Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the conclusion of our eleven-week series on the yet-to-be covered ’20s scores of composer Jerome Kern, who’s responsible for some of the most glorious contributions to the American songbook of all time! Previously on That’s Entertainment, we’d featured these Kern ’20s shows: The Night Boat (1920), Sally (1920), Show Boat (1927), and Sweet Adeline (1929). In this series of entries, we filled in all those gaps, highlighting shows from both sides of the Atlantic. We covered Good Morning Dearie (1921), The Cabaret Girl (1922), The Bunch And Judy (1922), The Beauty Prize (1923),The Stepping Stones (1923), Sitting Pretty (1924), Dear Sir (1924), Sunny (1925), The City Chap (1925), and Criss-Cross (1926). Today . . .
XI. Blue Eyes (04/27/28 – 12/22/28)
Following the majesty of Show Boat, Kern returned to the British Isle for a high brow operetta with book and lyrics by regular collaborator Guy Bolton and youngster Graham John. The production featured big-time West End star Evelyn Laye as an actress who masquerades as a soldier to rescue her brother (George Vollaire) from the Duke of Cumberland (Bertram Wallis) during the Scottish rebellion of 1745. Her love interest was Sir George (Geoffrey Gwyther), Vollaire’s love interest was Sylvia Cecil, and comic W.H. Berry popped in throughout the action to interrupt the melodrama with moments of levity. The show got mixed reviews, but the production was a hit — as was Kern’s score, which, although not up to the heights of Show Boat, was viewed as a natural extension of the heavy musical storytelling with which he was starting to explore. Frankly, from my experiences with Blue Eyes, I don’t find this to be among Kern’s finest work; seriousness doesn’t automatically beget quality. What made Show Boat work was the integration of styles — operetta and jazz, which one can argue, is the recipe for musical theatre itself. But this is pure operetta, and not of the winking The New Moon (1928) quality either. But you can be the judge. Here’s Cecil and Vollaire with the secondary couple’s “Back To The Heather,” a charming, if not memorable, offering.
One of the more popular tunes was actually cut before opening and revised for later use as “You’re Devastating” from Roberta (1933). Here’s Laye and Gwyther with the recognizable, but different, “Do I Do Wrong?”
And we’ll close out this brief post (and this lengthy series) with the title tune, which you may recognize from our post on Dear Sir. Here again are Laye and Gwyther.
Come back next week for another forgotten musical! Tune in tomorrow for the best from the sixth season of Cheers!