Welcome to another Musical Theatre Monday! Today’s entry begets a month-long series on forgotten and seldom revived shows of the mid-1940s (’44-’46, to be exact). Coming directly in the wake of the new era brought about, in large part, by Oklahoma! (1943), these shows existed during that liminal time in which musical entertainment was now expected by some to be more than just entertainment, while others fought back against the recent shift — championing a return to the feel-good fun that typified the earlier era. As a result, each of these four shows is exceedingly interesting, starting today with…
I. Follow The Girls (04/08/44 – 05/18/46)
One of the biggest hits to fade into obscurity, this broad farce, which can technically be called a book musical (thanks to Guy Bolton, Eddie Davis, and Frank Thompson) told the story of a love triangle between a burlesque dancer [read: stripper], played by nightclub chanteuse Gertrude Niesen, and her civilian 4-F beau (Jackie Gleason) and a hunky naval officer (Frank Parker). The dancer, Bubbles La Marr (not kidding), takes over a servicemen’s canteen, where most of the “action,” which merely serves as set-up for the speciality acts and riotous dance numbers, occurs. Considered crude and brash — not to mention a direct reaction to Oklahoma! — the show was not popular with New York audiences; rather, it became a hit thanks to the visiting servicemen and their girlfriends, who had likely never seen a Broadway show before and enjoyed the raucous high-energy fun that Follow The Girls offered. In fact, thanks to these enthusiastic audiences, the show closed in 1946 as the second longest-running musical on the Great White Way (second only to the aforementioned Oklahoma!). The show transferred to London and was a hit there, but never made it to the screen and has not been revived. As a result, it’s become a forgotten hit, a rare distinction that belongs to only a special few.
But how is the score? Well, it’s by Dan Shapiro, Milton Pascal and Phil Charig, so it’s not top-drawer stuff. But, true to its “book,” there’s a lot of good fun to be had. The best remembered number is Niesen’s show-stopping “I Wanna Get Married,” which she recorded above. She also recorded the sultry “Twelve O’Clock And All Is Well,” heard below.
Another really fun tune is “I’m Gonna Hang My Hat On A Tree That Grows In Brooklyn,” performed on a V-Disc by Patsy Kelly and Barry Wood — it’s quite joyful.
And we’ll close today’s post with the jovial, if unspectacular, title tune, taken from a Ben Bagley album. (The score’s good-but-not-great, but the show seems like a real riot, right?)
Come back next Monday for another forgotten musical from the mid-forties! And tune in tomorrow for more Night Court!