Sunday, February 19, 2023

A Wonderful Week of Birthday, or 77 and still standing

Who would have thought it...

76 years on from this day

My best birthday ever! And it lasted a whole week!

Why was it so wonderful? Because Paul and Wendy were both with me ... my 'husband' and my 'wife' ... and we have shared some delicious 'adventures' over the past days...

Paul (yes, that's his one time alter ego being a fish!) arrived on Sunday, ferried from the airport by Wendy and the Boofie-car, in the company of Schnidibumpfl, the Berlinois dragon from Rosenthaler-Platz (Paul and I had our first coffe'n'cake date in the Rosenthaler-Platz, fourteen years ago ...)

and bearing a pair of my favourite slippers from Maclean, NSW

The first thing was to introduce Paul to the animals. Starting with the immediately friendly cats and the horses .. Paul, meet Kurt junior .. 1 year old .. no cake ...

Then to Motukarara, to visit the lovely Emily, now back in training ..

We stopped on the way home for a nice snack ...  Wendy and I never eat out. Wendy cooks better than most restaurateurs, and getting dressed to go out, after a 6am start to feed the animals, is a bore ...

But this week we did!

We visited the Brick Mill and the Old School, but the best of all was LEMONGRASS, a Thai restaurant, situated near us, in Loburn. And it serves vegetarian alternatives. Wendy and I had talked, ever since it opened, about trying it, but ... well, we never got there. So, on day one I got out the little red car and Paul and I ventured forth ..


We promptly booked the same table for three for the Big Birthday Lunch!  Hoho. They didn't know what they were getting! One former chef, one former restaurant critic ... but, result: full marks! Then we came home to a delicious smorgasbord supper from our resident chef ...  Oh, bliss!

Of course, its not all holiday, even when its Birthdays! Wendy had the eighteen animals to care for, the lovely Richard Marrett had installed a keyboard for Paul who was able to spend time each day composing and orchestrating .. and I, well, my days seemed to fill themselves, as they usually do, between Victorian vocalists and snoozing ...  it was all perfectly, gorgeously grand, with a real 'family' feel ... I was so very and fondly happy.

But there was one more highlight to come. The Rangiora Harness Racing Club, with which I have been connected for over 20 years, was having a special raceday to mark its 75th anniversary. Racing at Rangiora still has the flavour of 'sport' which got me into the game in the 1950s, and back again in the 1990s. It is one of the few racetracks I still visit for pleasure. Daytime racing, sunshine (though years ago I was there in the snow!), jolly folk having a really good time, country atmosphere ... and in my 60s, when I was able to take an active part not only on the committee, but as an amateur driver .. what fun times, and what grand folk. Several of them are still my closest friends in New Zealand...

Well, racing is New Zealand is going through a bit of a crisis. It has become an 'industry' rather than a sport. And it has suffered hugely from its running being taken largely out of the hands of the clubs, and put into the hands of government and the gambling moguls. So, recently, the moguls declared a reduction in stakes. Yes, once again the poor bloody owners pay the gamblers' bills. Well, a couple of we old (and non-gambling) stalwarts decided not to lie down and let the Powers-That-Shouldn't-Be ruin our anniversary meeting. So, over a bottle of nice chardonnay, we decided to dip into our own pockets. Robin and Geraldine Wilson dug deepest, to keep up the prestige of the principal race, the revered Rangiora Classic which for some reason Authority is trying to downgrade. (Guys, could you just abolish 'Sires Stakes' instead?). I volunteered to sponsor the main trot.

All of which to say why I (accompanied by Paul, a harness racing virgin!) were honoured guests at yesterday's meeting, and its beautifully organised luncheon for the veteran (40-70 years!) members of the club. 

The Classic was a marvellous race, won by 9yo HOMEBUSH LAD, a specialist of Country Cups victories, in a thrilling finish. Then it was Our Race.

The field was a full one -- already a thrill -- fourteen trotters, yum! And not one whom I wouldn't be pleased to see win. Although, I was a bit orf a horse called after that dreadful MARTHA STUART. But hey, we've had LENIN and SARAH PALIN and, Lord forbid, there may be a Jacinta Ardern, so ... its not the horses' fault!

