San Francisco Theater Preview: SOMETHING FOR THE BOYS (42nd Street Moon)

by Tony Frankel on November 21, 2014

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

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SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

Beginning November 26, 42nd Street Moon will revist one of its earliest hits, the mirthful 1943 farce Something for the Boys. This rarely performed boisterous musical is a fascinating look into a time when Broadway was about to undergo significant changes from silly book musicals into classier fare. Even though Cole Porter’s score didn’t contain one hit song, wartime audiences ate up the perfectly agreeable, top-drawer tunes and the outlandish book by Dorothy and Herbert Fields. “It doesn’t matter much what you personally think about it,” Burns Mantle wrote in his Daily News review. “It is a perfect sample of the sort of musical comedy entertainment that 98 per cent of the playgoing populace revels in.”

Dyan McBride, Brian Herndon, and Heather Orth, get some good news in 42nd Street Moon's production of Something for the Boys, playing November 26 - December 14, 2014 at The Eureka Theatre

As with his contemporaries, Porter’s tunes were often shuffled around for subsequent revivals and Hollywood films with no thought to their original intent. When Greg MacKellan and Stephanie Rhoads founded 42nd Street Moon in 1993, a simple but mighty idea caught fire: Bring new life to classic “lost” musicals by providing patrons the opportunity to experience outstanding American songs Something-for-the-Boys-42nd-Street-Moon-1997-CD-coverperformed as the songwriters intended—as an integral part of a musical play (what began as concert stagings are now fully staged musicals with simple props and sets).

MacKellan’s 1994 revival was so popular that a complete cast recording was issued on CD. Accompanied by double-piano, the songs include “He’s a Right Guy,” “The Leader of a Big-Time Band,” and “By the Mississinewah.” Critic John Kenrick wrote, “If this is what they get on a regular basis in San Francisco, maybe it’s time for this native New Yorker to consider relocating.” (The CD is still available for only fifteen bucks.) 42nd Street Moon’s 20th Anniversary production, which plays through December 14 at The Eureka Theatre, will be directed by Daniel Witzke, with music direction by Dave Dobrusky and choreography by Staci Arriaga.

Something for the Boys Original Show PosterWith all the rave reviews for Ethel Merman at the Alvin Theatre (this was her fifth and final Porter show), a few critics noted that Porter was no longer the composer he once was, which frankly was true. The urbane and ridiculously witty composer/lyricist had introduced on Broadway some of the greatest standards we will ever know: “Let’s Do It” (Paris, 1928); “Love for Sale” (The New Yorkers, 1930); “Night and Day” (Gay Divorce, Fred Astaire’s last Broadway musical, 1932); “Begin the Beguine,” “Just One of Those Things” (Jubilee, 1935); and “It’s De-lovely” (Red, Hot and Blue, 1936). Anything Goes (1934) alone contained “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” and “You’re the Top.”

Who wouldn’t be spoiled by this output? But something happened in 1937 that most decidedly affected Porter. While riding with friends on Long Island, Porter’s horse reared and fell, crushing both of his legs. Doctors believed at least one leg should be amputated, but Porter refused. After 30 surgeries his legs were saved, but he would be in agonizing pain for the rest of his life. Ultimately in 1958, an ulcerated right leg was amputated, but even with the pain finally gone, Porter never wrote another tune Composer Cole Porter being carried to opening night performance of Noel Coward's Set to Music.  (Photo by Ralph Morse/Pix Inc./The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)in the remaining six years of his life. (Theatrical Legend Department: Porter later joked that as he waited for help after the accident, he took out his notebook and penned the lyrics for “At Long Last Love,” which appeared in You Never Know (1938), a flop that ran for only 78 performances).

