Welcome to the start of our fourth week on That’s Entertainment!
Following our three week series on “The Three Best Cole Porter Shows That You’ve Never Heard Of,” this Musical Theatre Monday kicks off with “The Three Best Gershwin Shows That You’ve Never Heard Of.” (The Gershwin Brothers are my favorite, right after Cole Porter, of course.)
In determining which three shows were worthy of this title, I had to make a few natural exclusions. Porgy And Bess, the Gershwins’ oft-revived masterpiece that had a stint on Broadway last year was definitely not eligible. Neither was the Pulitzer Prize winning Of Thee I Sing, which gets performed often enough. (An Orlando high school did a production of it last year.) And to make things more interesting, the shows that inspired My One And Only, Crazy For You, and Nice Work If You Can Get It — Funny Face, Girl Crazy, and Oh, Kay! respectively — are excluded. If I had chosen to include them, those would actually be my top three choices. So those are the only five musicals that you will not see in these next three weeks. Any other Gershwin Brothers musical is a possibility!
With all that covered, let’s begin with my third choice…
3. Treasure Girl (11/08/28 – 01/05/29)
This forgotten 1928 flop had an indelible score but an apparently problematic book by Fred Thompson and Vincent Lawrence. In a few words, the story involved Gertrude Lawrence and a mix of assorted characters on an island treasure hunt. Paul Frawley — Bill “Fred Mertz” Frawley’s brother — played Lawrence’s love interest, while Clifton Webb and Mary Hay functioned as the obligatory second couple. The reviews of the time found the book depressing, humorless, and lacking in fun. Ira Gershwin later speculated that this was due to the unlikability of Lawrence’s character and the, “… bitchiness of the role.” I have not read the book, but the reviews were unanimously negative.
The real treasure in Treasure Girl, as it should be, is the fabulous score! Interestingly, only one number, “I’ve Got A Crush On You”, became a standard, and that was after it was inserted into the 1930 version of Strike Up The Band and covered by many artists in the late ’30s and early ’40s. Many critics at the time made special mention of a number given to the show’s comic, Walter Catlett, entitled “Got A Rainbow.” But those two numbers, especially the latter, do not represent the best that this tuneful score has to offer.
All three of Lawrence and Frawley’s duets bear mentioning. There’s the suave “I Don’t Think I’ll Fall In Love Today”, the romantic “Feeling I’m Falling”, and my personal favorite, the adorable “Oh, So Nice.” Two of the secondary’s couples duets, “K-ra-zy For You” and “What Causes That?”, were both rescued from obscurity and included in the 1992 musical Crazy For You. Both incredibly fun and catchy, these two songs are some of my favorite Gershwin ditties!
The best song from the score, however, is Gertrude Lawrence’s 11 o’clock number: “Where’s The Boy? (Here’s The Girl!)” This is Treasure Girl’s best kept secret – a gem among gems. From the moment I heard Betty Comden’s recording, I fell in love with the exquisite melody and perfectly-fitting lyrics. Recorded less than ten times in 85 years, this is a number ripe for rediscovery and indicative of the Gershwins at their very best.
Unfortunately, this show has never been recorded in full. Betty Comden recorded five numbers in 1963 alongside five numbers from Rodgers & Hart’s equally forgotten Chee-Chee from the same year. I reccomend this recording wholeheartedly. Additional numbers have been recorded sporadically over the decades, but because neither the orchestrations nor the full score survives, this show has not been given the treatment that most of the Gershwins’ shows have. Fortunately, better care has been taken with the two shows we’ll be covering over the next two weeks.
Well, that wraps up another Musical Theatre Monday. Can’t wait to post again next week with #2 on the list! Tune in tomorrow for Situation Comedy Tuesday and my ten favorite episodes from Season Four of I Love Lucy.