I sha'n't relate the race. You can see it here ....

What you can see only here is ...  well, Paul was filming my reaction watching the race ...

They've all got away?  Brilliant!

Favourite's galloped!!!!  (Not MY favourite, but I'm not allowed to have one!), weeeeelll .. friends, you know!

(trying to upload video!)

Come on! Come on! 


The very famous orange and chequerboard colours of the late Sir Roy Mackenzie and the pretty famous gold hat of Ricky May, zoom past the line in first place. Thrilled I am ... Paul helped me down the stairs and into the birdcage to shake the hand of good friend Chris McDowell, the horse's trainer ...

What a splendid end to a splendid day...

And now its 3am, Paul and Wendy head for the airport ... the flights towards Berlin go in the middle of the night ...

And I wobble on into my 78th year accompanied by trumpets and euphonia ...

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

The (rest of) the American musical: did you know ...?


Nice American ephemera to hand this morning.

I've always been a tad irked by the expression 'Broadway musical' as used to describe musical plays produced all round America (not to mention those from other countries, borrowed or butchered and then played in New York -- from Brooklyn to the Bowery). I mean, the first significant original American musical, by my counting, was first played in Boston. Yes, it was subsequently played in New York, as part of its touring life ... for that's what New York was, in the first heyday of the musical theatre: just another tour date, like Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore et al.

Anyway the misnomer has become, with the help of the moving pictures, part of showbiz lingo, and it isn't the likes of Gänzl who is going to change that, any more than first-night advertising for a new show as 'the hit musical'.

Anyway, all that as prelude to this little selection of goodies from a few C19th and early C20th shows that didn't play 'Broadway' or, in some cases, New York at all 

The first I came on was An Easy Mark, produced by C A Burt and Edward Simmons at Lebanon, Pa 31 August 1899

Produced with some tarara, to feature James T Kelly as Zebediah Maloney and Charles A Maloney, the piece seems to have been a semi-remake of author, Henry du Souchet's, My Wife's Husband. Du Souchet had penned rather more successful plays (My Friend from India, The Man from Mexico), but success in the musical theatre rather eluded him.

Samuel H Speck, named here as composer, was the manager of the Standard Theatre in Philadelphia. He ventured into the field of the sentimental ballads ('I Miss You More Than Words Can Tell') and the odd non-sentimental piece ('Hannah Go Hide Your Bloomers') in the early 20th Century.

Burt and Simmons advertisedly spiced their show with 'numerous strong specialities' as it headed for the Bijou Theatre, Brooklyn accompanied by mendacious puff paragraphs: 'Wherever An Easy Mark has been presented it has scored much success'. Wherever? Less than 3 weeks ago it was at Lebanon.  Annie Ward Tiffany who played the unintended bride, and Kelly as the foolish JP, came out the best, but the play was found old-bones fleshed out with variety acts. At one stage a boxing match was staged between the acts.

The producers quit, the stars took over, the cast began to disintegrate, and the show 'went to pieces out West'.

Here's another, also from Pennslvania. Yama. What is Yama? Well, it is a bit of Japan, I think. And a suffix. And it rhymes with a lot of things. 

The show was credited for its book to the prolific George Totten Smith, who had butchered a couple of other pieces into touring successes for him. Robert B Smith was debited with the lyrics. The music was the work of Seymour Furth, and the song here shown (not by Smith, but by Edgar Selden) was sung by leading lady Helen Redmond. 

