1940: A Year In Review (II)

Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday! Today continues our series of posts on Broadway musicals of 1940. While my initial intention was to highlight shows that opened in 1939 (since this is the 75th anniversary of that marvelously entertaining year), I realized that 1940 has been represented less frequently on this site — almost criminally so. The only show we’ve covered has been Louisiana Purchase, and since 1940 premiered a handful of great works that deserve our attention, I thought it only fair that we give the year (and the shows within it) the deserved recognition. We began last week with Higher And Higher. Today…  


II. Keep Off The Grass (05/23/40 – 06/29/40)


In addition to the realization that we’d not covered enough shows of 1940, I also discovered that the work of Jimmy McHugh, one of my favorite composers, has been woefully underrepresented here. In fact, today’s musical revue, which featured Ray Bolger, Ilka Chase, Jimmy Durante, Jane Froman, Jackie Gleason, and Virginia O’Brien, was my inspiration for this series of posts. A largely forgotten title, this Schubert brothers produced and George Balanchine choreographed revue boasts a marvelous score by McHugh and lyricists Al Dubin and Howard Dietz (who essentially split the tune stack). And when they weren’t singing, the performers spoofed everything from William Shakespeare to Margaret Mitchell!


But every song I’ve heard from Keep Off The Grass is remarkable. (Of course, less than half of the score has been recorded). But seeing as this show has been largely lost to time, I want to dedicate this post, which I must admit will be unfortunately brief, to the melodiously snappy work of the divine Jimmy McHugh. We’ll start with the most well known number from the score, “Clear Out Of This World,” which featured lyrics by Dubin and was introduced by Froman and Robert Shackleton. This is O’Brien’s recording.

Ray Bolger and Sunnie O’Dea got the appropriately jitterbuggy “I’m An Old Jitterbug.” O’Brien’s recording is the only one known to exist. (This is a hot dancing number, folks, so put your jazz shows on before you listen.)

O’Brien’s recording of Froman’s lovely “(This Is) Spring” is also the only one known to exist. Take a listen to this exquisite McHugh melody.

With lyrics by Dietz, Froman and Shackleton’s “Two In A Taxi” (one of my favorites from the score) is the last number that O’Brien recorded. However, for a change-of-pace, here’s a recording from a Town Hall Concert dedicated to the shows of 1940. This is John Dossett.

And, last but not least, no Jimmy Durante musical would be complete without some of the Schnozzola’s special material. McHugh and Dietz teamed up for the very amusing “A Fugitive From Esquire.” Here’s Durante himself!



Come back next Monday for a new 1940 musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the first season of The New Dick Van Dyke Show!