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October 12 【personal note】 Funny Face (1927) [メモ personal notes]

October 12, 2008 (Sunday)

Notes (excerpts) on the plot, cast, staff, and songs for the 1927 musical Funny Face

FunnyFace(1927).jpg

 

A:  [Jimmy refuses to allow Frankie to have her jewels: where is her diary?]

Funny Face

The Oxford Companion to American Theatre

Funny Face (1927), a musical comedy by Fred Thompson, Paul Gerard Smith (book), George Gershwin (music), Ira Gershwin (lyrics). [Alvin Theatre, 250 perf.] When the straitlaced guardian Jimmie Reeves ( Fred Astaire) refuses to allow Frankie ( Adele Astaire) to have her jewels, she arranges with her friend Peter Thurston ( Allen Kearns) to steal them. Two comic burglars, Herbert ( Victor Moore) and Dugsie ( William Kent), are also after the jewels but they have a falling out, although Herbert is unable to shoot Dugsie since he has forgotten to get a shooting license. So everything ends happily, with Frankie keeping both her jewels and her man. Notable songs: The Babbitt and the Bromide; Funny Face; He Loves and She Loves; 'S Wonderful. Originally, the Alex A. Aarons and Vinton Freedley production was titled Smarty with a libretto by Thompson and Robert Benchley. But Benchley bowed out when the show was drastically rewritten and renamed. Applauded by Brooks Atkinson as “uncommonly rollicking entertainment,” the musical was blessed with a rare melange of melody, comedy, and superb dancing. It was in this show that Fred Astaire first danced in evening clothes and a top hat. Some of the songs (but little else) remained when a revival of the show opened at the St. James Theatre in 1983 as MY ONE AND ONLY and ran a profitable 767 performances. Peter Stone and Timothy Meyer were credited with the book that concerned a barnstorming aviator ( Tommy Tune) who romances a swimming star ( Twiggy), the two of them getting mixed up with a bootlegger‐turned‐minister ( Roscoe Lee Browne), some Russian spies, and a tap dancing philosopher ( Charles “Honi” Coles). A few Gershwin songs from other musicals were used to fill out the score, and Tune's ingenious direction and dancing turned the slight piece into a stylish art deco entertainment.
© The Oxford Companion to American Theatre 2004, originally published by Oxford University Press 2004.  [Funny Face - FREE Funny Face Information | Encyclopedia.com <http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O149-FunnyFace.html>]

 

A':

     Funny Face (1927), a musical comedy by Fred Thompson, Paul Gerard Smith (book), George Gershwin (music), Ira Gershwin (lyrics). [Alvin Theatre, 250 perf.] When the straitlaced guardian Jimmie Reeves (Fred Astaire) refuses to allow Frankie (Adele Astaire) to have her jewels, she arranges with her friend Peter Thurston (Allen Kearns) to steal them. Two comic burglars, Herbert (Victor Moore) and Dugsie (William Kent), are also after the jewels but they have a falling out, although Herbert is unable to shoot Dugsie since he has forgotten to get a shooting license. So everything ends happily, with Frankie keeping both her jewels and her man. Notable songs: The Babbitt and the Bromide; Funny Face; He Loves and She Loves; 'S Wonderful. Originally, the Alex A. Aarons and Vinton Freedley production was titled Smarty with a libretto by Thompson and Robert Benchley. But Benchley bowed out when the show was drastically rewritten and renamed. Applauded by Brooks Atkinson as “uncommonly rollicking entertainment,” the musical was blessed with a rare melange of melody, comedy, and superb dancing. It was in this show that Fred Astaire first danced in evening clothes and a top hat. Some of the songs (but little else) remained when a revival of the show opened at the St. James Theatre in 1983 as MY ONE AND ONLY and ran a profitable 767 performances. Peter Stone and Timothy Meyer were credited with the book that concerned a barnstorming aviator (Tommy Tune) who romances a swimming star (Twiggy), the two of them getting mixed up with a bootlegger‐turned‐minister (Roscoe Lee Browne), some Russian spies, and a tap dancing philosopher (Charles “Honi” Coles). A few Gershwin songs from other musicals were used to fill out the score, and Tune's ingenious direction and dancing turned the slight piece into a stylish art deco entertainment.  [Funny Face: Information from Answers.com <http://www.answers.com/topic/funny-face>]