This was a different level of enterprise to An Easy Mark. Aarons had a certain credibility as a producer of easily digestible entertainment and Miss Redmond, as Princess Lola Koo, was a veritable New York leading lady -- notably as Dolores in Florodora -- here returning to the stage after a pause for matrimony. The show opened 4 November 1907 at Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre. My notes tell me that it was possibly the first musical to feature a drug addict among its characters. Oddly, none of the three songs listed on this music sheet are mentioned in the reviews. Miss Redmond's big solo was 'My Honeymoon', Jeannette Lowrie gave 'Love in the Zoo', Cain and Mitchell did their vaudeville act and the hit of the evening was the Pony Ballet, culled from the previous Aarons production of His Honor the Mayor and plonked ubiquitously into the proceedings. But this time it didn't click. After seven weeks in Philadelphia, Aarons announced the show would be taking in a few on nighters and then heading into New York. I see it at the Broad Street, Pittaton on Christmas day, then Wilkes-Barre, Williamsport, Scranton, Hazelton, Reading (14 January) but New York never came. The costumes and scenery were packed away, and in 1909 Aarons brought the show out for another 7-week season at the Walnut. 

By this time, however, its title was famous. The Three Twins had opened, with Bessie McCoy doing her pierrot-acro-bogeyman routine to a song entitled 'The Yama Yama Man' and taken the town. I have read a charming story which relates that the authors originally called their hit song 'The Pyjama Man' and changed it because ... I wonder. Oh, by the way, 'Yama' rhymes with 'farmer' and not with 'hammer'.

Not all out-of-town musicals were flops. Here's one which ran all tound the country for years and spawned a series of sequels ... a musical comedy version of the wonderful George P McManus cartoon strip Bringing Up Father.

Mr Aarons might have learned a thing or two here. No ponies, no ten tons of scenery ... this one was laughs, laughs, laughs all the way! The 'score' was attributed to one of the actors ...  I'd rather like to have heard 'Husking Time in Iowa'... 

Here's another which didn't make it from the Shubert Theater, Brooklyn

In spite of the names involved this was a first class disaster. 

DAVIS, Owen (b Portland, Maine, 29 January 1874; d New York, 14 October 1956).

 The Harvard-educated Davis made himself a highly lucrative career as the author and sometime producer of sentimental melodramas (Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model, Tony the Bootblack etc) -- rousingly lowbrow back-blocks pieces which often included the occasional musical number, to which Davis was happy to provide such lyrics as were required -- before the market for such shows was killed by the rise of the movies. He moved on to try his talents in the profitable purlieus of Broadway and there made his mark with a number of successful comedies and later with some more serious pieces, one of which (Icebound) won him a Pulitzer Prize (1923). 

 His few purpose-built musicals did not range as widely in value as his plays. In fact, they were flops. His earliest such piece was a little sketch for Laura Joyce Bell The New Prima Donna or Up Goes the Price of Milk which prompted a critic to sneer of the future Pulitzer winner ‘Davis obviously knows more about the price of milk than writing plays’ and the next a showful of vaudeville acts tacked together with a bit of plot for producer Gus Hill. He then turned to compiling the kind of touring musical farce comedies and melodramas with interpolated songs and specialities played on far from the best circuits. One of these, Anita the Singing Girl,‘combining the better features of melodrama and comedy-drama with those of musical comedy’ and put out by Spencer and Aborn with the intent of bucking the usual cheap melodrama houses which Davis’s plays had filled so effectively, and playing nothing less than dollar houses, proved to have several seasons of upwardly-striving life in it. 

 His first attempts at conventional musical comedy fared poorly. The lowbrow Cupid at Vassar had a short tour and the the Broadway-bound Shubert production of his Page Mr Cupid, with Ernest Truex starred, folded in tryout. However, he had a major musical theatre success, at one step removed, when his play The Nervous Wreck (1922) was used as the source for the hit musical Whoopee (New Amsterdam Theater, 4 December 1928) with Eddie Cantor in its leading rôle. As a result of this hit, the next musical theatre months brought two further Davis adaptations. His Easy Come, Easy Go (1925) was turned into Lady Fingers (Vanderbilt Theater, 31 January 1929) for Eddie Buzzell (132 performances) and he adapted his own Shotgun Wedding as the text for the Rodgers and Hart musical Spring is Here (104 performances). 

 A second collaboration with Rodgers and Hart, and with producers Aarons and Freedley, on a piece called Me for You, folded up after a fortnight's try-out and was transformed by other hands into Heads Up! (1929), whilst a final return to the musical theatre, eight years later, brought another failure with the 60 performance run of Virginia.

