That’s coming up at the very end of February . . . stay tuned!

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