Wildcard Monday II: A Score By Harold Arlen

Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the continuation of our “Wildcard” series of posts, each one featuring a notable musical comedy from a composer who’s never been featured in a series of his own! Last week’s entry highlighted a work by Louis Hirsch. Today, we’re looking at score by Harold Arlen, the only composer this month whose material has previously been featured on Mondays. Over the past three years, we’ve looked at Life Begins At 8:40 (1934), Hooray For What! (1937), Bloomer Girl (1944), and St. Louis Woman (1946), but all of those have been part of larger discussions. Today, we’re looking at the first complete Broadway score by the classic composer (best known for M-G-M’s The Wizard Of Oz)…

 

II. You Said It (01/19/31 – 07/04/31)

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Hounded by co-producer and lyricist Jack Yellen, Arlen agreed to compose the score, which would be his first on a Broadway stage, for this Lou Holtz vehicle about kids on a college campus. Of course, Holtz, a popular dialect comedian, was much too long-in-the-tooth to play a convincing student, and the production became a thinly plotted (by Holtz and Sid Silvers) excuse for raucous — and to many critics, vulgar — comedy routines, with snappy tunes by the composer who just gained prominence for the already iconic “Get Happy” as lively support. Mary Lawlor, the leading lady of the most recent collegiate musical smash Good News! (1927), was added as the main songbird and the fulcrum of the “plot” — she’s a bootlegger whose romance is threatened by her shameful secret profession. By all accounts, the show was unspectacular, and nobody felt good about what they had; that is, they didn’t feel good about anything except Lyda Roberti, a Polish comedienne whom Yellen discovered and cast here in her first Broadway role. Roberti was electric, and the positive word-of-mouth regarding her hilarious tour-de-force performance allowed the production to run for a surprising six months.

Most lauded was her performance of the indelible Arlen specialty, “Sweet And Hot,” arguably the score’s best number. The rendition above is a private recording of Roberti with Arlen on the piano. This is a rare treat — and lots of fun!

Here’s Arlen again, this time doing the vocals with Red Nichols’ orchestra, with the peppy title tune (above). Below is another period recording by Joanne Geddes, backed by Sunny Clapp’s orchestra, of the mildly popular (at the time) “Learn To Croon.”

And we’ll close today’s post with a tender performance by Phyllis Diller, of all people, with “While You Are Young,” illustrating a previously unexplored range within Arlen’s musical capabilities — certainly a sign of things to come…

 

 

Come back next Monday for another forgotten musical! And tune in tomorrow for more Mama’s Family

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