Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the start 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 have been well represented here. But 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 have some rich area to cover! We’re kicking off this series today with . . .
I. Simple Simon (02/18/30 – 06/14/30)
Ziegfeld brought aboard Rodgers and Hart, along with book writer Guy Bolton, to craft a thinly plotted musical around the talents of comedian Ed Wynn (who may be most memorable to today’s audiences from his appearance in Mary Poppins). The premise had Wynn as the titular Simon, a Coney Island newspaper vendor who detests bad news and focuses his energy on fantastical stories. When Simon’s friend is threatened by the mob due to a love triangle gone awry, she runs to him for help. Cue a daydream of jumbled up fairytales! As you could have guessed, the book was little more than an opportunity for Wynn shtick, with several bits — including a line about going “into the woodth” — becoming quite well known among New York audiences. The production design was lauded, while Rodgers and Hart’s score, which included bits and pieces from other shows, got a mixed reception. (Nevertheless, the show did come back for a limited run in the summer of ’31.)
Of course, in true Ziegfeld fashion, he lost faith in the boys’ work during rehearsals, interpolated other songs, and cut some of Rodgers and Hart’s best numbers, including “Dancing On The Ceiling,” which finally got play overseas in Ever Green, and “He Was Too Good To Me,” a haunting ballad performed above by Dawn Upshaw.
Other memorable tunes included “Send For Me” and “I Still Believe In You,” which both featured rewritten lyrics from melodies originally used in Chee-Chee (1928), which we covered here earlier this year. The most enduring standard, however, was Ruth Etting’s “Ten Cents A Dance,” performed above by the chanteuse herself.
The main lovers (Doree Leslie, Alan Edwards) got the charming “I Can Do Wonders With You,” taken above from a Bagley album (but it was also cut soon after opening), while the secondary couple (Bobbe Arnst, Will Ahearn) got the snappy “Sweetenheart,” also taken below from another Bagley album.
And we’ll close today’s post with a forgotten favorite of mine, the secondary couple’s “Don’t Tell Your Folks.” Here’s Dorothy Louden and Arthur Siegel!
Come back next Monday for another Rodgers and Hart musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the first season of The Jeffersons!