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 few weeks have seen coverage of Lou Hirsch’s Going Up (1917), Harold Arlen’s You Said It (1931), and Hoagy Carmichael’s Walk With Music (1940). Today we’re featuring a work by Thomas “Fats” Waller, who’s best known for his individual compositions rather than any complete score. However, there is more than one Waller work worthy of being highlighted, so he may come back on a later date (perhaps on an actual Wildcard Wednesday post). In the meantime, we’re looking at…
IV. Early To Bed (06/17/43 – 05/13/44)
This exquisitely melodic score, with fun lyrics by book writer George Marion, Jr. has never been given the respect it deserves. Coming to Broadway a few months after the groundbreaking Oklahoma! (1943), this really big hit has been looked down upon by critics and scholars who decry the farcical plot, about a Martinique bordello that many mistake for a finishing school, as one big double entendre, completely lacking in the emotional substance necessary for a work of musical thee-ah-tuh. Sure, the book may be goofy and thin and ostentatious, but my goodness, if it’s entertainment you want, then let’s not complain if that’s all this show aims to give. And frankly, Waller’s score is so delectable that any other issues are moot, melting away by the sinuous jazz that demands toe-tapping.
A 2009 Musicals Tonight! production (an audio of which I am able to share with subscribers who comment below), which gave audiences the opportunity to hear previously unheard tunes and sought to recreate missing numbers with the help of original cast members, has inspired some slight renewed interest in the work — and deservedly so. Take a listen to the exotic first act finale, “There’s ‘Yes’ In The Air (Martinique),” from the aforementioned audio, above.
Also from the Musicals Tonight! audio, above is the cute opening number, “A Girl Who Doesn’t Ripple (When She Bends),” a title you’ll probably never forget, and a tune you may remember from the Waller jukebox musical Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1978), “When The Nylons Bloom Again,” heard below from that cast recording.
Another song used in Ain’t Misbehavin’, here’s the concert audio recording of “The Ladies Who Sing With The Band,” a Waller classic.
There are so many wonderful selections from this score that I’m going to knock out three with this Bagley medley; here’s “Slightly Less Than Wonderful,” “Hi-De-Ho-High (In Harlem),” and “This Is So Nice (It Must Be Illegal).”
We’ll close today’s post with Waller himself, who unfortunately passed away during the run of Early To Bed, singing “There’s A Gal In My Life,” titled and sung in the show as “There’s A Man In My Life.” Another favorite of mine!
Come back next Monday for another forgotten musical! And tune in tomorrow for more Night Court!