All About Margo

APPLAUSE at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket.

The London critics to a man have sung the praises of Lauren Bacall for her appearance in the musical APPLAUSE, and I can but echo their comments. It is difficult to find any new adjectives not already showered on her, and I am grateful that for once the original star of a Broadway show has graced our shores. We’ve missed out in the past on seeing the original ‘Dolly’, and of course Merman in ‘Gypsy’, but here after a two year wait is the Margo Channing we’ve heard so much about.

Bacall first burst upon the screen in a Hemingway story titled TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and was instantly hailed as a promising new star. In those days everybody quite rightly ‘The Look’. With her provocative eyes and smouldering sexuality she delivered lines such as ‘If you want anything, just whistle’ to perfection.

In her earlier films she didn’t always get the chance to prove her worth as an actress, appearing more as a ‘personality’, but when Fox gave her the role of a cynical gold was tagged with a ‘nickname’ and hers was digger in HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE she came into her own, making a perfect contrast to those two dumb blondes Monroe and Grable. Later in Metro’s DESIGNING WOMAN she again had a role worthy of her talents, and I was hopeful that she might appear more often in this type of sophisticated comedy.

However, her appearances became less frequent, though her last one in THE MOVING TARGET (alias HARPER) proved that she had lost none of her talent for delivering witty dialogue. I bless whoever had the idea of bringing her to the stage to portray Margo Channing, as I truly can’t imagine anyone else doing the role as well as her.

The Mary Orr story THE WISDOM OF EVE is supposedly based on an incident in the life of Elizabeth Bergner, famous European star of the 30’s. When Fox purchased the story, Joseph L Manckiewicz re-worked the script, basing it on Tallulah Bankhead and incidents that occurred when she starred in a Broadway play.

Claudette Colbert was the original actress chosen to play Margo, but when she fell ill, Bette Davis replaced her and went on to score one of her greatest triumphs. ALL ABOUT EVE received a total of 14 Academy Award nominations and won seven Oscars. The film has become a favourite with movie buffs everywhere and is up there with the big money makers of all time.

I am surprised that it took so long for its conversion into a musical as the plot lends itself so well to musical numbers. Comden and Green are responsible for the book, and these clever writers have already given joy to theatre and cinemagoers with their writing. Their book incorporates a lot of the original film script plus many funny new lines. There is a noticeable effort to remind the audience that this is a NOW show. For example at one point we are treated to the sight of the derrieres of 3 of the chorus boys, and there’s even a mention of Screw magazine thrown in for good measure.

The character of Eve is a complex one, part Cinderella and part Wicked Witch. The one flaw I found with both film and show is that I felt these show business people would never be taken in by her for one moment. Ann Baxter’s subtle performance managed to overcome this fault admirably. I’ve met a few Eve Harringtons in my life (believe me you don’t have to be a Broadway star to come across them) and one can’t always spot them in the beginning. In this show Angela Richards is most believable in the role of Eve – she is all sweetness and light for just the right amount of time (perhaps a longer period than in the film) before she shows her true colours. In her last big scene near the end where she sings ‘One Halloween’ she really lets loose, and we see the tigress hidden just below the surface.

Ken Walsh as the hairdresser is the only one who is on to Eve’s tricks from the beginning, and he is a valuable asset to the show. Sheila O’Neill scores well, as she does in every show, with her vivacious singing and dancing of the title song, and later in ‘She’s No Longer A Gypsy’. I wasn’t too struck by the choreography, having to agree with a friend who remarked that each routine ended with ‘Good Friday arms’.

The music by Charles Strouse is unmemorable, but in several instances I was noticeably pleased with Lee Adam’s lyrics, especially in Bacall’s cynical first act closer, ‘Welcome To the Theatre’.

As for Lauren Bacall herself, I can only reiterate and borrow from Miss Stein – “A star is a star is a star” … Her curtain call at the finale was ‘something else’ – standing triumphantly on an empty stage in a shimmering black dress she looked like a million dollars — and rightly deserved the bravos from her audience.

Theatre For Christmas

Someone in the editorial collective decided it would be a nice idea if I would select what I thought were suitable shows for our readers to see at Christmas, as that’s the time of year a lot of folk take an occasional visit to the theatre. Firstly take into consideration that we go to press 3 weeks before the actual Christmas week so do check the daily papers to ensure the show you wish to see is still running.

