Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the conclusion of our six week series on the yet-to-be covered ’30s scores of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, whose work from both the ’20s and ’40s has been well represented here. The only featured shows of theirs from the ’30s — my favorite musical decade — have been Ever Green (1930), Jumbo (1935), On Your Toes (1936), and Too Many Girls (1939). So we still had some rich area to cover! So far in this series, we’ve highlighted Simple Simon (1930), America’s Sweetheart (1931), Babes In Arms (1937), I’d Rather Be Right (1937), and I Married An Angel (1938). Today . . .
VI. The Boys From Syracuse (11/23/38 – 06/10/39)
Rodgers and Hart composed one of their most character-driven scores of all time for this musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Comedy Of Errors, which featured a new book by director George Abbott and choreography by old friend George Balanchine. The plot, a true comedy of errors (naturally), concerns two twins who were separated in a shipwreck. Coincidentally, their man servants are also a pair of separated twins. So just add in some love interests and plenty of misunderstanding, and the fun ensues. The cast consisted of Ronald Graham and Eddie Albert as the twins, Teddy Hart (Larry’s brother) and Jimmy Savo as the slaves, and Muriel Angelus, Marcy Westcott, and Wynn Murray as the love interests. (Meanwhile, Betty Bruce was a courtesan and Burl Ives was in the ensemble!) Abbott’s riotously comedic script, which used only one line of Shakespeare (and proudly announced it to the audience) left little time for unnecessary numbers, so with the exception of a few speciality spots, Hart made sure to fit the lyrics precisely for the characters.
As a result, we get a quasi-integration of book and score, much better than most of what we find in 1938, making this a more appealing property for revival. In addition to the 1940 film adaptation (which was more faithful than a lot of others), there have been several notable productions: a 1963 Off-Broadway production (which boasts the best recording of the score to date), a 1963 London production (from the success of the former), a 1997 Encores! production (which also got recorded), and a 2002 Broadway revival at the Roundabout (that wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a success). (There’s also a memorable ’53 studio cast recording with Jack Cassidy.) Yet the quality of the source material and the standard-packed calibre of the score make this an easy contestant for Rodgers and Hart’s finest work of the decade — in fact, its inherent revivablity and comparative visibility precluded it from being featured her earlier. For instance, I know you’ve heard some of these songs, like “Falling In Love With Love,” sung by Frances Langford (who recorded the number in 1938), above, and “This Can’t Be Love,” taken from the eubilant Off-Broadway cast recording with Julienne Marie and Stuart Damon, below.
My favorite number from the score was introduced by Wynn Murray (whom you’ll remember from Babes In Arms a few weeks ago), “Oh, Diogenes!” This is taken from the 1963 Off-Broadway cast and is performed by a former Sitcom Tuesday regular, Cathryn Damon (of Soap).
Another lesser known favorite is Hart and Murray’s “What Can You Do With A Man?” The rendition below comes from the Encores! production, which is the most complete recording of the score, and recommended to all Broadway afficiandos.
And while there’s much more I’d love to feature here from the fantastic score, we’ll close with a never before released original cast recording, performed live on an episode of The Fred Allen Show, here’s Wynn Murray with “Sing For Your Supper.”
Come back next week for another Musical Theatre Monday! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the sixth season of The Jeffersons!