1897 The New Prima Donna, or Up Goes the Price of Milk (uncredited) sketch Pleasure Palace 13 June

1899 Over the Fence (various) Derby, Conn 28 September; Milwaukee 3 December (new version)

1901 Circus Day (George E Nichols) Majestic Theater, Utica 17 September; Metropolis Theater 30 September

1905 How Baxter Butted In (various) Lyceum Theater, Elizabeth, NJ 14 August; Murray Hill Theater 13 November

1907 Cupid at Vassar (A Baldwin Sloane/w George Totten Smith) Poli’s Theater, Waterbury, Conn 23 August

1907 Anita, the Singing Girl (Harold Orlob) Auditorium, Baltimore 26 August 

1908 The Battle of Port Arthur (Manuel Klein) 2 scenes Hippodrome 13 January

1909 Back Again (Karl Hoschna/w Otto Hauerbach) Olympic Park, Newark 7 June

1909 Sal, the Circus Girl (various) Brooklyn 7 August

1920 Page Mr Cupid (Jean Schwartz/Blanche Merrill) Crescent Theater, Brooklyn 17 May

1929 Spring is Here (Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart) Alvin Theater 11 March

1929 Me for You (Rodgers/Hart) Shubert Theater, Detroit 15 September

1937 Virginia (Arthur Schwartz/Albert Stillman/w Laurence Stallings) Center Theater 2 September

Autobiography: I'd Like To Do it Again (Farrar & Rinehart, New York, 1931), My First Fifty Years in the Theater (Walter H Baker, Boston, 1950)

SCHWARTZ, Jean (b Budapest, 4 November 1878; d Sherman Oaks, Calif, 30 November 1956). Multi-hit songwriter whose numbers often proved the takeaway tunes of other fellows' shows of the early 20th century.

 Schwartz had his earliest musical education from his sister, a sometime pupil of Liszt, during his youthful days in Hungary. He moved to America with his family at the age of ten and was soon on the work market, holding jobs in a cigar factory and a turkish bath, amongst others, before his earliest musical engagements as a band pianist at Coney Island, a song-plugger at the Siegel-Cooper store on Sixth Avenue and for the music-publishing house of Shapiro-Bernstein, and later as a rehearsal and pit pianist for Broadway shows.

 Schwartz formed a songwriting partnership with lyricist William Jerome and the young team (`a pair who have risen from the obscure variety halls') soon succeeded in getting their songs placed in a number of touring farce comedies (Topsy Turvy, Andy Lewis, In Spotless Town etc) and Broadway shows, notably Weber and Fields's Hoity-Toity (1901, `When Mr Shakespeare Comes to Town'), a show for which young Schwartz was employed as an on-stage pianist and The Billionaire (1902, m’When the Stars are Shining Bright’). Their first big song successes came with `Rip van Winkle Was a Lucky Man' sung on Broadway in J J McNally's Sleeping Beauty and the Beast (1901) and in London's The Cherry Girl (1903), `Mr Dooley', one of several songs interpolated in the Broadway production of A Chinese Honeymoon (USA), and `Bedelia' as sung first by Blanche Ring in the short-lived The Jersey Lily (1903) on Broadway and in London by George Grossmith jr (who had done well with `Mr Dooley' on the halls) in the very much more successful The Orchid.

 The pair provided fresh material for the americanized version of the English musical An English Daisy (1904), they wrote the songs (one of which was `Bedelia') for a vehicle for the Ellmore Sisters, Kate and May, called Mrs Delaney of Newport and, shortly after, the now established songwriters were able to show off their first full Broadway score in Fred C Whitney's production of Piff! Paff! Pouf! (‘Cordelia Malone’) billed as `a musical cocktail', at the Casino Theater. Piff! Paff! Pouf! had a fine run of 264 performances, and its composer and his partner were set up to such an extent that they provided or contributed largely to the scores for no less than five musicals -- principally the vaudeville-style shows or spectaculars that their frankly popular songs suited best -- over the next year. Their biggest song success of that year, however, was again an interpolation: `My Irish Molly O', one of several of their numbers performed by Blanche Ring in Sergeant Brue.

