Welcome to a new Musical Theatre Monday and the conclusion of our first series on the works of composer Vincent Youmans, best known today for No, No, Nanette (1925), which we covered here in our string of posts on seminal ’20s musicals. Once a prolific musician highly regarded for his melodies (a “gifted human” according to Cole Porter), Youmans hasn’t been afforded by time the same recognition as some of his contemporaries. Hopefully these posts helped illustrate why this obscurity is undeserved. We covered every stage score for which Youmans is credited as the main composer, save Nanette and Great Day!, both of which have already been featured. We’ve done Lollipop (1924), A Night Out (1925), Oh, Please! (1926), Hit The Deck (1927), Rainbow (1928), and Smiles (1930). Today…
VII. Through The Years (01/28/32 – 02/13/32)
A musical adaptation of the hit 1919 play Smilin’ Through, Through The Years (which changed its name before coming to Broadway) is Youmans’ legendary flop. With no lyricists around willing to work with the difficult (and drunk) Youmans, he partnered with the B-level Edward Heyman, who contributed otherwise smart lyrics for Youmans’ lilting operatic score. The story, which seemed naturally suited for an operetta, involves a man (Reginald Owen) who refuses to let his niece (Natalie Hall) marry into the family of the chap (Michael Bartlett) who killed his bride-to-be (also Hall) on their wedding day in the 1870s. Unfortunately, critics of the time found the score too mediocre to justify the musical translation, preferring the text of the original play. For many years, Youmans’ mature score was considered to be a neglected masterpiece, and it wasn’t until a 2001 studio recording that curious theatre lovers got the opportunity to hear Youmans’ work.
Having listened to the recording backwards and forwards, I’m afraid I agree with the 1932 critics; operetta is a delicate thing, and Youmans, no matter how much he wanted to be, wasn’t playing within his element or going with his strengths. That said, the score did yield a few classics, including the title number, which remained Youmans’ favorite song ever. The rendition above is by Judy Garland. The other hit from the score was the roaring “Drums In My Heart,” taken below from a Ben Bagley recording.
One of the more beautiful tunes is “Kathleen Mine,” which opened the show — an atypical start for a lavish musical. Here’s the studio cast.
And we’ll close today’s post with my favorite number from Through The Years, “Kinda Like You,” which delights in ways that only a classic Youmans tune can. Again, here’s the 2001 studio cast.
Come back next Monday for another forgotten musical! And tune in tomorrow for the best from the first season of Soap (1977-1981, ABC)!