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 we’ve covered Nobody Home (1915), Very Good Eddie (1915), Have A Heart (1917), Love O’ Mike (1917), Oh, Boy! (1917), Miss 1917, Oh, Lady! Lady!! (1918), and Rock-A-Bye Baby (1918). Today, we’re moving on to…
IX. She’s A Good Fellow (05/05/19 – 08/16/19)
Kern’s first collaboration with book writer and lyricist Anne Caldwell, with whom he’d work quite often over the next decade, Charles Dillingham’s She’s A Good Fellow featured a score that was considered better than some of the composer’s most recent efforts (namely the season’s lackluster Head Over Heels, briefly highlighted in a Wildcard Wednesday of last month). The plot, about a man who masquerades as a schoolgirl in the aims of convincing his new bride’s guardian that he is indeed worthy of her hand, wasn’t terribly well-integrated with the score, but the script was fun and frivolous, and audiences responded accordingly. In fact, many historians believe that the show would have enjoyed a substantially longer run and possibly gone on to become another Kern classic had the Actor’s Equity Strike of August 1919 not shut down every production for a month — after which, She’s A Good Fellow never resurrected.
Some of the songs, however, did go on to new life, including “The First Rose Of Summer,” which was re-lyriced by Wodehouse for The Cabaret Girl (1922). Above is a rendition of the original version, taken from a live audio of a 1986 concert. (For subscribed readers interested in obtaining a copy of this recording, please comment below). Another tune that Kern hated to see die here with She’s A Good Fellow was “Semiramis,” which was so-named after the Assyrian queen, and was later added and cut from the ill-fated Zip! Goes A Million (1919). Below is an audio excerpt from a concert of the latter, which will be spotlighted here next week.
As you can see from both of the above, this score seems to find Kern tapping back into the roots of what made his work in the so-called Princess Theatre series of shows so successful, and in hearing the full score, you’ll find several songs that sound aesthetically similar, but manage to make important and exciting variations. In this vein, one of my favorites from She’s A Good Fellow is “Just A Little Line,” excerpted from the same ’86 audio.
Other offerings from the score just remain charming, like “I’ve Been Waiting For You All The Time,” taken from 42nd Street Moon’s The First Rose Of Summer album.
And we’ll close today’s post with an original cast recording by the Duncan Sisters of perhaps the show’s most potent offering, ‘The Bull Frog Patrol.”
Come back next Monday for another Kern musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the second season of The Golden Girls!