SAN FRANCISCO (19 October 1999) -- San Francisco's award-winning "lost musical" company, 42nd Street Moon, closes its seventh season with a concert production of the rarely heard original Broadway version of Rodgers & Hart's BABES IN ARMS. Virtually abandoned after its opening in 1937, this version of the famous musical predates the 1959 rewrite with which most audiences are familiar. BABES IN ARMS, directed by Greg MacKellan with music direction by David Dobrusky, plays Nov. 24 (press opening: November 26) through Jan. 2 at San Francisco's New Conservatory Theatre Center. For tickets ($12-22), the public can call 415/861-8972.
In BABES IN ARMS, a group of teenagers -- children of vaudeville performers -- put on a show to stop the welfare department from sending them to a work farm on Long Island. Simple, cheery, and warm-hearted, BABES IN ARMS is typical of the musicals of the age: an elementary plot, building a framework on which to hang any number of marvelous songs and dances. In fact, the score was the most successful Rodgers & Hart ever created, including classic hits such as "My Funny Valentine," "Where or When," "The Lady is a Tramp," "Johnny One Note," "Imagine," "I Wish I Were in Love Again," and "Babes in Arms." Choreographed by George Balanchine and marking the stage debuts of Alfred Drake and Dan Dailey, the show charmed theater-goers.
In 1959 Rodgers, feeling BABES was outdated, commissioned George Oppenheimer to rewrite the book around the score. The resulting version, which was the only one available for production for nearly forty years, deleted one of the show's subplots and two of the songs, added new characters, and reassigned the remaining songs to different characters. In the well-known movie, starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, the show strayed even further from the original -- the story was totally rewritten and all songs except "Babes in Arms" and "Where or When" dumped.
Strangely enough, one of the subplots that was removed in the "updated" version concerns an issue that is sadly alive and well today: racism. In this original version, two dancers of color face unreasoning prejudice from one of the other teens, a chord that was perhaps too dischordant for Rodgers & Hart's original audiences. In fact, the amount of denial regarding this problem at the time is evident even in The New York Times' review of the show, in which the critic -- intending praise -- remarked, "there are two dancing fools, Harold and Fayard Nicholas, who clatter across the stage with the rhythmic frenzy that only the Negores can conjure out of a Broadway night." (Those "dancing fools" went on to become the world famous Nicholas Brothers, dancing stars of 30s and 40s films.)
When the 1937 version was presented earlier this year by New York's "Encores" series, critics noted that this original script was far more interesting than the watered-down 1959 version. Many also noted the pleasure of hearing well-known songs within their original show framework, instead of through the medium of various cabaret or recording artists. The New York Times said, "the extra bonus in hearing these old favorites is discovering their original contexts, whose sensibility is miles away from the sophisticated smokiness of a cabaret."
42nd Street Moon's concert version of BABES IN ARMS will feature Nick Dothée, Lianne Marie Dobbs, Dan Brake, Amy Cole and Joel Patterson. Playing the former child star, Baby Rose, will be Marsha Ward -- who, as a child, originated the title role in the London production of ANNIE. Also appearing are Darrin Criss, Christian Cagigal, Marissa DeClercq, Erin Cole, Martin Lewis, Tom Elliott, and Stephen Pawley.