Before The Curtain Rings Down I: THE ZIEGFELD FOLLIES OF 1919

Welcome to another Musical Theatre Monday and the start of our last original weekly series, in which I’ll be highlighting some of the final scores that I feel must be featured here before the year concludes. We’re starting with…

 

I. The Ziegfeld Follies Of 1919 (06/16/19 – 12/06/19)

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Considered by many to be the best in the series, the 13th edition of Ziegfeld’s Follies is making its appearance on this blog fairly late, due to its inability to be locked into a series dedicated for a specific composer. Although Irving Berlin made several major contributions (discussed and heard below), the score — which changed periodically as performers would interpolate their own speciality material — also included significant efforts by Dave Stamper and Gene Buck. In addition to the marvelous score, the 1919 production boasted a roster of luminaries, including vaudevillian Eddie Cantor, Marilyn Miller, who would leave the Follies the following year and become a sensation in Sally, tenor John Steel, singing duo Van and Schenck, and Bert Williams, who first joined Ziegfeld’s series in 1910 and was the best selling African American recording artist in the first two decades of the 20th century.

The production offered an act-ending minstrel show, headlined by Williams and Cantor, the latter in black face, while Marilyn Miller portrayed George Primrose, a famous minstrel performer. This sequence included the Irving Berlin standard, “Mandy,” which had been adapted from a song included in Yip-Yip-Yaphank (1918), “The Sterling Silver Moon.” This number was performed by Van and Schenck, with Ray Dooley playing the eponymous Mandy. Above is the the duo’s rendition of the famous number.

If you’ve never heard Bert Williams before, you’re in for a treat. Above is Williams’ own rendition of “The Moon Shines On The Moonshine,” written by Robert Hood Brown and Francis De Witt, which can be found on a compilation album of singles recorded by several main cast members (no Miller though, unfortunately).

Another fondly remembered sequence involved the protest of the pending notion of Prohibition, which included a great Irving Berlin tune entitled “You Cannot Make Your Shimmy Shake On Tea,” which is performed above by Ann Gibson & Frederick Hodges. (This was taken from a YouTube video. You can watch them perform it here.)

Tenor John Steel got several memorable spots, including Stamper and Buck’s “My Baby’s Arms” (above), and Berlin’s absolute classic “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody” (below), a staple for the Follies and the producer’s iconic revue. Both of these are Steel’s own recordings.

Eddie Cantor, meanwhile, would interpolate new songs seemingly every night, but some of the more memorable include “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On The Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree,” which had been introduced earlier that year by Sophie Tucker, and a terrific Harry Akst-Howard Rodgers tune, “You Don’t Need The Wine To Have A Wonderful Time,” heard below.

There are many other Cantor numbers from this score of which I’m fond (like “Our Last Rose Of Summer” and “When They’re Old Enough To Know Better”) that I encourage you to seek out and enjoy. But we’ll close today’s post with the best of the best, Irving Berlin’s “You’d Be Surprised,” sung below by Cantor himself! This is a great musical comedy number, kids!

 

*All of the shows in this series are Musical Theatre Monday Essentials. Here’s the updated list!

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Come back next Monday for another forgotten musical! Tune in tomorrow for my picks of the best episodes from the final season of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show!