 

B: Funny Face | IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information <http://www.ibdb.com/production.php?id=10498>

 

C:

     The Gershwins were next reunited with the Astaires for a piece that began life out of town as Smarty but reached Broadway as Funny Face (1929), taking its revised title from one of the principal songs.  It was produced at the newly opened Alvin Theatre (which took its name from its owners, Philadelphians Alex A. Aarons and Vinton Freedley, producers of Tip-Toes, Lady Be Good!, and Oh, Kay!).  On its way to Broadway, Funny Face had undergone the sort of drastic overhaul that was typical of shows that depended less on a consistently developed plot and score than on a finely balanced mix of situations, songs, characters, and performers.  The cast is included comedian Victor Moore as one of a pair of comic jewel thieves after a string of pearls.  This has been locked up by one Jimmy Reeve (Fred Astaire), along with a compromising diary belonging to his ward Frankie Wynne (Adele Astaire).  Once again, what mattered were the songs, which included the title song (for Jimmy and Frankie), Jimmy's "My One and Only," and two beautiful duets, "He Loves and She Loves" and "'S Wonderful," for Frankie and her aviator boyfriend Peter.  Among the songs dumped on the road was the later celebrated "How Long Has This Been Going On?"  [Andrew Lamb, 150 Years of Popular Musical Theatre (Yale UP, 2000) 159-60]

 

D:

     The Gershwins (and everybody else, including the audience) had much more luck with Funny Face (1927) [than Lady, Be Good!].  Fred Thomspon and Robert Benchley wrote the stage libretto that again featured the Astaires, but the result, called Smarty, played so poorly in tryouts in Philadelphia that Bencheley resigned, and play doctor Paul Gerard Smith worked on script revisions with Thompson.  A handful of Gershwin songs were replaced by new ones, and comic Victor Moore was added to the cast to beef up the much-needed comedy.  The show that opened in New York was a hit even though the libretto was surprisingly hackneyed, using the old stolen jewels plot device that had been seen in dozens of shows before.  Even the central premise is contrived: Jimmy Reeve (Fred Astaire) has three wards, all pretty girls whose prize belongings he keeps in his safe.  June Wynne (Gertrude MacDonald), for example, has a pearl necklace locked in there.  Her sister Frankie Wynne (Adele Astaire) has a diary that is filled with personal thoughts so incriminating that she convinces her boyfriend, the aviator Peter Thurston (Allen Kearns), to steal it from the safe.  Somehow he manages to steal the pearls instead, setting off a merry chase that takes the cast to the pier at Atlantic City.  To make matters more complicated (and more fun), two humbling crooks played by Moore and William Kent also try to break into the safe and are swept along in the chase.  It was all delightful nonsense made palatable by the engaging playiers and a top-notch Gershwin score that included "He Loves and She Loves," "'S Wonderful," "The Babbitt and the Bromide," "My One and Only," "High Hat," and the engaging title song.
     Hollywood planned on filming Funny Face in 1928 with the Astaires, but, sadly, it never happened; it would have been the only film record of Adele in one of her Broadway roles.  The British made a movie version of the show in 1936 and called it She Knew What She Wanted, but by then Adele had retired and brother Fred was firmly settled in California.  It wasn't until 1957 that Tinsel Town finally filmed Funny Face and then without any of the plot or characters.  All that remained was Fred Astaire and four of the Gershwins' original songs.  Leonard Gershe wrote the screenplay, and it was very much a product of its time, poking fun at the fashion industry, fashion photography, the existential movement, and even the old Cinderella premise.  A Richard Avedon-like photographer named Richard Avery (Astaire) discovers the intellectual Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn) working in a Greenwich Village book shop and is smittenwith her gamin looks if not her highbrow manner.  He tries to whisk her off to Paris to make her an international model, but Jo only agrees to go in order to meet the celebrated Sartre-like philosopher Professor Fostre (Michel Auclair), who hangs out at the Parisian Café de Flore.  Fashion editor Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) of Quality magazine, who urges the public to "Think Pink!" grooms Jo into a first-class model, but the professor is an oversexed fraud.  It's a tight, clever screenplay that doesn't take itself too seriously and the new and old songs are used effectively throughout.  The real Avedon was "visual consultant" on the movie, and it must have rubbed off because Funny Face is one of the most beautifully filmed pictures of the decade.  Here is a case of the movie script being a vast improvement over the original stage libretto, but one can hardly call it an adaptation.  Gershe's script (originally written for another filmthat never got made) is pure cinema, from its dazzling fashion sequence in various Paris locations, to the arty, pretentious atmosphere of the "beatnik" Café de Flore, to a memorable scene with Astaire and Hepburn dancing in the morning mist.  No one would mistake this for a Broadway show.  [Thomas S. Hischak, Through the Screen Door: What Happened to the Broadway Musical When It Went to Hollywood (Scarecrow, 2004) 24-25]

