note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Beverly Creasey
I’ll bet you didn’t know that men often played women in the theater, no, not in Shakespeare, in early Broadway musicals. If you weren’t at the Longy School in Cambridge this past weekend, this is but one of the surprising facts you don’t have at your fingertips. AMERICAN CLASSICS never cease to amaze, and enlighten, always with a smile --and often with a nifty tap dance. Their productions of early musicals of the greats are the stuff of legend—and with ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE, they recreate Jerome Kern’s first musical, SHE’S A GOOD FELLOW.
Written in 1919 with lyricist Anne Caldwell of Boston, SHE’S A GOOD FELLOW was fashioned for the well known female impersonator, Joseph Stanley. Stanley and his wife starred in the vehicle which had him signing on to the female faculty of an exclusive girl’s school in order to be near his sweetie. Her parents have packed her off to the school to get rid of him. Although the script has been lost, Brad Conner and Ben Sears and company have figured out the gist of it from the content of the songs.
If you know SHOWBOAT, you know the gorgeous phrasing and melodic power of Kern’s music. Caldwell supplied the wit: “You’re the first girl I’ve asked to be my first wife” is the lyrical response to a lady’s query about being a “first” love. The talented singers, who are also deft comedians, make you wish you were there at first blush.
After intermission, the show included lots of Kern’s collaborations with other lyricists. Joei Marshall Perry took your breath away with the sorrowful, soulful “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (written with Otto Harbach). She and Eric Bronner made beautiful music together, their voices were so well matched, in duets like “Long Ago (And Far Away)” written with Ira Gerschwin. Sears and La’Tarsha Long serenaded us in separate tubs (We used our imagination) with the lovely “Can’t Help Singing.” Yip Harburg (of WIZARD OF OZ fame) supplied the marvelous rhyme, “Spring makes a fellow hopeful. Soap makes a fellow soapful.”
Conner and Mary Ann Lanier got to be Ginger and Fred in SWINGTIME, with “A Fine Romance,” written with Dorothy Fields and Conner turned in a sweet “Pick Yourself Up,” tap dance included! Tim Harbold tickled the keys in the spirit of the tap number and Cari Peno made the contrabass swing. As they sang in the first half, “Some Party!” Don’t miss the next one.