Now it rather depends on the type of show you want to see, and who you are going to take along (if anybody) so I’ll try and categorise those that I consider the best ones.

If you are considering taking along a parent, aunt or anyone approaching middle age, settle for GONE WITH THE WIND at Drury Lane Theatre which has enough glamour to appeal to them, or if you feel a straight play would be preferable I suggest one of the following:

LLOYD GEORGE KNEW MY FATHER at the Savoy Theatre which is a light comedy not likely to offend anyone, and skilfully played by Celia Johnson and Sir Ralph Richardson. Another safe bet is CROWN MATRIMONIAL at the Haymarket Theatre which is the story of Edward VIII’s abdication and would especially appeal to people over 40 who can recall the era when this story took place, and THE DAY AFTER FAIR* at the Lyric Theatre stars the lovely Deborah Kerr in a charming romantic drama.

There are quite a few shows that you can take a child to and that won’t bore you in the process. TOAD OF TOAD HALL is playing at the Jeanette Cochran Theatre, ALICE IN WONDERLAND performed by 10 foot puppets at the Mercury Theatre, Notting Hill Gate sounds interesting, and a new musical version of THE WATER BABIES is due at the Cambridge Theatre, starring Neil Reid of ‘Opportunity Knocks’ fame, with music by John Taylor, the talented composer of ‘Charlie Girl’.

If just you are involved in this theatre trip then let me first mention what is still, in my opinion, the best straight play in town, THE PHILANTHROPIST at the Mayfair Theatre. This forerunner of ‘Butley’ is also set in a college and is likewise all about one of the ‘losers in life’ and it’s an extremely enjoyable evening. Certainly the next best production in town must be LONDON ASSURANCE* at the New Theatre. If you fancy a ‘period piece’ and enjoy first class ensemble playing, this cannot be bettered. My third choice for straight theatre is undoubtedly PRIVATE LIVES at the Queens Theatre, for its witty script and star performance by Maggie Smith, but whether or not you’ll be able to get a seat is another matter entirely.

Which leaves us with the musicals and one revue. HULLA BALOO* at the Criterion Theatre is a fun evening and Rogers and Starr with their blue tinged material will give you a lot of laughs. The two religious musicals are still with us: GODSPELL* at the Wyndhams which I found delightful, and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at the Palace Theatre, which I didn’t care for but everyone else did so I might be wrong. THE DIRTIEST SHOW IN TOWN* is still running at the Duchess Theatre and though I missed a few of the jokes along the way I found it at all times enjoyable. APPLAUSE at Her Majesty’s Theatre is hard to get tickets for, but worth the effort to enjoy Lauren Bacall’s star presence, and as we go to press Tony Newley’s latest musical THE GOOD OLD, BAD OLD DAYS is about to open at the Prince of Wales Theatre and if the score is anything to go by ought to be worth the visit.

One last word regarding theatre prices which are getting higher each year. If you really find front stalls too expensive, but don’t care to be sitting a mile away, I can recommend the back dress circle at those shows marked * as not being too expensive and not too far away. Also the back stalls at Mayfair Theatre for THE PHILANTHROPIST are inexpensive and of course both the Jeannetta Cochran Theatre and Mercury Theatre with their children’s shows are reasonably priced.

All Talking, All Singing

Last month I reviewed some film sound-tracks of the mid 50’s which was an easy task as I grew up familiar with them from seeing them in the cinema and playing many of the original recordings at home. This month is a different kettle of fish as I must first claim that with very few exceptions all of these recordings are well before my time. But to borrow a popular expression of the late 30’s and early 40’s when most of these tracks were recorded, they are all ‘super duper’.

STARS OF THE SILVER SCREEN 1929-1930. RCA LSA 3074

Here are 16 tracks which serve as a fine example of what screen music was like in those early days of the talkies. The big surprise to me in this LP is the excellent singing voice of Gloria Swanson on the track ‘Love, your magic spell is everywhere’. I see from the line notes that she had vocal training and more’s the pity that she only sang in one film during her entire career. Sophie Tucker’s rich singing voice in ‘He’s a good man to have around’ also came as a surprise, as I’d grown used to her older ‘talking’ voice over the years. The original versions of ‘My mothers eyes’ by George Jessell and ‘Louise’ by Maurice Chevalier are also included. Bebe Daniels displays her fine voice on ‘You’re always in my arms’ and Dolores Del Rio is pretty terrible singing ‘Ramona’. The original ‘Boop a doop girl’ Helen Kane sings ‘He’s so unusual’ and comedienne Fanny Brice is in fine voice with ‘Cooking breakfast for the one I love’. There are two fine male voices in John Boles ‘It happened in Monterey’ and Dennis King ‘Nichavo Nichavo’. Yes 16 items that will be new to most folk and very reasonably priced at £1.69.

