Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday! Today, we’re continuing our series of alphabetically ordered posts on forgotten musicals from the ’10s – ’40s. Over the next 25 weeks (note that I will not be doing a post for the letter X), I’ll be covering a different forgotten musical. The only criteria, it has to begin with that specific letter of the alphabet. A was for Are You With It? (1945). B was for Best Foot Forward (1941). C was for The Cat And The Fiddle (1931). D was for Du Barry Was A Lady (1939). E was for Ever Green (1930). F is for…
F. Funny Face (11/22/27 – 06/23/28)
It’s been a couple of months since we’ve had some Gershwin on Musical Theatre Mondays, so this post is past due. Featuring a rollicking score by the Gershwin brothers in their prime and written for the stars of 1924’s Lady, Be Good!, the Astaire siblings, Funny Face has one of the thinnest plots of any Gershwin “book” musical ever… but do we care?
Fred Astaire is the legal guardian of his adoptive parents’ three natural daughters, one of whom is played by Adele, the naughtiest of the three girls, whose diary Fred has confiscated because of its slanderous content. Adele schemes with an aviator played by Allan Kearns to retrieve her diary from Jimmy’s safe, in which he has also placed his other sister, Betty Compton’s, prized jewels. Before Kearns and Compton’s beau, William Kent, can break into the safe, it is burglarized by comics Earl Hampton and Victor Moore (who were added to the show in its initially disastrous out-of-town tryouts — in which the show was titled Smarty). But instead of taking the jewels, they accidentally get the diary (which happens to be in an identical white envelope). As Adele distracts Fred, Kearns and Kent take the envelope with the jewels. From there, they make their way to an inn in New Jersey, where the disguised trio are followed by the crooks, the cops, and her siblings. Hijinks ensue until Adele gets Kearns, Compton reunites with Kent, and Fred is paired with the other sister.
Silly story — no doubt about it. [I haven’t had the pleasure of reading the script, so I can’t comment on the cohesion of the book, but we can just imagine that it’s not up to post-Oklahoma! (1943) — or even post-Show Boat (1927) standards.] For this reason, most later attempts to capitalize on the show and its score have done away with the original plot, and when most people think of this title, they think of the 1957 film of the same name, which, besides Fred Astaire and several numbers, has nothing at all to do with the 1927 stage production. (Fun and highly recommended film, however.) Similarly, while the 1983 Gershwin jukebox musical, My One And Only, purported to be an adaptation of Funny Face, the end result bore little resemblance to the original. (And the few revivals that have popped up since have also been adapted and revised.) So how do we find the authentic Funny Face? Fortunately for us, Fred and Adele recorded a good majority of the score in 1928 when they played the show in London. The rest of today’s post shall give you all the opportunity to hear Fred and Adele in action — even “looser and goosier” than they were in Lady, Be Good!
Probably the best remembered song from the score was given to Adele and the aviator, played in London by Bernard Clifton. Above is the Original London Cast with “‘S Wonderful,” which has since been featured several films and jukebox musicals. The pair’s other duet is the less bouncy, but sweepingly sweet, “He Loves And She Loves,” also sung here by Astaire and Clifton.
Meanwhile, Fred got to lead the boys in the dapper “High Hat,” which one can easily visualize thanks to this jovial recording.
He also had the moderately well known “What Am I Going To Do? (My One And Only)” with the two other sisters. This recording below from the London Production is of Fred… tapping away.
The William Kent character had a moment to himself (backed by a girl ensemble, of course) with “Tell The Doc.” This role was played and recorded in London by Leslie Hensen. Not a great song, but an amusing parody of psychiatry (pre-dating 1941’s Lady In The Dark)!
Brother and sister teamed for three numbers. The song they got while the boys crack the safe was “Let’s Kiss And Make Up,” which is the only one the duo did not record. Click here to hear Fred’s solo rendition from the ’57 film. One that they did record however is the strange “The Babbitt And The Bromide,” a comic number which takes popular idioms and expressions of the day and exposes them through two characters who continuously meet each other on the street and attempt to make small talk. (It functions like “Swiss Miss” in Lady, Be Good!, only less motivated, if that’s even possible.) Here are Fred and Adele.
And we shall end this post with Fred and Adele’s infectious title tune, which I actually maintain may be my favorite from the score. Not because of the music or lyrics, but because of the unabashed merriment that the duo impose upon their recoding of the song (with the unrivaled piano playing of George himself). It’s just SO joyful. Maybe not a fascinating rhythm, but definitely an unforgettably happy one — and that’s certainly good enough for me.
Come back next Monday for G! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the first season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show!