So even though Porter had some hit shows in him after the accident, critics complained about the lack of hit tunes and the generally low standard of his scores. Some enduring ditties emerged—”My Heart Belongs to Daddy” (Leave It to Me!, 1938); “Well, Did You Evah!” (DuBarry Was a Lady, 1939), and “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” (Seven Lively Arts, 1944)—but it looked like Porter’s best period was over. Luckily, he had two more blockbusters in him. His biggest, Kiss Me, Kate (1948, 1,077 performances) included “I Hate Men,” “So in Love,” “Too Darn Hot,” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.” Can-Can (1953, 892 performances) had “I Love Paris,” “C’est Magnifique,” and “It’s All Right With Me.”

Yet when you hear Something for the Boys, it will resonate as far more pleasing than most of the substandard fare from today’s Broadway scores. I listened to a few tracks recently, and dang it if those tunes aren’t still clanging around in my head. Merman was so fond of the title song, one of the show’s lesser efforts…

…that she chose it for her ridiculous, and ridiculously popular, 1979 camp classic The Ethel Merman Disco Album. Listen to this if you dare:

The brother-and-sister team of Herbert and Dorothy Fields came from an exciting New York theatrical family. Together, the prolific siblings wrote the books for eight Broadway musicals, including two other Porter shows—Let’s Face It (1941) and Mexican Hayride (1944)—and the Irving Berlin smash, Annie, Get Your Gun (1946). dorothyfields1Alone, Herbert wrote the books for seven Rodgers and Hart musicals, seven with Cole Porter (all hits!), and others with Romberg, Schwartz, and the Gershwins.

Dorothy was also a lyricist: Known for her later musicals (Sweet Charity, Seesaw), I’m surprised more people don’t know her as being responsible for dozens of iconic standards (she wrote over 400 songs for Broadway musicals and films): “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” and the Oscar-winning “The Way You Look Tonight,” written with Jerome Kern for Astaire and Rogers’ Swing Time (1936).

The Fieldses slaphappy script of Something for the Boys seems to have been written only to distract audiences from the harshness of World War II. It’s that kind of silly fare they cut their teeth on in the 1930s when shows were constructed piecemeal—a comic star here, a songwriting team there, whoever was available, really. The preposterous plots, often filled with groaners, were designed so that songs could be plopped in willy-nilly. And who cares about sophisticated plots when it’s Cole Porter Something for the Boys 1_David Allenwriting the tunes? (A little show called Oklahoma! opened two months after Boys, which would forever change audience’s attitudes; still, with the help of a feel-good experience and Merman in the lead, Boys still packed them in, running 422 performances.)

The tale: Three distant cousins—each unknown to the other—inherit out of the blue 4,000 acres of Texas land containing a dilapidated manor house. Upon arriving to claim their prize, they discover that soldiers—led by butch big-band leader Rocky (Tyler McKenna)—have been eyeing the domicile as housing for their girlfriends and wives. The cousins—brassy Blossom (Heather Orth), faux-elegant Chiquita (Dyan McBride), and lowbrow Harry (Brian Herndon)—agree to turn it into a boarding house. Misinformation and complications ensue, including allegations that the renovation is for a bordello. The show’s most famous plot point arrives when Blossom discovers that she can receive radio signals through the fillings in her teeth.

MacKellan sums it up best in his extensive 1994 program notes: “If Oklahoma! signaled an exciting new direction for the Broadway musical, Something For the Boys represented the old-style, songs-and-gags musical romp in a state-of-the-art presentation. It aspired only to entertain you for a couple of hours, and send you home with a smile on your lips and a Cole Porter song in your heart.”

AeJay Mitchell, Heather Orth, Dyan McBride, Tyler McKenna, and Brian Herndon sing "There's a Happy Land in the Sky" in 42nd Street Moon's production of Something for the Boys, playing November 26 - December 14, 2014 at The Eureka Theatre

promotion photos by David Allen

Something for the Boys
42nd Street Moon
The Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street
Wed and Thurs at 7; Fri at 8; Sat at 6; Sun at 3
scheduled to end on December 14, 2014
for tickets, call (415) 255-8207 or visit www.42ndStMoon.org

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