Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the continuation of our series on the early musical theatre works of Jerome Kern, the brilliant composer whose complete scores from 1920 onward have been highlighted here over the past three years. Now we’re going back to the beginning — well, almost the beginning. So far in this series we’ve covered Nobody Home (1915), Very Good Eddie (1915), and Have A Heart (1917). Today, we’re moving on to…
IV. Love O’ Mike (01/15/17 – 09/29/17)
Just four days after the premiere of Have A Heart at the Liberty, another show with a Kern score premiered at the Shubert, although this time, our spotlighted composer was not working with the other members of the “dream team” (namely, Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse), but lyricist Harry B. Smith, with whom he had collaborated previously, and book writer “Thomas Sydney” (a pseudonym for both Augustus Thomas, Jr. and Smith’s own son Sydney). By all accounts, the script was as sophomoric as the premise, which concerned a ladies man who inspires jealousy among the other fellas at a high society party. Oh, and there was a subplot involving a thieving butler. If there was any concrete case to be made for just how much Bolton and Wodehouse brought to the Princess Theatre Shows, Love O’Mike would be Exhibit A.
And, yet, this show turned out to be a much bigger hit than Have A Heart, and the reason often attributed to its comparative success is the joviality of the production, and in particular, the dancing, contributed, in part, by a young Clifton Webb. (For the record, other cast members included Lawrence Grossmith, George Hassell, Peggy Wood and Luella Gear — all familiar names.) But, having heard the score in its near entirety, it must be said that Kern’s work is almost as good as the stuff we covered here last week, while Smith’s lyrics, although not of the Wodehouse variety, are some of his personal best. Of course, what many claimed to be the strongest number, “It Wasn’t My Fault,” had words by another frequent Kern collaborator, Herbert Reynolds (his only contribution here). The rendition above is by Kaye Ballard.
Others found delight in the more knowingly rich “Drift With Me,” performed above by Jeanne Lehman, and in the timeliness of “The Baby Vampire,” taken below from the album Early Kern.
However, my favorite numbers from Love O’ Mike have remained more esoteric, like the playful “Don’t Tempt Me,” heard below from the Comic Opera Guild recording (which is recommended to those who want to hear more of the underrated score).
From the same album, here’s the catchy “It Can’t Be Done.”
And we’ll close today’s post with a period rendition of my favorite of the score’s forgotten gems — “I Wonder Why,” performed by Anna Wheaton, whom you’ll see again next week.
Come back next Monday for another Kern musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the fifth season of The Cosby Show!