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD RCA LSA 3085

Sixteen tracks, many of them available for the first time ever, and most of them interesting from a film fan’s point of view. Ginger Rogers opens the show with ‘I used to be colour blind’ from the film ‘Carefree’. Never renowned for her singing, I found her in pretty good voice on this track. La Dietrich follows with her famous ‘Lola’ sung in German – it’s a trifle antiquated now but the tune as always is very catchy. Allan Jones (father of Jack in case anyone doesn’t know) does a fine job on ‘Alone’. Next comes a surprise with Joan Crawford making a rare visit to the recording studios. It is easy to spot her distinctive voice, and whilst she lacks a true singer’s intonation it is still a pretty good attempt. Eleanor Powell ‘the screen’s foremost tap dancer’ is next featured both singing and tap dancing, and Fred MacMurray follows in a 1930 recording which holds up well … Dorothy Lamour’s distinctive voice on ‘Paradise’ serves as a reminder of her many musical film appearances. The first side is completed by Deanna Durbin in what was probably her finest musical moment on screen singing ‘When April sings’ from the film ‘Spring Parade’.

Side Two takes us to the fifties with Fred Astaire repeating his fine ‘Something’s gotta give’ followed by Marilyn Monroe singing ‘I’m gonna file my claim’ (a rather dull song this one). James Cagney does his George M. Cohan imitation on ‘Mary’s a grand old name’. I can never hear his voice without recalling all the many and varied impersonations of him I’ve had to watch over the years. I’ve always been a Betty Hutton fan and her track of ‘It’s oh so quiet’ comes as a surprise as I’ve not heard it before. She gives it the full Hutton treatment which is fine for me, but possibly not for others. Bob Hope has often recorded some fine songs and Gershwin’s ‘That certain feeling’ is certainly up to par from him. Ann Southern is a surprise name next, singing ‘The saga of Jenny’ from a TV version of ‘Lady in the dark’ she did some years back — no singer she … There follows Harpo Marx’ delightful version of ‘Stardust’ played on the harp (well, naturally). To close the record, Mickey Rooney singing one of his own compositions ‘I couldn’t be more in love’. The disc carries some very comprehensive line notes about both the singers, their careers, and their particular songs, as well as good photographs of each artist. I certainly recommend this one at only £1.69.

THE BAND WAGON RCA LSA 3082 (£1.69)

The dictionary has its own definition of the word ‘Elegance’ but for my money I’ll always connect the word with Fred Astaire. Both his singing and dancing sum up the word for me and these recordings made way back in 1931 have the same charm that I found when watching him on a recent TV show from America. His sister Adele appears on one or two songs with him in this cast album of the original show and many of these lovely melodies by Arthur Schwarz were sadly dropped when MGM filmed it back in the 50’s. On the reverse side Astaire does a few of the songs he introduced plus some others not associated with him. In case you wondered just who sang ‘Night and day’ here is the answer. The majority of tunes on this side will be unknown to you, but if you dig Astaire you’ll soon get to know them as I have done.

FANNY BRICE & HELEN MORGAN RCA LSA 3076 (£1.69)

These two famous ladies have both had film biographies made of their lives. Barbra Streisand of course, scored a tremendous success in her first film, ‘FUNNY GIRL’ portraying Brice, and some years before Ann Blyth surprised everyone with a pretty fair performance as Helen Morgan in the film ‘Both ends of the candle’ (the singing voice for that one being dubbed by Gogi Grant). I enjoyed Brice’s singing of straight songs and comedy very much but can’t say I cared much for Helen Morgan although I’ll grant you the lady must have had something as she was a very big star in her day. If you are curious and unsure I suggest you listen to one track by each of them in the earlier mentioned ‘Hooray for Hollywood’ before deciding.

