Cover of Show Boat recording conducted by John McGlinn
It’s been two years since the conductor John McGlinn died (sometime between Feb. 13 and 19, 2009). McGlinn was known most for his “complete” recording of Show Boat (released 1988). At the time, recording all of the music written for one of the seminal shows of American musical theatre history seemed like a revolutionary idea. (Some 30 minutes of material has been subsequently found.)
His interests did not begin and end with Show Boat. During the mid-1980s he reconstructed and led performances of musicals by Kern for the short-lived “New Amsterdam Theatre Company” (named after the theater famously owned by Florenz Ziegfeld that housed his follies and numerous shows; the theater is now owned by The Walt Disney Company and is home to the current production of Mary Poppins).
He spent many hours at the Library of Congress, unearthing music from the famous “Secaucus trunk” (actually part of a a warehouse in Secaucus, New Jersey owned by Warner Bros.). But because he lived in New York, John spent many hours in the reading room of the Music Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. I often found him studying scores of traditional classical music he was engaged to conduct. When time allowed, he enjoyed investigating a number of our archival collections.
One of our collections that fascinated him was the Burnside Collection of American Theatre Music Manuscripts—a wonderful collection of materials formerly owned by R.H. Burnside, producer of shows, spectacles and extravaganzas for the New York Hippodrome (an immense theater that could seat an audience of 5,300). It also includes materials inherited from theatrical producers Charles Frohman and Charles Dillingham, famed for their many productions in the first two decades of the 20th century. There are a number of items by Jerome Kern in this collection which McGlinn had reproduced for his recordings with the Packard Foundation (those recordings have not yet been released).
John was working on two projects at the end of his life. He had been commissioned to make a clean copy of the music for the well-known version of Peter Pan composed by Moose Charlap (with additional music by Jule Styne) made famous by Mary Martin. Until recently, musicians had to work from the original scores and parts made in 1954; they were thoroughly marked up and difficult to read. John produced a new computer engraved score and parts, but sadly did not live to proofread his work.
But his real passion had been another Peter Pan: the one composed by Hugo Felix for a revival featuring Marilyn Miller in 1925. This was not a musical but a play with incidental music meant to evoke the fantasy atmosphere of the story. John was visiting the Music Division fairly frequently in the last months of his life as he was editing this Peter Pan score based on the original manuscripts, which are part of the Burnside Collection. He gave me a few pages from his reconstruction:
He had performed an hour's worth of music with narration at the Players Club in New York, and over the BBC radio in London. At the time of his death, he was hoping to work on it more, as attested to his call slip. Note that he had written portentously: “Hold through February 2009.”
Reserve call slip filled out by John McGlinn about 5 weeks before he died
His work led him to re-organize the Peter Pan materials in the Burnside Collection:
One of his realizations was the material for the 1925 stage production actually combined portions of the score written in 1903-5 for the first stage presentation of Peter Pan.
Maude Adams as Peter Pan, about 1925
We can’t know how John McGlinn’s final vision for a reconstruction of the music for Peter Pan
would have turned out, but hopefully he laid the path for others to follow in unearthing treasures of the American theatre history.