Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the conclusion of our series on Gershwin in the ’20s! Much of this year will be spent finishing off our coverage on the works of some of my favorite composers from the ’20s-’40s. Of George’s output this decade, we’d already covered Lady, Be Good! (1924), Oh, Kay! (1926), Funny Face (1927), Treasure Girl (1928), and Show Girl (1929). So far in this series we’ve featured Sweet Little Devil (1924), Primrose (1924), Tell Me More (1925), and Tip-Toes (1925). Today…
V. Rosalie (01/10/28 – 10/27/28)
In his creation of a vehicle for Marilyn Miller and Jack Donahue, the great Ziegfeld engineered a collaboration between four of the stage’s most prolific musical men: George and Ira Gershwin, Sigmund Romberg and P.G. Wodehouse. Together they would tell the melodious story of a romance between a Romanzian princess and West Point cadet and aviator. But naturally, the king and queen, lacking in funds, have promised the princess to the son of a wealthy prince. And, of course, there’s a secondary couple, made up of another cadet (who’s afraid of flying) and the daughter of an American prizefighter. (If the story sounds familiar, you may recognize it from a 1937 MGM film adaptation, also called Rosalie, that crafted an entirely new score by Cole Porter.) Marilyn Miller and Oliver McLennan were the romantic leads, while Bobbe Arnst and Jack Donahue assisted as couple #2.
Fresh off of Funny Face, Ziegfeld implored the Gershwin brothers to contribute some tunes to the stack already crafted by Romberg and Wodehouse. As a result of this time crunch, the Gershwins ended up recycling several unheard melodies (written and cut form other shows) for Rosalie. The original intention was for the brothers to take on the solos and duets of the American characters, while Romberg and Wodehouse would handle the ensemble numbers and the more European sounding songs. But, the end result found both pairs dabbling in each other’s genres. Like some of the later works of Kern and Hammerstein, audiences were made musically aware of the differences between the hot, jazzier American tunes and the more romantic, but perhaps archaic, strains of the European style from which musical theatre developed. It would be impossible for me to truthfully claim that I am unbiased in my preference for the Gershwin numbers, however, their coexistence with Romberg (which blends more organically than anticipated) is really exciting, and contributes emphatically to the piece’s uniqueness.
However, Rosalie is one of those scores that, like Porter’s for The New Yorkers (1930), always seems to be overlooked. Again, I must admit to being guilty of undersinging the praises of Rosalie. But every time I listen to the piece in full (an impossibility unless one has a live audio of a 1983 concert at New York’s Town Hall), I’m incredibly impressed with the score — hot but romantic, jazzy but regal. In short: magnificent. While this post is only going to share some of my favorite Gershwin numbers, I’d recommend interested parties seek out hearing the full score. (In fact, subscribe and comment below for access to the aforementioned audio.) The most well known tune is “How Long Has This Been Going On?” Originally intended for Funny Face, this song was not a hit until Lee Wiley recorded it in the late ’30s. Sung by the secondary female, Mary, the recording above is by Audra McDonald.
Mary got a few other excellent solos in “Show Me The Town” and “New York Serenade.” Listen to the latter, from McGlinn’s Songs Of New York album, above. Below is the secondary couple’s duet, “Everybody Knows I Love Somebody,” which was adapted from a cut Funny Face song. It comes from the 1983 audio.
Also from the 1983 recording is Rosalie’s “Follow The Drum,” a Gershwin tune which sounds like it could be Romberg.
The Gershwin brothers gifted the principle couple with two extraordinarily joyful duets. Here’s Bobby Short with “Oh Gee! — Oh Joy!”
Their other wonderful duet, which shall close today’s post, is “Say So!” The recording comes from a broadcast of Music By Gershwin in April 1934.
Come back next Monday for another musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the first season of The Bob Newhart Show!