Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the continuation of our first series on the works of composer Vincent Youmans, best known today for No, No, Nanette (1925), which we covered here in our string of posts on seminal ’20s musicals. Once a prolific musician highly regarded for his melodies (a “gifted human” according to Cole Porter), Youmans hasn’t been afforded by time the same recognition as some of his contemporaries. Hopefully these posts will illustrate why this obscurity is undeserved. We’re covering every stage score for which Youmans is credited as the main composer, save Nanette and Great Day!, both of which have already been featured. So far we’ve covered Lollipop (1924), A Night Out (1925), Oh, Please! (1926), and Hit The Deck (1927). Today…
V. Rainbow (11/21/28 – 12/15/28)
Largely seen as an attempt to replicate the great success of the dramatically sound Show Boat (1927), Vincent Youmans’ Rainbow, with a book by Laurence Stallings and Oscar Hammerstein II (who also wrote the majority of the lyrics), is another American period piece. The premise concerned a Missouri Captain at Fort Independence who becomes an outlaw after killing an old adversary. He later falls for the colonel’s daughter and disguises himself as a parson as they head on their wagon train for California during the gold rush. The lovebirds marry, but when he opens a gambling house, their relationship sours and they split. Fortunately, love prevails in the end and the duo reunites before the final curtain. (Sound familiar?) The original cast included Allan Prior, Louise Brown, Harland Dixon, Brian Donlevy, Helen Lynd, and Charles Ruggles, who played a comic muleteer named “Nasty” Howell. Libby Holman replaced Francetta Malloy out of town as the prostitute Lotta. Meanwhile, Busby Berkeley choreographed and Max Steiner did the musical direction and orchestrations.
Unfortunately, comparisons to Show Boat were inevitable, and because Rainbow lacked the former’s tight book and consistent score, reviews for Youmans’ new musical were mixed. Poor ticket sales led the show, which had faced numerous disasters during its inception, tryout, and run (including a urinating mule on opening night), to close in under a month with a total loss on its investment. Legends have since arisen about the show and its “ahead of its time” storytelling, which like Hammerstein’s prior work, sought narrative integration of all performative elements. But the show was so lavishly mounted with extravagant expenses that revivals of the show have been scarce. As a result, some of the fine work which Youmans turned out for Rainbow, like so much of his output, has been overlooked. The most popular song at the time was “The One Girl,” which was included in the (since lost) 1930 film Song Of The West, which adapted Rainbow‘s book but used little of the score. Above is a recording of the song by the film’s star, John Boles.
The torchy “I Want A Man,” written when Holman joined the cast has been recorded several times over the past few decades. Above is Debbie Shapiro Gravitte’s rendition.
Two lighter numbers that have been well received by historians include “Diamond In The Rough,” which was melodically based on a song from Lollipop, and the main couple’s bouncy “I Like You As You Are.” The rendition of the former, above, comes from a live recording of a 1986 Off-Broadway production, which uses more interpolations than necessary. (Subscribe and comment below for access to this audio.) The rendition of the latter, below, comes from the Broadway By The Year Series, and is performed by Eddie Korbich & Joyce Chittick.
We’ll close this post with a number cut from the score, one that music critics have since come to call among Youmans’ finest, the rarely recorded “Who Am I (That You Should Care For Me),” with lyrics by Gus Kahn, performed below by Dorothy Louden.
Come back next Monday for another Youmans musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the seventh season of Three’s Company!