Welcome to another Musical Theatre Monday and the final 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). In this series we covered Hello, Daddy (1928) and The Streets Of Paris (1939). Today…
III. As The Girls Go (11/13/48 – 01/14/50)
With a female U.S. president looking now like an actual possibility, it’s an exceedingly appropriate time to discuss this forgotten Michael Todd hit that satirized the very notion — alongside a score by McHugh and lyricist Harold Adamson. Yet with Bobby Clark playing First Man (to Irene Rich’s Madame President), As The Girls Go became more of an old-fashioned string-of-a-book star vehicle for the hapless comic, who meddled in anything and everything — including the romance between his son Bill Callahan and the lovely Betty Jane Watson — than anything socially relevant or thoughtful. Of course, audiences at the time seemed to be more welcoming to the uncomplicated farce that the book had to offer than we might be today, even though a harsher, more pointed, satire was certainly anticipated in some circles. As usual, the book is generally what’s cited as keeping the work from earning a contemporary revival, and the idea of a woman president being treated as a big joke would be difficult to play in today’s social and political climate. So with the piece’s humor perhaps not being relatable, what else does this show have? Well, it has its score…
But that’s actually the cause of most of As The Girls Go‘s modern debate. You see, there was an ASCAP strike at the time of opening, meaning that several hit shows like this (including Love Life and Where’s Charley?) weren’t the recipients of cast albums, making them fall victim to a needless obscurity. Without an original cast album as an examinable document, critics have had to gauge the work from a variety of other sources — and the reception has been mixed. While Gerald Bordman calls it “the best [McHugh] had done since Blackbirds,” Ethan Mordden is less kind, calling this score “the dullest of the decade, rock-bottom tuneless, and lacking even the shred of an idea, an image.” What’s the truth? As you might expect, it’s somewhere in the middle. McHugh’s work is as charming as ever, but it’s not going to make anyone’s list of the decade’s best (or decade’s worst, for that matter). Mordden really is too harsh though, for any score that yields the unforgettable “I Got Lucky In The Rain,” which is performed above by singer Buddy Clark (no relation to Bobby), is not “rock-bottom tuneless.”
However, Mordden is right about there being some dullness here, as in Watson’s “There’s No Getting Away From You,” performed above by replacement cast member Fran Warren, and the requisite young couple’s going-through-the-motions first duet, “Nobody’s Heart But Mine,” performed below by Carol Lawrence.
Yet McHigh was generally great at producing music that makes you want to smile, and coupled with Adamson’s very American lyrics, there’s a sense of easy-going charm that’ll always be worthwhile, evidenced here in Bing Crosby’s rendition of “It’s More Fun Than A Picnic,” a personal favorite of mine.
And we’ll close today’s post with one of the two numbers that Bobby Clark eventually DID record (once the strike was off); here’s the jovial title tune, which proves, if nothing else, that the score — if unspectacular — is still great fun.
Come back next Monday for another forgotten musical! And tune in tomorrow for my thoughts on the best from Season One of The Cosby Show!