Tap, Tap, Here Comes Nostalgia

DAMES AT SEA at the Hampstead Theatre Club, Swiss Cottage, NW3. With nostalgia a key word in entertainment these days it is not surprising that someone had the bright idea of reviving DAMES AT SEA. This delightful parody of all those Busby Berkeley musicals of the 1930’s enjoyed a moderate success in London’s West End 3 years ago, and now it’s returned in a shortened version to the Hampstead Theatre Club, showing nightly at 11 pm, until early January.

This backstage musical has for its heroine a naive platinum blonde tap dancer who comes to a Broadway Theatre on the morning she arrives from out of town. She gets a job in the chorus line of a show due to open that night, and is immediately befriended by a tough wisecracking chorine. Our heroine falls in love with a young song writing sailor who momentarily gets involved with the star of the show being produced. The demolition squad arrive to pull down the theatre and somebody suggests that they open the show instead on board the sailor’s battleship. The star falls ill and the heroine goes on in her place that night, and of course, is an overnight success.

That’s the plot in a capsule, but there’s so much more. Firstly, the songs – many of them quite charming, and they rightly remind one of ‘Shuffle off to Buffalo’, ‘We’re In The Money’ and others of that era. Then there is the dancing – in those days no musical was complete without at least one tap dancing routine, and here there are several. How refreshing it is to hear again the clicking of tap shoes, reminding one of a bygone age. Gillian Gregory has done a fine job in arranging the choreography.

The intimate atmosphere of this theatre is admirably suited to this small show which features only 6 performers. Nicholas Bennett, Freddie Eldrett and Richard Owens are the male leads, and they all make their marks with their songs and dancing. As the dumb heroine who makes good, Debbie Bowen is very funny and in her song ‘Raining In My Heart’, is particularly touching. Barbara Young as her friend reminds one of both Joan Blondell and Ginger Rogers and uses her knowledge of revue work to good effect in her witty dialogue and in her singing of ‘Good Times Are Here To Stay’.

There remains Pip Hinton as the temperamental star of the show. I first saw her in INTIMACY AT 8.30 when she was an ingenue in support of the stars of that show, and even then she made her presence felt in every appearance. She has a great sense of humour and a bewitching smile and it delighted me to see her in a role that allows full scope for her fine singing voice and comedy playing.

Paul Ciani has ably directed this grand little show and a year’s membership is very reasonable, and as all seats are only 70p for the late night show I urge you to consider going along to enjoy the fun.

Long Title, Short Play

THE EFFECT OF GAMMA RAYS ON MAN-IN-THE-MOON MARIGOLDS at Hampstead Theatre Club, Swiss Cottage, NW3.

This is a strange play which unfortunately fails to live up to the promise of its early scenes. The character of Beatrice, an eccentric woman bringing up two teenage daughters and forced to look after an elderly invalid in order to earn money, is very reminiscent of the mother in Tennessee William’s play “The Glass Menagerie”. Similarly, her youngest daughter reminds one of the heroine in that same play. The mother, with her overwhelming burden of responsibility in life is never far away from a nervous breakdown, and her almost non-reaction to her daughter’s sudden success at college is understandable.

In the difficult role of the mother, all nerve ends and near hysteria, Sheila Hancock gives the finest performance of her career. Yvonne Antrobus is extremely moving as the shy and studious daughter, and her awkward stance and forlorn face are entirely in keeping with the role. In perfect contrast is Pamela Moiseiwitsch as her chatty epileptic sister.

Very little occurs on stage ana yet I felt throughout that any moment something special was about to occur. But in spite of its lengthy title the play ended within 2 hours (including a 15 minute interval) and I felt slightly cheated. I feel that I shall have to read the text of this play at a future date as in spite of its shortcomings it left an impression with me.

Two Right Royal Evenings

CROWN MATRIMONIAL at the Haymarket Theatre.

I once knew an obscure silent film star whose every other sentence involved famous people. She’d speak of meeting Scott Fitzgerald at a dinner given by the King of Spain, but on asking further questions about them, she had very little else to say. I was reminded of her whilst watching CROWN MATRIMONIAL as the first scene set in Marlborough House has the Queen Mary asking her son, on his return from the continent, “How was George of Greece, and did you see Carol of Rumania?” This sort of name dropping is all very well provided it is going to lead somewhere, but apart from a few words, nothing further is mentioned of these famous personages.