 

E:

     With their next musical, Funny Face (1927), the Gershwins proceeded on more familiar though, as it turned out, no less shaky ground.  An Arrons and Freedley production, the work was written for the Astaires, who had finished their long run abroad with Lady, Be Good! and were eager to return to Broadway in a new Gershwin show.  Lady, Be Good! coauthors Fred Thompson and Guy Bolton sketched out the scenerio, but an overextended Bolton suggested that for the script--at this point titled Smarty--Thompson collaborate with actor, drama critic, and humorist Robert Benchley (1899-1945).  Edgar MacGregor directed, Bobby Connolly staged their dances, John Wenger created the sets, Kiviette designed the costumes, Robert Russell Bennett and Gershwin orchestrated the score, and Alfred Newman directed the chorus of thirty-eight women and twenty-four men, and an orchestra that once again featured pianists Victor Arden and Phil Ohman.
     The musical went into rehearsal after Labor Day and, according to Astaire, arrived in Philadelphia, two days prior to its announced October 10 world premiere, a "mess."  After two days of intense rehearsal, including a dress that wet past three in the morning, the opening was postponed by one day.  When the show debuted on October 11, the audience received the work politely, but the company knew it was in trouble.  "Gosh, how can I criticize other people's shows from now on?" Benchely famously ramarked, while Richard Rodgers, who attended the premiere, wrote to his wife, "God will have to do miracles if it's to be fixed."  As the show floundered in Philadelphia--"we were awful," recalled Gershwins, in light of their recent debacle in Philadelphia with Strike Up the Band, an ominous feeling of deja vu.
     Aarons and Freedley were determined to get the show into shape, however.  As the company moved from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. (opening October 31) to Atlantic City (opening November 7) to an extra week in Wilmington (opening November 14), the show underwent continuous alteration.  Paul Gerard Smith arrived to doctor the book, ultimately receiving credit as coauthor in place of Benchley, who bowed out.  Among other cast changes, Allen Kearns arrived from England to replacejuvenile lead Stanley Ridges, and Victor Moore and Earl Hampton were brought in to enlarge the comedy.  Such extensive revisions meant enormous work for everyone, including the Gershwins, who by the time the show rolled into New York had prepared about twenty five numbers--almost all new--for a show that ultimately used about half that.  "We were on the road six weeks," stated Ira, "and everyone concerned with the show worked day and night, recasting, rewriting, rehearsing, recriminating--of rejoicing, there was none."  The New York Times further reported that "almost enough scenery and costumes were discarded to outfit another musical show."  Even in Wilmington, the last stop before New York, nearly every performance involved some adjustment or other, such as reordering the material, though Astaire recalled that by this point the show, now titled Funny Face, was "running smoothly" and "seemed better."  Gershwin remembered in particular a Thursday night performance in which "just as though a miracle had happened, the show suddenly looked great."
     The show's first act opens in the home of Jimmy Reeves (Fred Astaire), who has guardianship over his foster-parents' three natural daughters, Dora (Betty Compton), June (Gertrude McDonald), and Frankie (Adele Astaire). Dora and June are throwing a party in honor of Jimmy's birthday ("Birthday Party").  The guests include Dora's boyfriend, Dugsie Gibbs (William Kent) ("Once").  Because Frankie, and inveterate liar, has penned slanders about Jimmy in her diary, he has confiscated the book and placed it in an envelope in his safe.  Frankie, who wants her diary back, tries to ingratiate herself with Jimmy ("Funny Face"), who advises his pals to keep cool with women ("High Hat").
