Wednesday, April 28, 2010
This is a guest blog from former Oakland Tribune Theater Critic Robert Taylor:
Show Boat may have been a turning point in the American musical theater, and in the careers of composer Jerome Kern and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, but it was not the only show they created.
Kern was immediately attracted to Edna Ferber’s best-selling novel Show Boat for their next collaboration in 1927, and Hammerstein needed no persuading. Theater historian Gerald Bordman still considers the landmark show the high point in Kern and Hammerstein’s careers, yet some of the critics left their names out of their reviews, lauding the show’s arrival as a Florenz Ziegfeld production.
Another theater historian, William Zinsser, claims that after Show Boat, Kern “went right back to composing Viennese-style musicals.” But his melodies continued to soar. Sweet Adeline, his third show with Hammerstein, re-created the Gay ’90s with “Spring is Here” and Helen Morgan introducing “Why Was I Born?”
Kern and Hammerstein’s Music in the Air, in 1932, was an operetta at first glance, set in Bavaria, but some critics considered it as revolutionary as Show Boat for merging book and score. “The Song is You” and “I’ve told Every Little Star”—a tune based on a birdcall Kern heard in Nantucket—became standards.
The hit songs, the standards, kept coming, but that was the end of the hit shows for the partnership as Kern settled comfortably in Beverly Hills to write for Hollywood musicals.
Kern’s cross-country shuttle was interrupted by their collaboration on Three Sisters, which ran 72 performances in London (introducing “I Won’t Dance,” which became a hit after it was used in the film Roberta.) Their Gentlemen Unafraid, set at West Point during the Civil War, got a tryout at the St. Louis Municipal Opera in 1938 but got no farther. One song, “Your Dream,” ended up in the movie One Night in the Tropics, a 1940 Abbott and Costello vehicle.
“All the Things You Are” has no end of champions, including singer and pianist Max Morath, who calls it “a superb standard” but challenging “with a 12-note range likely to mortify most singers.” And it was composer Arthur Schwartz who called it “the greatest song ever written.”
Thank you again to Robert Taylor for this guest blog. For your chance to hear Jerome Kern's original vocal arrangement of "All the Things You Are," come see Very Warm for May at the Eureka Theater running May 5-23. For tickets call (415) 255-8207 or buy online.