Likewise I felt at times as if I were visiting Madame Tussauds, so much did these players resemble the real people in face and dress. Although the plot is familiar, interest is held throughout by the course of events and the dialogue given to the stage Royals. Who can presume how these characters would act and talk when in the privacy of their homes. The author Royce Ryton has used his imagination well. Aided by Wendy Hiller, portraying Queen Mary, one senses the feeling of royalty and grandeur in her every move.

Peter Barkworth playing Edward 7th reminded me of that monarch’s smile and warmth, whilst Amanda Reiss received an ovation on her first entrance for her uncanny resemblance to our present Queen Mother at that time. I was less happy with Andrew Ray’s impersonation of George 6th, feeling he was too young for the role, but in his one big scene he was extremely moving. Lastly the costumes and sets are first rate, and just how I would imagine the interior of a Royal household would look.

I AND ALBERT at the Picadilly Theatre

When one reads of delays of an opening night, hears stories of early previews over-running by 45 minutes, and of the leading man being taken ill and the understudy taking over at short notice, then the signs are surely there that ‘something is rotten in the State of Denmark’, or in this case at the Piccadilly Theatre.

What possessed that fine director John Schlesinger to become involved in all this? I would call it ‘a pageant with music’ as it turned out to be the most talkative musical I’ve yet come upon. The musical score manages to range the entire field of music in one evening, commencing with an oompah pa song about naughty London in the early 1800’s (did I detect some rather risque lyrics well hidden under the blaring orchestra?), a syncopated modern style tune that owed a lot to the song ‘The best is yet to come’, all the way to a tender ballad sung by Prince Albert. The title song ‘I and Albert’ is tuneful, and the ‘Victoria and Albert Waltz’ is a haunting theme used when they first meet. Somewhere in the second half Disraeli stops the show whilst performing conjuring tricks and singing with great panache the sung ‘When You Speak with a Lady’. But this song is out of place with the character and plot so that it takes several minutes to settle back into ‘the plot’ … and oh how that plot goes on and on without really reaching any point. Polly James plays Victoria competently enough, ranging from young womanhood to old age, though one wonders what became of her middle years. At one time the character she portrays was aged around the late 50’s, but there she was giving an impersonation of a woman of 70 – no in-between, alas.

Sven Bertl Taube makes a handsome leading man as Prince Albert. He has a good singing voice and is suitably stiff and solemn as the part calls for. Aubrey Woods and Lewis Fiender play two roles each during the evening as Victoria’s ministers and bring light comic relief to the proceedings. The show would be lost without the two stairways placed on either side of the stage and a great deal of the action is performed on them which involves the cast running about on them ’til one gets almost dizzy watching. After Albert dies, the stage is draped in black mourning, both costumes and curtains are black and there is a feeling of ‘death in the family’ which is almost prophetic of the show itself.

Dilly ‘N’ Starr

HULLA BALOO at the Criterion Theatre, Piccadilly

Good news for fans of those talented drag artists Rogers and Starr is that they are now to be seen in the West End in a new revue HULLA BALOO. Harold Fielding had the unusual idea of pitting the combined talents of these two with local comedian Jimmy Edwards and that ‘Laugh-In girl’ Chelsea Brown, and it works well.

The curtain rises to show a public convenience with 3 cubicles on either side of the stage and that more or less sets the tone of the humour for the rest of the evening. Rogers and Starr score early on with one of their popular numbers ‘Rape’ and again in the second half with their famous ‘Beyond the Freud’ number which was so popular with the audiences at the Hampstead Theatre Club where they had 2 successful seasons of late night revue 2 years running. Roy Starr repeats his amusing ‘Dear Marje’ takeoff of Marjorie Proops, and Michael Rogers follows with his rather cruel Dietrich impersonation, descending the toilet stairs impeccably gowned in a transparent salmon pink shimmering dress.

In the second act the two of them proceed to demolish ‘Gone With The Wind’ with their hilarious portrayals of Mammie and Prissie the maid. It was interesting to note how enjoyable Jimmy Edwards can be when he stops ad-libbing. His talk on gardening ‘Are you listening, Mary Whitehouse?’ involves some useful information on the growing of roses: ‘First get your beds ready, go easy with the trowel and don’t give ‘er more than 5 inches to start with…’ and he gets good participation from the audience with his song about Enoch Powell. Chelsea Brown looks good and has several numbers to sing, including the title song, an obscure Duke Ellington number ‘Tulip or Turnip’ and one of Michael Rogers’ own songs ‘Powder My Back’.