     Frankie persuades famed aviator and sportsman Peter Thurston (Allen Kearns) to break into Jimmy's safe and retrieve her diary that night, alleging that it contains papers she has been forced to sign; as Peter agrees, the two grow closer ("He Loves and She Loves").  Meanwhile, Jimmy humors Dora by placing her bracelets in an envelope in the same safe.  Two thieves, Chester (Earl Hampton) and his bungling sidekick, Herbert (Victor Moore), break into the safe and abscond with the envelop containing the diary.  As Frankie distracts Jimmy ("Let's Kiss and Make Up"), Peter and Dugsie steal the envelope containing the bracelets ("Final").
     The second act opens with a swim party at the Canal Inn at Lake Wapatog, New Jersey ("In the Swim").  Pursued by both the thieves and the police, Peter, Frankie, and Dugsie assume the identities of an invalid, a nurse, and a doctor expected at the inn.  Peter and Frankie's romance takes wing ("'S Wonderful"), while Dugsie flirts with some girls ("Tell the Doc").  As Dora plots to blackmail Peter into marrying her, Jimmy assures June of his affections ("What Am I Going to Do"--better known as "My One and Only").   After the police discover the bracelets on Peter, Frankie thwarts Dora's scheme by falsely announcing that she married Peter that very morning.
     Pretendingto be married, Frankie and Peter arrive at the Paymore Hotel in Atlantic City, followed by the armed thieves, Jimmy, Dugsie, and the police.  As all converge in their hotel room, chaos ensues.  At the police station, the sergeant calls out the riot squad and discovers a party under way (including a reprise of some music from the show, "Sing a Little Song," performed by Arden and Ohman, the Ritz Quartette, and a small chorus; and perhaps here, too, the dance number "Blue Hullabaloo," introduced by Dora and June and dropped in the course of the run).
     At the Two Million Dollar Pier (reprise of "What Am I Going to Do?"), Jimmy confronts Frankie, who explains that she's not married, but only engaged to Peter.  As for Jimmy's accusation that she's "stark staring mad," she responds, "Why not?  Everybody is cuckoo, these days.  The dumber you talk, the more intelligent everyone thinks you are" ("The Babbitt and the Bromide").  As Dugsie and Dora reunite, Jimmy, who drops charges against Chester and Herbert on receiving the diary, happily permits Frankie to marry Peter ("Finale").
     In preparing the score, the Gershwins adapted at least two discarded songs from previous musicals: "Once" from Tell Me More and "The Moon Is on the Sea" (now "In the Swim") from Oh, Kay!.  Otherwise, the music--as best we can tell, for a handful of the numbers are lost--largely seems to have been original to this show.  Because of the amount of material eventually dropped during tryouts, however, the Gershwins understandably recycled at least four cut numbers in their next musical, Rosalie (1928), most notably "How Long Has This Been Going On?" (originally intended for Frankie and Peter).  Other unused songs similarly turned up in later works, including the jaunty "The World Is Mine" (for Jimmy, June, and Dora) as "Toddlin' Along" in the Nine Fifteen Revue (1930, where, as sung by Nan Blackstone, a so-called coon shouter, it proved one of the show's few bright spots); and the bridge to the plucky "Are You Dancing?" (apparently for June and Chester) as part of "I'm a Poached Egg" for the picture Kiss Me, Stupid (1964).
     The history of yet another dropped song, "Your Eyes! Your Smile!" (for Peter and Frankie, also called "Those Eyes!"), proved particularly convoluted, Gershwin recycled the song's verse--itself derived from the chorus of "Yan-Kee" (1920)--as the verse for "You Started It" from Delicious (1930); and adopted the first phrase of its abab chorus for the verse of "Oh Gee!-Oh Joy!" from Rosalie (1927), and its second phrase, more literally, for the parallel phrase in the chorus of "You've Got What Gets Me" from the film version of Girl Crazy (1932).  For all his fecundity, Gershwin plainly sought to make the most of his ideas once formulated.  The connection with "Yan-Kee," meanwhile, demonstrated the enduring presence of Asian-related elements in his work.  [Howard Pollack, George Gershwin: His Life and Work (U of California P, 2006) 406-9] 

