The Syncopated Walk: Early Irving Berlin (II)

Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the continuation of our first ever series of posts on the musical scores of Irving Berlin, a composer whose identity is inextricably linked with the definition of the American musical theatre! While we’ve covered several of Berlin’s later scores, we’ve never even touched his first Broadway works. Last week we started with Watch Your Step (1914). Today . . .


II. Stop! Look! Listen! (12/25/15 – 03/25/16)


Berlin followed up the success of Watch Your Step with another Dillingham produced musical, which, like its predecessor, featured a scant plot that served to prop the composer’s modern and raggy score. The “book,” again by Harry B. Smith, concerned a musical producer looking to find a replacement star for his revue, only to settle on the young chorus girl whom he rejected at the very start. The production was a hit, although not quite of the magnitude of Watch Your Step because it was forced close early when the star (Gaby Deslys), whose role was reduced during rehearsals, wanted out of the show. I personally have always considered this a lesser effort in comparison to Berlin’s prior work and, frankly, this is a score to which I took a while to warm. While Berlin’s previous score was daring and revolutionary in the sounds it introduced to the mainstream, Stop! Look! Listen! seemed like a more conservative return to the ordinary. But this thinking does a disservice to Berlin’s genius development — specifically his continual assimilation of 20th century sounds into a musical theatre still half-concocted of sounds from the 19th. So while the first big Berlin musical had to be bold and brash to assert its aims, this next score can rag itself up with more subtlety — and with an experimentation that’s not nearly as ostentatious as you might expect. Over the past few months, I’ve come to cultivate an extremely generous appreciation for the score. I don’t know if it’s better than Watch Your Step, but it’s at least of the same quality. In fact, there are several songs here you probably know. The classic, of course, is “I Love A Piano,” performed below by the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra with the original arrangements (and six pianos)!

Another tune with which you may be familiar is “The Girl On The Magazine (Cover),” taken below from the Easter Parade (1948) soundtrack.

Following the Broadway production, the show was mounted in London. From the 1916 original British cast, here’s the utterly cute “Teach Me How To Love,” performed by Blanche Tomlin and Ernest Pike.

A typically wonderful Berlin love duet, with his trademark ear for a memorable melody, was actually cut from the Broadway production but reinstated in London. Here’s “Until I Fell In Love With You,” taken from a live audio of a 2002 concert production. (For subscribed readers interested in obtaining access to this full unreleased recording, comment below!)

Another new favorite is “When I’m Out With You,” taken from the same concert recording. This is Berlin displaying his cheeky sense of humor!

And we’ll close today’s post with my favorite number from the score, the appropriately Berlin “Everything In America Is Ragtime,” heard below by Max Morath.



Come back next Monday for another Berlin musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the eighth season of Cheers!