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Musical of the Month
Musical of the Month: The Pink Lady
When I asked Miles Kreuger, founder of the Institute of the American Musical in Hollywood, if there were any pre-1923 (out-of-copyright) titles he would especially like to see online, he replied, "Ohhh, the Pink Lady" with the sort of fond recollection usually reserved for a dear, departed loved one. I was embarrassed that I had never heard of it. Asking around amongst my friends and fellow musical theater scholars, I found, somewhat salving my pride, that I was not alone. No one had read the script or knew much of the score.
For the most part, The Pink Lady, if it was known at all, was just a title remembered from its brief mentions in histories like Kurt Ganzl's The Musical or Larry Stempel's Showtime. In fact, as Cecil Smith notes in his, Musical Comedy in America, as early as 1914 the show seems to have been forgotten by the drama critic of the Dramatic Mirror when he wrote "With the exception of Victor Herbert, there is no one in this country who seems to understand musical comedy requirements" (Smith observes that "it was perhaps an oversight[...]not to link the name of [Pink Lady composer] Ivan Caryll with that of Herbert.") Despite the show's initial success, it has never been revived on Broadway (although the original production did return to the New Amsterdam Theater briefly in 1912 after a relatively unsuccessful London engagement).
It really is a shame, because the script and score remain remarkably enjoyable and funny even today. Based on the French farce, Le Satyre by Georges Berr and Marcel Guillemaud, the musical is set in a European village threatened and thrilled by a licentious Satyr who wantonly kisses and "squeezes" the town's maidens who wander into the woods. Into this scene come a bachelor, about to be married, who wants to have one last fling, followed closely by his fiancée, along with her idiot-savant cousin and a jealous admirer who have both convinced the woman to track her future husband and uncover his philandering. The entire party is soon enmeshed in a tangled web of lies and misunderstandings and carried off, improbably, to the home of a curmudgeonly antique dealer in Paris who, encouraged by a chorus of townswomen, discovers his inner Satyr. All is finally resolved by yet one more deceit practiced, this time, by the Pink Lady herself.
The show was a huge hit in 1911. Cecil Smith writes "Everybody, the country over, had heard of it, and everybody wanted to see it." He observes that the show inspired "women's fashions", and indeed, programs from the time suggest that at some performances it literally supplied them. John Kenrick's musicals101.com site reprints the July 29, 1911 program which promises a "pink lady pink parasol" to every women in attendance at the matinee, and a July 1 program in NYPL's collection promises "the fashionable 'Le Satyre' bracelet now in great vogue...to every lady in attendance at the matinee, whether she occupies a $2 seat or a 50c. seat."
Perhaps most interesting, though, is what the contemporaneous reviews praised about the show. Philip Hale, a Boston critic quoted by Smith, wrote "Here we have then, an amusing book, pleasing music, a rare combination. Here we have a musical comedy that does not depend upon the antics of an acrobatic comedian, on clowning or the independent display of brazen-faced show girls." Likewise, The New York Times critic wrote "'The Pink Lady' is not a musical comedy of either the English or the American brand. Its fun is developed logically out of its situations, and so are its songs. In the second act, for instance, not a musical number occurs which does not carry the plot along further, instead of halting it, and yet no songs in the piece were more persistently applauded than these." The critic is describing what early historians of American Musical Theater might have called the "integrated musical," a form which some have claimed was not invented until Oklahoma opened in 1943. How could The Pink Lady, so popular in its time and so enjoyable even today, be so often overlooked?
It's impossible to say for sure, of course, but several possibilities do present themselves. First, as the producer in Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along might say, "There's not a tune you can hum." This isn't actually true, of course, but it does seem to have been the impression of opening night critics. The writer for the New York Times observed, "Perhaps the most popular song in the piece, speaking for those who whistle, will be 'The Girl by the Saskatchewan'[...] 'Beautiful Lady' in the last act has a waltz [...] which also may prove worthy of attention from these sources. The rest of the music does not offend, and it often helps in its bustle and breeziness, but little more can be said for it." This opinion may have influenced early record producers; the Victor Light Opera company produced only a medley of music from the show in 1911, and the only other recordings seem to be radio productions from the Palmolive Beauty Box Theater in the 1930s and the Railroad Hour in the 1950s. With few recordings and no published script it is very difficult for a show to be remembered.
Further, and somewhat counter-intuitively, The Pink Lady may not have been as well remembered because its pleasures derived more from its script than its stars. Although Hazel Dawn (who played the Pink Lady) and others in the cast either became (or were already) famous, the musical did not depend on the comic repertoire of a particular well-known performer. One might assume this would actually increase a play's longevity, as printed books tend to outlast the careers of those who perform from them. However, without a charismatic star to "own" the show and make it part of his or her professional identity, a musical loses an advocate for future revivals and tours. There is a note in our clippings file from Julie A. Herne (dated January 26, 1934) seemingly advising against a proposed film version (a proposal for which is also in the folder). Herne writes, "the characters are not suited to any of our stars." Perhaps producers rejected potential revivals of the show for the same reason.
