Welcome to another Musical Theatre Monday and the second post in our three-week sojourn into the works of composer Jimmy McHugh. So far on this blog we’ve highlighted his efforts for both Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1928 (April 2014) and the 1940 musical revue Keep Off The Grass (December 2014). We kicked this new McHugh series off last week with Hello, Daddy (1928). Today…
II. The Streets Of Paris (06/19/39 – 02/10/40)
Produced by the Shuberts along with Olsen and Johnson, this jovial musical revue, which opened during the 1939 New York World’s Fair, was considered to be a slightly (ever-so-slightly, that is) sophisticated attempt to replicate the phenomenon that was Hellzapoppin’ (1938). This time, however, the structure was less manic and more adherent to the typical sketch-song-sketch-song formula that defined the genre in its heyday. There was, however, a huge emphasis on the comedic elements, as the revue starred Abbott & Costello, Bobby Clark, and Luella Gear. Also in the cast for their musical capabilities were Carmen Miranda, Gower Champion, and Jean Sablon, perhaps the only actual Frenchman in the production. This last point bears mentioning — for a show supposedly about the streets of a French city, it’s amusing to note how little the production incorporated this theme — a few numbers here and there, and some Parisian inspired sets, but otherwise, this was just your average musical revue. After closing in early 1940, the show actually played the second season of the World’s Fair, where Gypsy Rose Lee joined Abbott and Costello as the headliners.
Of course, the score was a cut above most, as the majority of the numbers were contributed by composer Jimmy McHugh and lyricist Al Dubin, best remembered for his Hollywood collaborations with Harry Warren. In fact, there are several big numbers from The Streets Of Paris that caught critical and commercial acclaim, chief of which is “South American Way,” which arguably came to define Carmen Miranda, who sauntered out in the middle of the number with her iconic high heels and fruit-adorned hat. (The number was so popular it was parodied a few months later in the Danny Kaye-Imogene Coca fun fest, The Straw Hat Revue.) Above is Miranda’s own recording of the popular tune.
Sablon, who, as mentioned above, was the show’s only authentic import, recorded several of the more French sounding tunes during the run (of course, they probably sound particularly French due mostly to his accent), but in my humble opinion, they’re not as sharp or as memorable as the songs that don’t even try to address the theme suggested by the title. The strongest of his recordings is the pop-infused “Is It Possible?” (above). Meanwhile, the Hylton sisters, who also appeared in the show, recorded their catchy “Three Little Maids,” heard below.
Another number that stood out from the crowd was the politically satirical “Doin’ The Chamberlain,” which took aim at Chamberlain’s notorious plan of appeasement that, unfortunately, would be conclusively proved fatal in September, while The Streets Of Paris was still running. The rendition of this number is taken from the 1939 edition of The Broadway By The Year series.
And we’ll close today’s post with my favorite lesser known offering from the score, the romantic “Danger In The Dark,” performed by Larry Taylor with Charlie Barnett and His Orchestra.
Come back next Monday for another McHugh musical! And tune in tomorrow for my picks of the best episodes from the final season of Night Court!