 Over the next 20 years a vast stream of numbers issued from Schwartz's pen -- `Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat', `I Love the Ladies' etc -- but his main and most successful activity was still in the theatre. He wrote a large amount of revue material, including the basic musical scores for such pieces as The Passing Shows of 1913, 1918, 1919, 1921, 1923 and 1924, The Shubert Gaieties of 1919, the Shuberts' The Midnight Rounders and its 1921 edition, The Whirl of the Town, The Mimic World of 1921, Make it Snappy (1922), Artists and Models (1923), Topics of 1923 and A Night in Spain (1927) as well as providing odd numbers for shows such as the Ziegfeld Follies of 1907 (`Handle Me With Care' w William Jerome) and 1908 (`When the Girl you Love is Loving'). 

 Over the same period he also supplied scores both for regular musicals and for shows which ran a fine line between revue and musical comedy for Blanche Ring (When Claudia Smiles), Eddie Foy (Up and Down Broadway in which `Chinatown, My Chinatown' was first heard, and three songs in Over the River), Eddie Cantor (Make it Snappy), Julian Eltinge (The Fascinating Widow) and Mistinguett (the 1924 revue Innocent Eyes), and in collaboration with J J McNally, author of the successful Rogers Brothers series of variety musicals, he also wrote the songs for vehicles for the popular blackface duo McIntyre and Heath (The Ham Tree, In Hayti) and for Lulu Glaser (Lola From Berlin). However, he found the most effective successor to Blanche Ring as champion purveyor of his songs when Al Jolson introduced his `Rum Tum Tiddle' (ly: Edward Madden) in Vera Violetta (1911). Schwartz subsequently wrote the basic score of the `spectacular farce with music' The Honeymoon Express for Jolson but, more notably, he supplied him with four songs for the hit-filled Sinbad (1918), including the durable `Rockabye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody' and `Hello Central, Give Me No-Mans Land' (ly: Joe Young, Sam Lewis).

 He also, throughout, continued to supply individual numbers and special material for use as interpolations in musicals both imported and native, amongst which were The Prince of Pilsen (1903, `In Cincinnati), The Little Cherub (1906, `My Irish Rose'), The Rich Mr Hoggenheimer (1906, `Any Old Time at All'), The Silver Star (1909), The Echo (1909, ‘The Newport Glide’), Modest Susanne (1910, ‘Peaches’, ‘Tangoland Tap’), A Winsome Widow (1912), The Wall Street Girl (1912, `Whistle It' for Blanche Ring), The Sun Dodgers (1913), Hands Up (1915), Pom-Pom (1916), Betty (1916), Oh, My Dear! (1918), Tangerine (1921) and The Rose of Stambul (1922, ‘Why Do They Die at the End of a Classical Dance?). In the 1920s, although he continued to turn out happy songs for the Shuberts and other producers, Schwartz generally fared less well, and in 1923 all three musicals for which he provided the score closed during their out of town tryout. His last Broadway score was written in 1928 for the musical Sunny Days, in which some of it was favoured by the fresh voice of the young Jeanette MacDonald.

 Schwartz also paired with Jerome in ‘a singing and talking act’ on the vaudeville stage (Hammerstein’s, December 1908) and again as a music publisher, and, for a period, with the Hungarian variety artist Jenny Dolly (née Janszieka Deutsch) of the Dolly Sisters as a husband.

