“Cabaret Girl” Sparkles in New Recording

1922 Kern Musical Sparkles in New Recording

   A-OLO-Cabaret GirlThere was once a form of entertainment called the Musical Comedy that actually had both delightful music and a good deal of comedy. Of course, the plots were bubble headed and served mainly as a peg on which to hang the songs. One of the masters of the genre was Jerome Kern, a disciple of Victor Herbert, whose influence on Kern is very obvious in his earlier works.

Of course, “Show Boat” dared to introduce a serious plot into the mix and prepared the ground for “Pal Joey,” “South Pacific,” and later much of what passes for musicals today. But back in 1922, musicals like Kern’s “The Cabaret Girl” were much in vogue. Most have deservedly vanished, but with Kern composing the music and P.G. Wodehouse and George Grossmith working on dialogue and lyrics, the show was heads above most of the others.

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Jerome Kern

Now cut into the 21st century. The Ohio Light Opera has been producing and recording on CDs a good many American and European operettas, with considerable success, most of which I have reviewed in my columns. Now with “The Cabaret Girl” on the Albany label, they have what I consider one of their finer efforts. Since the recording and program notes include all the dialogue, I will pass over the silly plot.

What is most impressive is that just about every song makes one feel good! The comedy songs find their sources in past operettas (Gilbert and Sullivan’s influence is most apparent) as well as vaudeville routines, in particular those of Gallagher and Shean.

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Two of the original cast

Conductor Michael Borowitz brings sparkle to a score that demands it; and even the dialogue flows a little faster than it does in some of the past OLO recordings. Compliments to the leads, among whom are Lindsay O’Neil, Stefan Gordon, Julie Wright, Steven Daigle, and too many others to list here.

The running time of the two CDs is 114 minutes, and for once I wish it could have been longer!

So for lovers of old time songs, students of the American musical theatre, and all who want to revel in things as they used to be—this is a definite Grabbit!

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Scenes from the OLO production (2008)

How Annie Got Her Gun

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How Annie Got Her Gun

One day in 1945, composer Jerome Kern was summoned to the offices of Rodgers and Hammerstein, now producers as well as composer and lyricist team, and presented with a project. It was called “Annie Get Your Gun” with lyrics and book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields (whose idea it was in the first place). He was suspicious about their not wanting to do the play themselves if it was so promising, but they explained that they did not want to do another western musical after “Oklahoma!”

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Kern, who didn’t

Kern was busy with a revival of “Show Boat” slated for two months later, and he was worried about his increasingly high blood pressure. Still, he accepted and a short while later, while walking along 57th Street and Park Avenue, he collapsed. With no identification other than a numbered ASCAP card that he had neglected to sign, he was taken to Roosevelt Hospital, where he died without regaining consciousness.

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Berlin, who did

Irving Berlin was then called in by Rodgers and Hammerstein and offered the assignment. Should he accept, the Fields lyrics would be out the window. He claimed he had no idea of how to write Western lyrics, and Hammerstein is reported to have told him that he need only leave the final “g” off participles.

Soon after, Berlin came in with several songs, was congratulated, and asked to come in with more. When he did, they commented that he had not replayed one song they had liked in particular the time before. Berlin said he left it home because they did not seem to respond positively to it the first time. They said they had been thinking of where to place it in the show because it was so good. And so, “There’s No Business Like Show Business” was restored—and the rest is musical history.

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What would she have thought?

The original show opened on May 16, 1946 and ran for 1,147 performances. (“Oklahoma!” had run twice as long.) As Mary Martin put it, “New York is Merman’s town.” Merman brought down the house with one show stopper after the other, supported by baritone Ray Middleton and directed by Joshua Logan. Of the eight major theatre critics at the time, four gave rave reviews and four very good ones. While much of the praise was for Merman herself, critics like Vernon Rice, writing for the “Post,” realized that almost every song was a potential classic. In fact, one woman was heard to exclaim during the Lincoln Center revival, “My God, every song’s a standard!”

51la1f1ojqL._AA160_You can read extended excerpts from the opening night reviews in Steven Suskin’s valuable collection, “Opening Night on Broadway: a Critical Quotebook of the Golden Era of the Musical Theatre, Oklahoma! (1943) to Fiddler on the Roof (1964),” published by Schirmer Books.

The plot (which was somewhat modified when revived some decades later) is familiar to all.  A hillbilly girl who lives by “doin’ what comes natur’lly” becomes the star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and falls in love with sharpshooter Frank Butler. By the time the curtain comes down, in true rite-of-springtime tradition, love conquers all.

Yes, the original version does have stereotypical views of American Indians in a comic way; but that is part of what the Buffalo Bill show was all about, and leaving these views out (as a recent Broadway version did) distorts the show beyond recognition. (What next? A “Merchant of Venice” with no religious references?)

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Hutton, the movie Annie

In a strange way, the Kern-to-Berlin story was repeated when MGM decided to film “Annie Get Your Gun.”  Who else but Judy Garland would even be considered for the title role; and as happens in film making, she pre-recorded all the songs. But her long history of drug use (for which she had MGM itself to thank) and other problems in her life led to her being curtly dismissed. So while Betty Hutton took over (and not too badly, I think), there are still recordings of the Garland soundtrack and two or three rehearsal takes on film.

Still in all, how I would love to pop into an alternate universe to hear “Anne Get Your Gun” with words by Herbert and Dorothy Fields and music by Jerome Kern!