Giving good support to the stars are two goodlooking boys, Ted Merwood and Roy North, and the talented Marcia Ashton, well known to fans of the Roy Hudd Show on TV and to anyone with a long enough memory as the star of the original production of ‘Cranks’ – nice to see her back in town. The finale involves a hilarious song all about Bums, titled THE END – AND A SONG IN PRAISE OF IT featuring Rogers and Starr in fabulous white creations cut low at the back to expose both their pretty behinds. A fun evening tinged with blue humour, but nothing to really offend anybody.

Remembrance of Things Past

Most of us reflect on past events in our lives, some by looking at old photographs, or rereading diaries, and others by relying on their memories. For filmgoers the showing of old films on television and the occasional revivals in cinemas must suffice. But when one thinks of these old screen musicals, how nostalgic it all is. My own personal memories are truly overcrowded as I think of those old Busby Berkeley Warner musicals of the mid 30’s with stars like Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, James Cagney and Joan Blondell. As thoughts take us through the years of the musicals the casts become interchangeable. The late 30’s and the start of the successful Jeanette McDonald-Nelson Eddy teaming … Fox’s technicolor trifles with such stars as Alice Faye, Betty Grable, Don Ameche, John Payne, Jack Oakie and always somewhere in her outrageous costumes and hats the dynamic Carmen Miranda … all those Crosby musicals at Paramount … the Astaire-Rogers ones at RKO … the many magical moments spent watching those MGM musicals with a roster of talent like Garland, Home, Rooney, Kelly, Keel etc …

One good way of reviving one’s memones of old films is by playing through the sound track records of these films. For a long time many of these were unavailable, but now with the current wave of nostalgia riding high, the record companies are releasing a wealth of material for the film record collector fans. RCA is digging ud early talkies tracks that even include a song by Joan Crawford, whilst Decca have already given us some fine vintage stuff by Deanna Durbin, Carmen Miranda and Judy Garland.

But the best of the batch so far as filmgoers are concerned comes from the Phonodisc group on the MGM label. They have already issued over a dozen in this series and this month a further 4 arrive which comprise some 7 films of the 1950’s. Many of these have long been unavailable since being deleted from the original MGM label back in the early 1960’s.

These reissues are all nicely sleeved with some interesting line notes and pictures and credits for the films. Remember too that they are mostly recorded direct from the sound-tracks, long before stereo was invented. The mono recordings have been enhanced for stereo and a pretty good job they’ve made of them. Of all film records available to fans at the moment, I think that these Phonodisc reissues, priced at £1.95 are indeed the best buy.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes / Till the Clouds Roll By – MGM 2353067

The best buy of the current batch for collectors is undoubtedly this double feature. 20th Century Fox came out with their newly developed Cinemascope in 1953, launching it with block busters such as THE ROBE and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE. The first musical in this new process was GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES. This story by Anita Loos was previously produced on Broadway with Carol Channing in the lead, but when Fox transferred it to the screen they decided to use their Number One glamour girl Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei Lee, with Jane Russell co-starring as her friend Dorothy. The plot has the girls going to Paris to fulfill a nightclub engagement. Lorelei says goodbye to her rich fiancé before the boat sails and during the boat ride becomes involved with a rich elderly millionaire. The happenings on board ship and in Paris are fast and furious but like all good tales, ends happily with both girls getting hitched. Unfortunately in its translation to the screen a lot of the bright and bouncy Jules Styne songs were left on the cutting room floor, and only 3 survived the trip to the screen. Two new songs by Hoagy Carmichael added to the score were ‘Is There Anyone Here For Love’, featuring that brunette amazon Jane Russell cavorting round a gymnasium full of muscle men, and ‘When Love Goes Wrong’ featuring both female stars, and is not a particularly interesting tune. Of the old songs, ‘Bye Bye Baby’ is first sung as a slow seductive ballad by Monroe, and then bounced into a fast up-tempo song by Jane Russell. ‘Little Girl From Little Rock’, originally a solo for Lorelei becomes a bright opening song for both stars. There remains the famous ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’, sung by Marilyn Monroe. For those who saw the film ’nuff said, and for those who didn’t, if you use your imagination, you can visualise this lovely lady at her screen peak singing this song.

