Early Kern VIII: ROCK-A-BYE BABY (1918)

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), Have A Heart (1917), Love O’ Mike (1917), Oh, Boy! (1917), Miss 1917, and Oh, Lady! Lady!! (1918). Today, we’re moving on to…

 

VIII. Rock-A-Bye Baby (05/22/18 – 08/03/18)

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Based on the farce Baby Mine (1910) by Margaret Mayo, this production featured a winning score by Jerome Kern, decent lyrics by Herbert Reynolds, and a disappointing book by Edgar Allan Woolf. The prime problem, as most later came to understand, was the source material; the play was so strong and sound that it made no sense to shoehorn musical numbers into the plot, for it simply slowed down the action. (As Mary Rodgers might say, this is a “Why” musical, as in, “why is this a musical?”) The premise had Zoie Hardy (Edna Hibbard) stopping at a motel after the car she is test-driving with Mr. Jenks (Walter Jones) breaks down. When Zoie’s husband (Frank Morgan) shows up, he misconstrues the situation, leading Zoie to fake a pregnancy in an attempt to reconcile with her man. Dorothy Dickson was on hand to dance — no character, no explanation — just to dance. The whole affair was a far cry from the Princess Theatre shows of the prior few years, and yet… if there’s any work in this series that I think represents a forgotten gem in the Kern cannon, unknown to some of the mightiest of his fans, it would be this one, as every number in Rock-A-Bye Baby, which some at the time labeled “hit-and-miss,” is, I think, a winner — especially laudable because neither Bolton nor Wodehouse are in support.

By far, the best of the lot, is the raggily modern “Little Tune, Go Away,” performed above by Kim Criswell. (This is one of my favorite Kern numbers of all time — it’ll get your toe to tapping, and believe me, this little tune won’t go away.)

At the time, many critics singled out the delightful “There’s No Better Use For Time Than Kissing,” adapted from a tune originally used in Cousin Lucy (1915). The rendition above is by Rebecca Luker, and along with the previous song comes from the album Early Kern, which is highly recommended and can be purchased here.

Fortunately, most of the score was recorded and released by the Comic Opera Guild, and this album, which includes highlights from the equally delightful rarity Love O’Mike, is a must for fans of this master composer. From that recording, here are songs you won’t be able to hear in full elsewhere, “The Kettle Song” [a.k.a. “A Kettle Is Singing”] (above) and “I Believed All She Said” (below), which was later adapted as a song for Zip! Goes A Million (1919).

And we’ll close with one more delicious number, “Not You,” which was cut before the production opened and also taken from Early Kern. This wonderful rendition is by Alix Korey.

 

 

Come back next Monday for another Kern musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the first season of The Golden Girls!

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