Notably, though, regional producers, particularly in the Midwest, found The Pink Lady a much more perennially profitable commodity. Cecil Smith records that the original tour was a huge success (but especially in Columbus, Ohio), and our own clipping files contain notices and programs from several productions at my own hometown theater, the St. Louis Muny, which produced the show in 1926, 1937, 1945, and 1950. It is difficult to know why the show was remembered so much better regionally, of course, but a good script is clearly easier to pass on to a new cast hundreds of miles from Broadway than the personality and "business" of a particular constellation of stars. Many libretti of this period are filled with the ambiguous stage direction "Bus." or "Stage Business" (referring to semi-improved physical comedy that became the trademark of some high profile performers). This stage direction is employed in The Pink Lady as well, but is used relatively infrequently and the piece is not badly damaged if the "business" is not known, making it easier for the script to be performed by companies with little knowledge of the original production.
The Pink Lady is almost certainly too dated in both form and content to be commercially revived as a Broadway musical (at least without significant revisions). However, light opera companies or college theater groups looking for a public domain period piece should certainly consider it as they plan their upcoming seasons. Although I find all of the libretti of this period interesting as historical artifacts, I have rarely enjoyed reading one as much as I did The Pink Lady. I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud and truly enjoying the convolutions of the plot. I hope all of you have the same experience.
We are especially fortunate this month as Adam Roberts and his intrepid troupe of Austin based performers have recorded a six songs from the score. Although the published sheet music is available on Google Books, to the best of knowledge, the entire score has never been fully recorded. Adam and his team have therefore given us one of the only cast recordings of this very enjoyable musical.
(Transcribed by Ann Fraistat, encoded for web and ebooks by Doug Reside)
|File type||What it's for|
|ePub||eBook readers (except Kindle)|
|Plain Text||Just about anything|
|TEI||Digital Humanities Geeks|
|Bring Along the Camera||Eric Ferguson|
|Single For Six Weeks More||Eric Ferguson|
|Love is Divine||Yvonne Love and Chris Stewart|
|Oh So Gently||Yvonne Love|
|Hide and Seek||Andrew Cannata and Libby Dees|
|I Like It||Andrew Cannata|
Andrew Cannata is excited to record for Music Theatre Online. An award-winning musical theater performer from the Austin, Texas area, his credits include Footloose (Ren), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Freddie), I Love You Because (Austin), Rent (Mark), The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Chip), The Pajama Game (Sid), and The Last Five Years (Jamie), among others. Cannata graduated from St. Edward's University in 2009 with a degree in Computer Science. His love for theater runs deep and he cherishes every project in which he is blessed to take part.
Libby Dees is very excited to record for Music Theatre Online. She has lived and performed in Austin, Texas for the past seven years, where she graduated from St. Edwards University with a BA in Theatre Arts. Past credits include Company (Susan), Parade (Lucille), On the Town (Hildy), and Footloose (Betty), in addition to benefit performances for Zilker Productions and The Human Rights Campaign.
Eric Ferguson has established himself as a singer/actor in Central Texas with a wide array of performances spanning various genres. Recent regional productions include Hairspray (Link), High School Musical (Troy), The Music Man (Harold Hill), Assassins (Baladeer), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Joseph), and I'll Be Seeing You. Other credits include gala performances for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Human Rights Campaign, in addition to numerous appearances at professional sporting events. He has served as a musical director for The Ransom Notes, an Austin-based a cappella group, and as an associate musical director, pianist, and vocal coach for several local productions. Ferguson's active commitment to the church lead him to serve as an assistant director for two youth choirs and as a worship leader for numerous traditional and contemporary services. He is a graduate of the University of Texas.
Yvonne Love is honored to be involved in these recordings for Musical Theatre Online. With Bacherlor's and Master's degrees in opera from the University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Houston, respectively, she has found a new love in musical theater. Her musical theater credits include The Sound of Music (Mother Abbess), A Little Night Music (Mrs. Nordstrom), and Scrooge! The Musical (Ghost of Christmas Past). Her opera credits include Le Nozze di Figaro (Countess), Dangerous Liaisons (Madame de Tourvel), Il Viaggio a Rheims (Madame Cortese), Cosi fan tutte (Dorabella), and Elektra (Overseer). She is very excited to be involved in this project!
Chris Stewart is thrilled to join Music Theater Online. A practicing attorney in Austin, Texas, he has taken part in a number of musical projects over the years. Theatrical credits include High School Musical (Chad), Pippin (Pippin), and The Sound of Music (Rolf). His most recent project was the Austin Bar Association's 2011 Bar & Grill show, Legal Shop of Horrors (Seymour). Chris received BA and JD degrees from the University of Texas, where he also directed two a cappella groups -- The Ransom Notes and UT Law's Medley. He and his beautiful wife Amy will become proud parents in May 2012.