Thou Swell, Thou Witty, Thou Rodgers & Hart in the ’20s (VII)

Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the continuation of our two month series on the 1920s book musicals of Rodgers and Hart, a team whose ’30s and ’40s work has been fairly well represented here in the past. But the only ’20s work of theirs covered has been Dearest Enemy (1925). We’re rectifying that now, and so far we’ve covered The Girl Friend (1926), Lido Lady (1926) Peggy-Ann (1926), Betsy (1926), A Connecticut Yankee (1927) and She’s My Baby (1928). Today…


VII. Present Arms (04/26/28 – 09/01/28)


Rodgers and Hart teamed once again with producer Lew Fields and his son, book writer Herbert Fields, to create a musical comedy about marines stationed in Hawaii. In addition to an unusually masculine male ensemble, the show starred Charles King, Flora Le Breton, and choreographer Busby Berkeley, who filled in when the original actor was fired out of town. The premise, which many compared to the previous year’s Hit The Deck (1927), was about a marine from Brooklyn who falls for a wealthy Brit’s daughter and masquerades as a captain to impress her. Unfortunately, his trickery is discovered, but following a surprise shipwreck, he wins the girl after a stunning show of heroism (and a visit to an island fortune teller).

The book was recognized as light “summer fare,” and the score was praised, despite yielding only one standard. The number, best known to theatre buffs for its inclusion in the 1954 revival of On Your Toes (1936), is Elaine Stritch’s “You Took Advantage Of Me” (heard above). In the original show, it was performed by Berkeley and his love interest.

Nothing else from Present Arms has had much longevity; I must admit to being surprised by this, because the songs are tremendously fun. Unfortunately, the only full recording of the score is awful — mediocre vocals and horrendous arrangements. However, it’s the only chance for us to hear such forgotten gems as “Down By The Sea”(heard above), “Blue Ocean Blues,” a lyrical rewrite of Lido Lady’s “Atlantic Blues,” and “A Kiss For Cinderella” (heard below).

The main love duet for King and Breton, which everyone thought would be the big hit, was “Do I Hear You (Saying I Love You)?” The rendition below is by Fred Rich and his orchestra.

We’ll close today’s post with another hot one, “Crazy Elbows,” which apparently had a passing vogue with dance bands. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to obtain any period recordings (if anyone knows where I can find one, please let me know), so the recording below is from the aforementioned studio album.



Come back next Monday for another Rodgers and Hart musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the fifth season of Maude!