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 featured Good Morning Dearie (1921), The Cabaret Girl (1922), The Bunch And Judy (1922), The Beauty Prize (1923),The Stepping Stones (1923), Sitting Pretty (1924), and Dear Sir (1924). Today . . .
VIII. Sunny (09/22/25 – 12/11/26)
Among the most successful Jerome Kern musicals of the era, Sunny sees the reunion of Kern’s music with the sparkling charm of Marilyn Miller, who had previously starred in the iconic Sally. While that show has come to typify a genre of musical storytelling (and is indeed among the decade’s biggest hits), Sunny actually has the better score, and it’s no doubt due to the winning team of Kern with Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II as lyricists and book writers. Producer Charles Dillingham also did his part in mounting a spectacular production — a fitting showcase for the radiant Miller and her high-powered costars: Paul Frawley, Jack Donahue, Cliff Edwards, Mary Hay, Clifton Webb, and Pert Kelton. Miller played the titular Sunny, a circus performer who falls for her visiting friend Tom (Frawley) and stows away aboard ship when he returns to America. Caught, she enters an arrangement to marry his best friend, Jim (Donahue), and get a quickie divorce upon landing; in exchange, Jim will get enough money to marry his true love, Weenie (Hay). But things are complicated not only by Weenie, but also by both Tom’s fiancé and the wealthy man in pursuit of Sunny, Harold Harcourt Wendell-Wendell (Webb). Not surprisingly: things end happily as Jim and Weenie reunite, and Sunny and Tom are finally paired.
Interestingly, when the show played London in 1926 with Binnie Hale in the title role, the ending was changed so that Sunny ends up with Jim, who was played by popular British actor Jack Buchanan. (For the 1934 licensed version of the British script, which also includes the new numbers written for the London production, subscribe and comment below.) The 1930 film adaptation, in which Marilyn Miller recreated her stage role, used the Broadway ending and made use of several of Kern’s numbers (not enough, of course). Above is Miller’s rendition of the show’s biggest hit, “Who?” from the 1930 soundtrack.
Kern’s score is an embarrassment of riches and I wish this show was revived more often. The numbers aren’t well integrated into the narrative, but so many of them are charactery in their own way, like Sunny and Jim’s “When We Get Our Divorce,” performed above by Justin Bohon and Nancy Anderson, and Jim and Weenie’s “Let’s Say Good Night ‘Til It’s Morning,” heard below by Original London cast members Buchanan and Elsie Randolph.
Here’s Buchanan again with the jaunty “I’ve Looked For Trouble,” which was written for the London production.
Weenie and Wendell-Wendell got the amusing “Two Little Bluebirds,” as they commiserated about Sunny’s marriage to Jim.
But it was always Sunny’s show, as it was written for Miller, whose stardom cannot be emphasized enough. In addition to a big climactic dance in Act Two, Sunny got a divine Act One solo spot in Kern’s classic “Do You Love Me?” [a.k.a. “D’Ye Love Me?”] The rendition below is by Judy Garland.
And we’ll close today’s post with the title song, heard from a live audio of a 1989 concert conducted by John McGlinn and starring Rebecca Luker. (As always, subscribe and comment if interested!)
Come back next Monday for another Jerome Kern musical! Tune in tomorrow for the best from the third season of Cheers!