GPO Prog02 part3:GPO Prog02 part3 19/05/2011 15:22 Page 82
Some words about Anything Goes When Anything Goes opened in New York in 1934, it was an immense success, marking the end of the Great Depression and becoming the “bright and cheerful embodiment” of the Roosevelt recovery. It was the brainchild of a brilliant but almost bankrupt Broadway producer, Vinton Freedland, who commissioned Guy Bolton and P G Wodehouse to write the script. Following the Morro Castle cruise ship disaster off New Jersey only two months before it was due to open, it had to be completely rewritten by Howard Lindsay and Russel Cruise – the team that went on to write The Sound of Music in 1959. Miles Kreuger tells the story. Wall st lays an egg screamed the headlines of Variety, the Broadway Bible, on October 30, 1929. With that colourful show business jargon, the deepest economic Depression in history was heralded. As banks began to fail, as companies went out of business, as belts tightened and bread lines lengthened, the box-office receipts on Broadway began to shrivel. The 1929-1930 season was damaged more by competition from talking pictures than by the Depression itself, but, by the 1930-1931 season, 77% of all Broadway shows were financial failures. In the 1931-1932 season, the percentage jumped to 83%. It was during that last season that Kaufman and Ryskind wrote their satire on the federal government, Of Thee I Sing (1931), with a score by the Gershwin brothers. The show perfectly reflected the public’s feeling that their leaders in Washington were either all crooks or incompetent boobs or both. With the inauguration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933, a new wave of optimism spread throughout the country. There were sweeping reforms in banking, and the New Deal and National Recovery Act (with its symbolic blue eagle) gave hope and employment to millions. Perhaps best of all, the crime-infested ignoble experiment, Prohibition, came to a thudding conclusion. Almost overnight, Manhattan burst back to life with a passion for play unequaled before or since. On Broadway, there were still comparatively few hits, but the shows that did find a public ran far longer than those of recent seasons. There was, however, a phenomenal blossoming of late-night restaurants and clubs for song and dance. One of the most fashionable was the Caprice Room of the Hotel Weylin, at Madison Avenue and 54th Street, so popular in fact that an exact replica of the room was created on the stage of the Alvin Theatre as the opening scent of Anything Goes.
If one can generalize a bit and say that Of Thee I Sing is the one Broadway musical that completely captures the cynicism of the Hoover Depression, then Anything Goes is the bright and cheerful embodiment of the Roosevelt recovery. With some of the smartest Broadway musical comedies of the decade under their collaborative belt – Lady Be Good! (1924), Tip-Toes (1925), Oh Kay! (1926) and Funny Face (1927) – all with scores by the Gershwins – Freedley, and his partner Alexander Aarons, opened their new Alvin Theatre on Broadway in 1927. It was a brilliant success but it was the unexpected failure of Pardon My English, an elaborate production with a fine Gershwin score, that led to the dissolution of this wondrously imaginative partnership. Like a phoenix rising out of the ashes of failure, Anything Goes proved to be the inevitable success born from that flop of two seasons earlier. During the summer of 1933, Freedley, enmeshed in debt, decided to flee his creditors. He took his wife Mary on a fruit boat to Panama, en route to the tiny Caribbean island of Tobago, where he spent four or five months restoring his economic stability and began to conceive his next project: a musical comedy about a group of eccentric characters aboard a cruise ship bound for England. Freedley envisioned an intimate production along the lines of the many shows written for the Princess Theatre, a tiny 299-seat playhouse, with music, book and lyrics generally by Jerome Kern, Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse. Both Bolton and Wodehouse were living abroad, the former in London, the latter in France, to avoid crushing tax problems. Kern was composing exclusively with Otto Harvach and Oscar Hammerstein II; and Gershwin, a possible substitute as composer, was busily preparing an operatic adaptation of the play Porgy. Freedley had always wanted to
Grange Park Opera 2002 Programme