 

F:

      [. . .]  The next production that rolled off the Aarons and Freedley assembly line at first seemed to have all the lineaments of another success: Fred and Adele Astaire, fresh from completing the successful London run of Lady, Be Good!, were slated to star; Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson would write the book; and the Gershwins, of course, would supply the songs.  The source of the problems, as usual, was the book.  Originally entitled Smarty, the show's genesis, as Fred Astaire recalled it, reveals how far such musical comedies were from dramatic substance, let alone integration of songs and story:

We had discussed it with Alex and Vint [Alex Aarons and Vinton Freedley] and finally came round to having an idea written up whereby I would be the legal guardian of three girls, one, of course, being Adele.  Her romance would concern another fellow.  This seemed to be a good idea, but we had no thought about what would happen from there on. [Fred Astaire, Steps in Time (New York: Harper, 1959) 151]


Problems began when Guy Bolton, committedto too many differenct projects, had to back out.  As his replacement he recommended Robert Benchley, a brilliant humorist but hardly the skilled playwright needed to set the streamlined pace such musicals required.  "The script was a problem," Astaire recalled, "one of those things that wouldn't work--even in rehearsals."  Dress rehearsal for the Philadelphia opening was so bad that the producer asked the cast to run through the entire show again--at 1:30 in the morning.  Afterwards, an exhausted Fred Astaire still felt that "opening anywhere with that mess was not pleasant." [Astaire 152]
     The Philadelphia reviewers pounced on the lengthy and ragged production, and Alex Aarons calmly informed the dejected cast that he was holding the show on the road for a few extra weeks while the script was completely rewritten.  Robert Benchley was in no mood for such extensive doctoring.  Noted for his skewering of other people's plays--most pitilessly of Abie's Irish Rose--Benchley's experience in mounting a musical left him chastened.  "Gosh," he admitted, "how can I criticize other people's shows from now on?" [Astaire 153]  Pleading other commitments, he backed out of the show and gave up all royalties, though it embarrassed him that someof the sheet-music for songs from Smarty had already been printed and carried his name.
     In Benchley's place, Paul Gerald Smith was brought in for what amounted to major surgery.  The cast carried the patient from Philadelphia to Washington to Wilmington, rehearsing the revised version during the day while performing the moribund turkey at night.  As Ira recalled, "Everyone concerned with the show worked day and night, recasting, rewriting, rehearsing, recriminating--of rejoicing, there was none." [Lyrics on Several Occasions 24]  In all, he and George wrote twenty-four songs for the production, eleven of which had to be cut to accomodate changes in the script.  Cast changes only added to their woes.  The replacement of Stanley Ridges by Alex Kearns (in the lead role of an aviator--a staple of many shows  that year, designed to cash in on the Lindbergh ballyhoo) meant cutting "How Long Has This Been Going On?", one of George's most sensuously beautiful melodies.  Ira's title, a catch-phrase associated with finding one's matein the arms of another, is transformed into the exclamation of lovers experiencing their first truy passionate kiss.  In the verse, one of his very best, Ira gave a curve to the formula of love-at-first-kiss with clever, light-verse rhymes:

As a tot,
when I trot-
ted in little velvet panties,
I was kissed
by my sist-
ers, my cousins, and my aunties.
Sad to tell,
it was hell,
and inferno worse than Dante's


As good as the song was, "How Long Has This Been Going On?" had to be replaced with "He Loves and She Loves," a melody more in Kearns's vocal range and a simpler lyric that, as Ira put it, "managed to get over" to the out-of-town audiences. [280]  [Philip Furia, Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist (OUP, 1996) 63-65]


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