Till The Clouds Roll By

Jerome Kern, that much loved American composer, is said to have written over 1,000 popular songs. In 1946 MGM produced an all star technicolor musical titled TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY which was very loosely based on his life story. For many years this remained in my memory as one of the finest musicals of all time, yet when I saw it again recently, I was saddened to find how trite the story seemed by today’s standards. However, some two dozen of his songs used during the two hours running time have in the main remained as fresh as I recall them to be. What a pity that due to contract troubles MGM were only able to record a fraction of this film’s magnificent score.

Working in Hollywood at this time as musical director of most Metro musicals, was Lennie Hayton, and his scoring for this particular film is amongst his best work. Also worthy of praise for her work as vocal arranger in those days is Kay Thompson. Her close harmony arrangements are particularly noticeable in the songs ‘Leave It To Jane’ and Who’. I recall the latter number featuring a much pregnant Judy Garland portraying Marilyn Miller dancing up and down a moving escalator.

The film has a 20 minute sequence of Kern’s most beloved musical ‘Showboat’ early on, and this record features some of those songs: Caleb Peterson doing ‘Ol’ Man River’, the amusing ‘Life Upon The Wicked Stage’ sung by ‘Dead-pan’ comedienne Virginia O’Brien, the definitive version of ‘Can’t Help Loving Dat Man’ by Lena Horne, and ‘Who Cares If My Boat Goes Up Stream’ by Tony Martin, followed by some brief dialogue from Martin and Kathryn Grayson, leading into their duet of ‘Make Believe’. The film’s title song is sung by Ray McDonald and chorus, June Allyson does ‘Leave It To Jane’ and ‘Cleopatterer’ in her husky voice. Judy Garland sings ‘Look For The Silver Lining’ with great feeling and also the exciting version of that evergreen song ‘Who’. Altogether a bumper bundle.

Kiss Me Kate – MGM 2353062

Cole Porter’s score for KISS ME KATE is considered one of his finest, yet it is strange that none of the songs have become standards in spite of the fact that many of his songs are known as such. This MGM musical produced some four years after the show’s debut was made in the 3D process, which Hollywood attempted to make popular at the time. It can claim to be the only musical made in that process, but the company soon discarded their plans to give out free pairs of glasses for patrons to use when viewing the film. Here we have 14 songs which sound as fresh today both lyrically and musically as they first did back in the late 40’s. The teaming of Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson proved successful and they were particularly suitable for the roles of husband and wife continually battling offstage as well as on stage when portraying Shakespeare’s leading characters in ‘Taming Of The Shrew’. Ann Miller gives good support and 3 of Hollywood’s top leading dancers at the time. Tommy Rail, Bobby Van and Bob Fosse are also featured. Keel has several fine solos: ‘Were Thine That Special Face’ (surely one of Porter’s best love songs), ‘I’ve Come To Wife It Wealthily In Padua’ and the amusing ‘Where Is The Life That Late I Led’. Grayson solos on ‘I Hate Men’ and together they team well on ‘Wunderbar’, the title song and the show’s biggest hit ‘So In Love’. Ann Miller solos on ‘Too Darn Hot’, ‘Why Can’t You Behave’ and ‘Always True To You In My Fashion’ and brings her usual vivacity to every song. Cut from a 1950 stage show and added to this film score is the number ‘From This Moment On’ which Ann Miller sings along with the 3 featured dancers. There is also the amusing ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ performed by Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore. This record serves as a good reminder of Porter at his best ranging as it does from tender ballad to witty ‘point’ songs.

An American In Paris / Les Girls MGM 2353068

The pairing on one record of musical scores by both Gershwin and Porter sounds exciting. However this record features fewer artists than the others and unless you are a confirmed Gene Kelly fan, there isn’t much here to listen to other than a grand arrangement of George Gershwin’s AMERICAN IN PARIS suite. This film has probably had more bookings on the Classic circuit than any other Metro musical, with the exception of “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers” (which always seems to be showing somewhere in London.) Kelly plays an impoverished artist surviving on the Left Bank of Paris, who meets a little perfume seller and falls in love with her. Partnered with Leslie Caron, he performs some of his best screen dancing in this film. Apart from the orchestral suite itself, Kelly is featured singing ‘Love Is Here To Stay’, the last song written by Gershwin before his untimely death in 1936. He also sings ‘I Got Rhythm’ accompanied by a chorus of street urchins, and is paired with George Guetary on ‘S’Wonderful’ Perhaps I’m biased, but for me the high spot of the whole record is Guetary’s dynamic rendering of ‘I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise.’

