Dancing Time: Kern in the ’20s (IV)

Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the continuation 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! So far on That’s Entertainment, we’ve covered these Kern ’20s shows: The Night Boat (1920), Sally (1920), Show Boat (1927), and Sweet Adeline (1929). In this series of entries, we’re filling in all the gaps, featuring shows from both sides of the Atlantic. So far we’ve covered Good Morning Dearie (1921), The Cabaret Girl (1922), and The Bunch And Judy (1922). Today . . .

 

IV. The Beauty Prize (09/05/23 – 03/08/24)

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Kern teamed again with Wodehouse and Grossmith to craft the score for this British musical comedy that hoped to duplicate the huge success of the team’s The Cabaret Girl from the year prior. Dorothy Dickson was once again engaged as the lead, playing a wealthy American who masquerades as a waif and falls for a rich Brit (Jack Hobbs) also posing as penniless. In addition to their mutual deceit, the lovers’ inevitable happy ending is delayed by Dickson’s winning participation in a beauty contest, in which first prize is marriage to an eccentric millionaire (Leslie Henson). Grossmith also took a supporting role, while Heather Thatcher played Dickson’s friend who enters her into the contest. Neither the book nor score was well received, and although the production ran for six months, no one considered it a success. Frankly, this isn’t a surprise; the songs are mediocre. Unlike the hot melodies of The Cabaret Girl, which combined the American tenacity of Kern’s music with the Anglicized charm of the book and production, The Beauty Prize tries hard to be witty and stereotypically British — failing as a result of Kern’s inability to imbue his work with the very Americaness that allowed the former show to present itself as fresh and electric.

But don’t take my word for this; let’s listen to a bit of the score (and, to be fair, some of the better songs — so my point may indeed seem disproven). The hit of the evening appears to have been “A Cottage In Kent,” for Henson and Thatcher. The rendition above is taken from a live audio of a 2005 Musicals Tonight! production.

Two other songs that have gotten play in various esoteric Kern (and Wodehouse) collections have been “Non-Stop Dancing,” performed above by Hal Cazalet and Sylvia McNair, and the cutesy “You Can’t Make Love By Wireless,” performed below by Rebecca Luker and Adam Grupper.

And we’ll close today’s entry with the clever and never-before-recorded “(You’ll Find Me Playing) Mah-Jong,” taken from that aforementioned Musicals Tonight! audio. (Subscribe and comment below if interested in obtaining this recording.)

 

 

Come back next Monday for another Kern musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the tenth season of The Jeffersons!

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