1903 Mrs Delaney of Newport (William Jerome) Collingwood Opera House, Poughkeepsie, NY 15 September; Grand Opera House 3 November

1904 Piff! Paff! Pouf! (Jerome/Stanislaus Stange) Casino Theater 2 April

1905 The Athletic Girl (George V Hobart) 1 act Colonial Music Hall 15 February

1905 A Yankee Circus on Mars (w Manuel Klein/Jerome/George V Hobart) New York Hippodrome 12 April

1905 Lifting the Lid (Jerome/J J McNally) Aerial Gardens, New Amsterdam Theater 5 June

1905 The Ham Tree (Jerome/Hobart) Lyceum Theater, Rochester 17 August; New York Theater 28 August

1905 Fritz in Tammany Hall (Jerome/McNally) Herald Square Theater 16 October

1905 The White Cat (w Ludwig Englander/Harry B Smith, Jerome/ad H B Smith) New Amsterdam Theater 2 November

1907 Lola from Berlin (Jerome/McNally) Liberty Theater 16 September

1908 Morning, Noon and Night (Jerome/Joseph Herbert) Opera House, Hartford, Conn 31 August; Yorkville Theater 5 October

1909 In Hayti (Jerome/McNally) Circle Theater 30 August

1910 Up and Down Broadway (Jerome/Edgar Smith) Casino Theater 18 July

1912 Over the River (w John Golden/Hobart, H A Du Souchet) Globe Theater 8 January

1912 The Fascinating Widow (w F A Mills/Otto Harbach) Chestnut Street Opera House, Philadelphia 3 April

1913 The Honeymoon Express (Harold Atteridge) Winter Garden Theater 6 February

1913 When Claudia Smiles (Jerome/Leo Ditrichstein) Illinois Theater, Chicago 13 April

1914 When Claudia Smiles (revised version by Anne Caldwell) 39th Street Theater 2 February

1918 See You Later (Loute) new score w William F Peters/ad Guy Bolton, P G Wodehouse Academy of Music, Baltimore 15 April

1919 Monte Cristo jr (w Sigmund Romberg/Atteridge) Winter Garden Theater 12 February

1919 Hello, Alexander (revised The Ham Tree) (Alfred Bryan/Edgar Smith, Emily Young) 44th Street Theater 7 October

1920 Page Mr Cupid (Blanche Merrill/Owen Davis) Shubert Crescent Theater, Brooklyn 17 May

1923 The Bal Tabarin (w Fred J Coots/McElbert Moore/ Moore, Edward Delaney Dunn) Apollo Theater, Atlantic City 30 April

1923 The Courtesan (w Romberg/Atteridge/Harry Wagstaffe Gribble, Atteridge) Parsons' Theater, Hartford, Conn 17 October

1923 That Casey Girl (Jerome/Hobart, Willard Mack) Lyceum, Paterson, NJ 22 October

1926 Nancy (William H Clifford) Mission, Long Beach 16 May

1928 Headin' South (A Bryan et al/Edgar Smith) Keith's Theater, Philadelphia 1 October

1928 Sunny Days (w Eleanor Dunsmuir/Clifford Grey/William Cary Duncan) Imperial Theater 8 February

1942 Full Speed Ahead (Irving Actman, H Leopold Spitalny/Rowland Leigh) Forrest Theater, Philadelphia 25 December

The show opened on 17 May 1920 to poor reviews: 'the music is better than the comedy' 'Page Mr Cupid has not yet been quite whipped into shape' which largely contented themselves with detailing the paltry plot and listing the players. Scheduled for New York, it was announced instead to go on the road for a bit. As far as I can see, it didn't.

This one didn't either. Said to have been a version of the 1926 film The Whole Town's Talking (the authors are the same, the plot seems different), and premiered in Oakland it 'proved a dud'. Arthur Freed's songs were junked in favour of some by Byron Gay, the cast was altered and Clarence Kolb and Arthur Dill relaunched their vehicle at Chicago's Studebaker. About as far to the 'effete east' as a 'Western show' was deemed palatable. It limped as far as Los Angeles and died.

The barometer has hit 35 degrees. I can no more. And there are so many more ... When I was trying to persuade Gerry Bordman to expand his American Musical Theatre to include cities other than New York, I made him (very, very pre-Internet!) a list of non-New-Yorkish shows ... it has survived multiple computer disasters and I still have it. It runs to 56 pages ...

Off to the living room. My office doesn't have air-conditioning ..!