I shall dispense with LES GIRLS as briefly as possible, as it really is one of the poorest Porter scores around. Indeed Porter is reported to have said that he was displeased with it. The title song, ‘Les Girls’ features Kelly with his three leading ladies, Mitzi Gaynor, Kay Kendall and Taina Elg, and the ladies are together on another track ‘Ladies In Waiting’ without Mr Kelly. The lovely Kay Kendall joins him on ‘You’re just Too, Too’ but none of these songs have the usual verve and wit associated with Porter. Taina Elg solos on ‘Ca C’est L’amour’ which is too much like ‘I Love Paris’ to sound original. Kelly ends the record with his one solo from this film ‘Why Am I So Gone About That Gal’, which is also unmemorable, though I recall, in the film it was an amusing parody on Brando’s ‘The Wild Ones’.

Brigadoon / Two Weeks With Love – MGM 2353065

Long before GIGI brought the names of Lerner and Loewe to the public’s eye, they created an effective musical titled BRIGADOON back in 1947. This tale of a magic Scottish village which comes to life for one day ever 100 years was fairly successful both here and on Broadway, though coming as it did in the wake of those two colossal hits, OKLAHOMA and ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, it rather got lost in the shuffle. The film version was delayed several times and finally saw the light of day in 1955. It’s hard to believe that Vincente Minnelli could create such a heavy-handed film version from such a lovely stage musical. The record, however, can serve as a fond reminder of the fine score, though here again one would have to be a confirmed Gene Kelly fan for full enjoyment. His tendency to sing sharp proves a little irritating on the three fine ballads, ‘Heather On The Hill’, ‘Almost Like Being In Love’ and ‘There But For You Go I’. Carol Richards who dubbed for Cyd Charisse in the film sings ‘Waiting For My Dearie’ nicely, and the fine voice of John Gustafson does justice to ‘Come To Me, Bend To Me’. Gustafson is joined by Van Johnson in the sprightly ‘I’ll Go Home With Bonnie Jean’, and the orchestra and chorus make up the other tracks.

I can’t recall much about TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE as a film, but listening to the record I was reminded again how much I enjoyed Jane Powell’s singing in all her films. She uses her lyrical voice to fine effect on ‘A Heart That’s True’, ‘My Hero’ and ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon’. She seems equally at home with the jazzy ‘Oceana Roll’, ‘Row, Row, Row’ and ‘Aba Daba Honeymoon’ are the two remaining tracks, some with suitable buoyancy by Carlton Carpenter and Debbie Reynolds (NOT Jane Powell as wrongly listed on both disc and sleeve).

These then are the four current reissues. Offhand I can’t think of many more Metro musicals not rereleased, but I may be wrong. For full details of the previous issues in this series ask at your nearest record shop.

Night of Fame

Bakke’s Night of Fame by John McGrath at the Shaw Theatre

At the Shaw Theatre till the end of October is a new play by John McGrath titled BAKKE’S NIGHT OF FAME. It is set in the condemned cell of an American prison on the night that Bakke is to be executed for the murder of a woman. On coming into the auditorium the curtain is already up and the prisoner and two guards are on the set before the play commences. After establishing early on that it was taking place during the last hours of the prisoner’s life, I began to wonder how the play would progress. Were we to see a last minute reprieve coming from the governor, or would the prisoner be dragged off screaming for mercy like one of those old James Cagney films.

Well, a plea against capital punishment was certainly made, but the main part of the evening was spent on a character study of this anti-hero Bakke. Somewhat like a character out of an Edward Albee play, we watch him goading first his warders, then the priest, and finally his executioner. Throughout the play he is asking to meet the man who will pull the switch on the electric chair – ‘My buddy’ as he refers to him. When they finally meet it is somewhat anti-climactic to fine Bakke using the same technique towards his executioner as he had done to others throughout the evening.

Hywel Bennett plays this complex character to perfection, once and for all destroying his past image of the young hero in all British films. With a crew cut and quite authentic American accent he is one minute humorous, and the next moment very ferocious as the compulsive liar Bakke. He is ably supported by David Healey and Nikolas Simmonds. The content of this play is not a pleasant subject and its chances of a transfer to another theatre are slight, but for an interesting look at a complex character, I urge you to see it whilst you have a chance.