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The Broadway Musicals of 1926

Which composers and shows will be heard from on Monday in "The Broadway Musicals of 1926?"

Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart
More often than not, when my TheaterMania colleague Scott Siegel stages one of his Broadway by the Year concerts at The Town Hall, I take a look at what I expect he'll include in his program. With "The Broadway Musicals of 1926" coming up on Monday night, Siegel had a formidable task in choosing songs, for no fewer than 42 (!) Broadway musicals opened that year.

Siegel never neglects the hit tunes, so I'm sure we'll hear "Clap Your Hands," "Do, Do, Do," "Maybe," and "Someone to Watch over Me" from George and Ira Gershwin's Oh, Kay!; "The Blue Room" from The Girl Friend; "Mountain Greenery" from The Garrick Gaieties; "Where's That Rainbow?" from Peggy-Ann; and maybe even "This Funny World" from Betsy -- all courtesy of Rodgers and Hart.

Interesting side note: Rodgers and Hart opened Peggy-Ann on December 27, 1926 and Betsy on December 28, 1926. That's not much rest between shows, is it? Granted, they got a little help from their friend Irving Berlin on Betsy: When the show's star, Belle Baker, thought the musical was in miserable trouble (she was right; it would run 32 performances), she frantically called Berlin and asked him to write a song for it. He opened his trunk, found "Blue Skies," and handed it over. Bet we hear that one, too, on Monday night.

Also sure to show are "All Alone Monday" from The Ramblers. You've heard this song if you saw the 1950 bio-pic of Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar called Three Little Words. Kalmar and Ruby also provided the lesser-known "Day Dreams" from Twinkle Twinkle later in 1926. Also among the year's hits are "The Birth of the Blues," "Black Bottom," and "It All Depends on You," all from DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson's The George White Scandals of 1926.

That was just one of the many shows that used the year as part of their title. There was also Bunk of 1926 (will Siegel select "You Told Me That You Loved Me but You Never Told Me Why"?), Earl Carroll's Vanities of 1926 ("We Are the Show Girls"?), The Greenwich Village Follies of 1926 ("The Sincerest Form of Flattery," which I think should have an imitative melody), and, from Bare Facts of 1926, "Stand Up on Your Feet and Dance." (Yeah, that's usually how it's done.) You'd expect a show called Bad Habits of 1926 to have ribald songs and lyricist Arthur Herzog, Jr. apparently rose to the occasion by providing "Lady Godiva, Go Bob Your Hair." (We all know what would have happened had her long hair been cut.) We may hear that song on Monday but I'm sure that, in these politically correct times, we won't hear "Broads of Broadway" from Nic-Nax of 1926.

Speaking of dates, a show called The Great Temptations had "Sesquicentennial Baby." A sesquicentennial marks 150 years, so deduct that number from 1926 and what do you get? 1776. Makes sense that many in 1926 were celebrating that milestone. Maybe Siegel can do the song on this 2004 night to celebrate the 1854 birth of Oscar Wilde, John Philip Sousa, or even Sherlock Holmes.

Did you know that, long before Gentlemen Prefer Blondes opened, there was a song called "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" in a 1926 show called Queen High AND in a 1926 show called No Foolin'? For that matter, the 1926 show The Blonde Sinner had a song called "Bye Bye Babe," a title perilously close to that of a song that wound up in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Was 1926 the year that Leo Robin, the lyricist of the 1949 hit, started going to Broadway musicals?

You may know the 1951 musical Seventeen, based on Booth Tarkington's novel of '16. It did get an RCA Victor cast album that (to my regret) has never been transferred to CD. But this was not the first musical Seventeen: Hello, Lola, which opened on January 12, 1926, takes that honor. Lola is Lola Pratt, who could teach Galinda a thing or three about being pop-ewe-ler (lar?). I'll take any song from this show but I'll bet there won't be a lyric as pungent as the one that Kim Gannon wrote for the 1951 Seventeen, wherein all of Lola's rivals snarl, "She's taken our boys 'nd she oughta be poisoned!"

What else? "You Will -- Won't You?" from Criss-Cross? "There's Something about Sympathy" from Sweetheart Time? "The Queen of Queens" from Castles in the Air? "You've Got to Be an Acrobat" from Naughty Riquette? You never know what unfamiliar title will be a hit in the Town Hall series. When Siegel mounted The Broadway Musicals of 1925, Nancy Anderson had the big unexpected smash with "That Means Nothing to Me" from Naughty Cinderella. (If you missed it, be assuaged that it's on the Bayview cast album. God love that company for routinely recording these Siegelfests!)

The stars of "The Broadway Musicals of 1926":
Top: Nancy Anderson, Bill Daugherty, and Sutton Foster,
Bottom: Eddie Korbich, Marc Kudisch, and Nancy Opel
Anderson, by the way, will be on hand again for this show. Wonder if she'll do "Loves Lasts a Day" from Deep River, "Like-a-Me, Like-a-You" (doesn't that sounds like it should be in Meet Me in St. Louis?) from The Matinee Girl, or maybe "The Black Mask" from A Night in Paris. I'm really interested in that last-named song because its music was written by J.J. Shubert, Jr. -- undoubtedly the son of the famous theater executive.

Also on hand on Monday night will be Sutton Foster, who would seem to be a natural for "Gee, But I'd Like to Be Bad" from Honeymoon Lane. Lord knows that Foster has had some Tony-winning experience playing a character who's a bit on the bad side, so "Won't You Come Across?" from The Wild Rose might be right for her, too. Though I've never heard "Wall Street Zoo" from Happy Go Lucky or "Snappy Show in Town" from Oh, Please!, I somehow imagine that Nancy Opel could do them justice, and "Choo Choo Love" from Kitty's Kisses sounds like a natural for Eddie Korbich. Cabaret performer Bill Daugherty is the odds-on favorite for "I Feel a Real Bad Lad Tonight" from Katja or maybe "Bad Little Boy with the Dancing Legs" from Gay Paree. And I hope that we hear Marc Kudisch sing "The Riff Song" from The Desert Song. Not only is it fabulous but it's also the great-great-grandfather of "Into the Fire," that great-great Wildhorn-Knighton song from The Scarlet Pimpernel (in which Kudisch starred at one point). See if the Romberg-Hammerstein and/or Harbach song doesn't strike you that way.

Maybe if Siegel does "We Want Our Breakfast" from Rainbow Rose, he'll get some advertising executive in the audience to sign up the song for a Pop Tart commercial. But how about "Shake Your Duster" from My Magnolia? Or, from Americana, "Chiropractic Papa"? Finally, from Countess Maritza, there's "Why Is the World So Changed Today?" (Probably because nobody wants to see a show called Countess Maritza.)


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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