There’s a warehouse in Secaucus, NJ that’s been compared by theater folk to King Tut’s tomb. Three decades ago, in this warehouse owned by Warner Bros., 80 crates were discovered, containing material written by, among others, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Con Conrad, Vincent Youmans, Victor Herbert and many others. Several complete scripts and scores for such classic musicals as Pardon My English, Tip Toes, Sweet Adeline, The Cat and the Fiddle and Primrose have found their way back to the stage. Two of these musicals await production, but the process has begun with studio recordings. It was literally a Holy Grail of musical theater material.
Kitty’s Kisses played on Broadway in 1926. The script was by Philip Bartholomae and Otto Harbach (No, No, Nanette). Con Conrad composed the score, including his most famous tune, “The Continental”, which would later become popular when it was danced onscreen by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Gus Kahn, a popular songwriter of the period, wrote the lyrics.
The story, like many 1920s musicals starts simply, but complications arrive gradually. Kitty Brown has lost her purse, so she’s refused lodgings at the Hotel Wendel. She’s rushed to the bridal suite by a man whose wife wants an excuse for divorce. When the wife’s lawyer, Robert Mason, arrives, Kitty not only realizes she’s met him on the train, but he also has her lost purse. He’s fallen in love with her, so it’s up to the two of them to sort out the mess that’s been made.
Following its original production, the material was crated and stored, so Kitty’s Kisses was virtually forgotten.
That is, until 1982, when it was found in this treasure trove. Featuring a score that includes songs like “Choo Choo Love,” “Two Fellows and a Girl,” “Bounce Me” and the title song, Kitty’s Kisses is simply marvelous. There’s no other word for it. An outstanding studio recording was made starring Malcolm Gets, Kate Baldwin and Rebecca Luker. It’s only a matter of time before this lost gem is back onstage. So what are you waiting for?
Sitting Pretty is one of the most important and most valuable finds because it was Jerome Kern’s final work for the Princess Theater (see my previous piece on Kern). It was so popular that it transferred during its original production, to Broadway’s larger Imperial Theater, today the home (seemingly forever) of Les Miserables.
The plot is fairly standard for the period. Set at Mr. Pennington's New Jersey summer home, friends of the owner’s nephew, Bill, arrive for a party and picnic. Babe, Bill’s girlfriend, a chorine, tries to pin Bill down for a proposal, but he evades her. Twins from the orphanage next door sneak in to pick flowers, but are caught by Bill, who listens to their story. Mr. Pennington has decided to disinherit his family and start over. A planned robbery, gold-diggers, mismatched lovers and a trip to Florida are featured in the plot before it ends happily.
What sets this apart from other musicals of the period, aside from Kern’s music, is the wit of the lyrics written by P.G. Wodehouse (Jeeves and Wooster) and its libretto by Guy Bolton. The show isn’t just a series of gags held together by serviceable songs. The music helps to advance the plot. Wodehouse and Bolton would follow Sitting Pretty with the libretto for Anything Goes.
Sitting Pretty received a concert production at Carnegie Hall with a cast that included such Broadway talents as Davis Gaines, Paige O’Hara and Jason Graae. A studio recording available on New World Records followed, featuring these same talents. "On A Desert Island," "There Isn't One Girl," and the title song are perfectly matched to the story, proving that its creators were already at work, like Rodgers and Hart, trying to improve the musical theater form. While Sitting Pretty hasn’t been licensed for production yet, it will be once theaters consider it. Check with Tams-Witmark!
The Golden Apple
There are times when the theater scholar wishes they were part of an earlier era, such as the early 1950s when the Phoenix Theater was producing new works. Probably their most famous contribution was Once Upon a Mattress, the musical that helped to propel Carol Burnett to stardom. This past year a studio recording of its complete score reveals that another Phoenix production, The Golden Apple, is one of the greatest musicals ever produced on Broadway, yet most people are unfamiliar with it.
Based on Homer’s Iliad, The Golden Apple, like Sweeney Todd, Porgy and Bess and Candide is operatic in style. The score is by Jerome Moross, a composer and arranger for movies. Lyricist John LaTouche would follow this show by teaming with Leonard Bernstein, Lillian Hellman and Dorothy Parker on the original musical version of Candide.
The Golden Apple transfers Greek mythology to Angel’s Roost, Washington at the start of the 20th Century. Helen, a farmer’s daughter and wife of the elderly Sheriff, has run off with a traveling salesman named Paris, who was in town to judge a pie contest. Local Spanish-American war hero Ulysses leaves his wife to search for Helen. Three goddesses, Juno, Minerva and Juniper, here the town gossips, comment on the action.
The Golden Apple starring Kay Ballard (Carnival) and Stephen Douglass (Damn Yankees) transferred to Broadway where it ran for four months. The most renowned song from the show is “Lazy Afternoon,” so beautifully covered by Barbra Streisand on her album of the same name.
The musical won the Drama Critics Award for Best Musical of 1954, yet it’s one of the most neglected works of the era. If the new recording is any indication of the musical’s quality, perhaps one of the local theaters like Skylark Opera or the Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company should consider The Golden Apple for their playbill. (Note to you: This musical is licensed through Tams Witmark).
We should be grateful that Warner Bros. allowed people to catalog the works stored in Secaucus. It’s an astounding find. It’s my hope in my lifetime that another Holy Grail—a print of the silent film London After Midnight—the 1927 film starring Lon Chaney will be found.
Maybe it’s elsewhere in that warehouse.