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Musical of the Month
Musical of the Month: Very Good Eddie
Last August, musical theater historian Laura Frankos detailed the history of the Princess Musicals in her introduction to Oh, Boy! This month's musical, Very Good Eddie, was the second of this set of smaller-and-smarter musicals produced at the Princess Theater on 39th street (following Nobody's Home and immediately preceding Oh, Boy!).
The musical is an adaptation of Over Night, a play written by co-bookwriter, Philip Bartholomae, with a plot that would not seem entirely out of place in a modern romantic comedy or television sitcom: Two newly-married, oddly-matched couples from Manhattan are about to board a cruise up the Hudson to a honeymoon hotel in Poughkeepsie. One of the husbands and one of the wives step off the boat to retrieve something left on shore. The boat leaves, separating the couples and creating a situation of innocent impropriety of a kind common in this sort of comedy.
This sort of comedy, though, was not entirely common in musicals in 1915. P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton write of Very Good Eddie in their autobiography Bring on the Girls:
It was a farce-comedy which would have been strong enough to stand on its own feet without the help of music, the first of its kind to rely on situation and character laugh instead of instead of clowning and Weberfieldian cross talk with which the large-scale musicals filled in between the romantic scenes.
The "Weberfieldian cross talk" to which Bolton and Kern refer is the kind of comic chatter and quick puns that were common in vaudeville performance like those produced by the Weberfield company at the turn of the last century. In other words, unlike, for instance, the 1903 Wizard of Oz (which depends on puns, innuendo, and political references for laughs), the humor of Very Good Eddie's is mostly based in the complicated but almost believable situation in which the characters find themselves.
Nonetheless, vaudevillian humor is certainly present in Very Good Eddie. There is certainly enough "clowning and Weberfieldian cross talk" in the scenes involving the hotel clerk in Act Two (e.g. Clerk: I'll give you a room over the bowling alley. Rivers: Is that a quiet room? Clerk: Oh yes, there you can hear a pin drop."). Moreover, the title of the show itself comes, as Bolton and Wodehouse explain in their autobiography, "from a catch phrase which Fred Stone [the Scarecrow in Oz] had made popular in the latest Montgomery and Stone extravanganza at Charles Dillingham's globe." Ethan Mordden explains in his Broadway Babies: The People Who Made the American Musical:
In circus argot, ventriloquists' dummies were called "eddies," and the duller voice throwers used the line "very good, Eddie!" as punctuation in the act. [Co-bookwriter] Bartholomae called his diminuative hero Eddie because his efficient bride controls him as if she were pulling his strings... [p 73]
Vaudeville, then, was present at the Princess, but for the most part, the comedy is more like an episode of Friends than a sketch on Saturday Night Live.
Critics in both 1915 and 1975 noted that the score is not among Kern's best, though it is certainly no embarrassment to the composer. Happily, unlike most of the musicals we've published in this series, there are a number of ways to hear it. Colin Johnson has produced computer-generated MIDI files of most of the music and hosted these on his "Victorian and Edwardian Musical Shows" pages. A few songs are preserved on early recordings (unfortunately not with the original cast) and are now available online through the Library of Congress's National Jukebox. However, the most complete (albeit slightly updated) recording of the music is the cast album of the Goodspeed production.
The musical was a hit and ran for a total of 341 performances over a series of four transfers in a kind of tour of 39th street that included the Princess theater, the Casino Theater, the 39th Street Theater, and a return to the Princess. Sixty years later, in 1975, the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut staged a revival to great success, and the production transferred to Broadway and London. One could imagine that even today a production in a concert series like Musicals Tonight or Encores might be successful; the script remains, nearly a century after the first production and 40 years after its last revival, remarkably entertaining.
About the text
This text was transcribed from a typescript held by the Library for the Performing Arts by Professor Allen Woll of Rutgers University and his students: Clair Kotula, Aleah Holcomb, Gregory R. Sellers, and Alexandra Blake-Sanderlin. To the best of my knowledge, the text provided here has never before been published, and so it remains under copyight. However, the Bolton estate has given us the kind permission to post this here for research use ONLY. If you are interested in staging or performing this script, please contact Tams-Witmark Music Library, Inc.
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