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! The last two weeks have seen coverage of Lou Hirsch’s Going Up (1917) and Harold Arlen’s You Said It (1931). Today, we’re featuring a work by Hoagy Carmichael, a brilliant musician whose contributions to American pop are better known than his efforts for the stage. Today we’re looking at his first complete Broadway score…
III. Walk With Music (06/04/40 – 07/20/40)
This show, produced by Ruth Selwyn and the Shubert Brothers, had a tortured history, beginning life with a different title (Three After Three) and several different cast members. Carmichael and frequent collaborator Johnny Mercer concocted the score, and the plot, based on the play Three Blind Mice, centered around three New Yorkers who head to Palm Beach to snare rich husbands. One pretends to be rich, one pretends to be poor, and the other pretends to just be their chaperone. The “rich” one falls for a poor man, the “poor” one falls for a rich man, and the chaperone falls for another man. After a long and laborious tryout that folded in Detroit, the show was overhauled and when it came to New York the feminine trio were now New Hampshire farm girls, played by Mitzi Green (the maid), Kitty Carlisle (the heiress), and Betty Lawford (the chaperone), the latter two replacing Simone Simon and Mary Brian. Jack Whiting, Art Jarrett, and Lee Sullivan played the love interests. (The cast’s not too shabby, eh?)
The book was considered gaggy and old-fashioned, while the score was written off as pleasing but not competitive (especially when seen against other shows currently playing like Du Barry Was A Lady and Louisiana Purchase). Carmichael and Mercer have both proven their immense talents in other places, but I’m afraid that Walk With Music does seem inferior when compared to material that is obviously extraordinary. But that doesn’t mean it is completely without merit. For instance, there are several really fun and swingin’ pop-sounding tunes, like “Ooh! What You Said,” which for a brief out-of-town moment, was also the title of the show. The rendition above is by Marion Hutton with Glen Miller’s Orchestra.
Tex Beneke joins Hutton and Miller’s orchestra for this rendition (above) of the show’s most popular song, the Latin-infused “The Rhumba Jumps,” probably the most unique entry to make it to New York. Another vaguely popular tune from the score is the wistful “Way Back In 1939 A.D.,” performed below by Rob Evan.
Yet so many of the other songs from the score are nothing more than charmingly forgettable, like the simple but perhaps effectively romantic “What’ll They Think Of Next?” The rendition below is by Helen Forrest and Benny Goodman’s orchestra.
And we’ll close today’s post with Klea Blackhurst and the title tune. It’s a sweet forgotten song to typify a troubled forgotten show.
Come back next Monday for another forgotten musical! And tune in tomorrow for the first in our series on Night Court!
Jackson, thanks for your continuing forensic examination of forgotten musicals and their equally forgotten (for the most part anyway) songs. But what the song samples you provide with your pieces tell me, despite your enthusiasm, is that they have been consigned to the dustbin of history for a very good reason: they are not memorable, there’s a sameness about them, they don’t stand out — top class writers and performers notwithstanding. I’m afraid that for every Show Boat, Oklahoma!, My Fair Lady, Carousel etc etc there are a hundred shows that, while competent and entertaining at the time, just don’t cut it in the memories market. Keep going though — you will strike gold.
Hi, Noel! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I agree with your sentiments regarding this score. As mentioned in the post, I find little of the work to be more than “charmingly forgettable.” However, I do think that the previous shows highlighted this month — YOU SAID IT (1931) and particularly GOING UP (1917), which was justifiably a big hit — boast riches that one who simply sticks to hallmarks like SHOW BOAT (1927) and OKLAHOMA! (1943) would be unfortunate to overlook.
You know, on this blog I cover forgotten musicals, along with forgotten sitcoms and forgotten films, and while it’s wonderful to find esoteric gems whose surprisingly elevated quality warrants them more attention than typically received, the common truth to which I always return is that the material fortunate enough to become classic — in every area of entertainment — often did so for a reason: it’s better than the rest. But neither does that mean everything else is completely worthless nor that because a work fails to be a neglected SHOW BOAT that it’s somehow deficient. After all, becoming another SHOW BOAT wasn’t the intention of WALK WITH MUSIC, for instance, and it would be foolish for us to approach the piece with that expectation! On each individual case, although qualitatively we can remain objective (or, try as much as possible), enjoyment must be derived uniquely.
I have no doubt that this entry is musically the weakest of the five Wildcard Monday offerings this month, but I’m also confident that the next two weeks of scores will prove much less disappointing. And stay tuned, because the search for quality within the forgotten musicals covered here will yield something a little more direct in the coming months, although I must remain ambiguous for now…