Viewpoint

Viewpoint: Name-Dropping

by F. PAUL DRISCOLL

Viewpoint One Only HDL 112
Tommy Tune and Twiggy in Broadway's My One and Only, 1983
© Martha Swope 2012

The brother-and-sister dance team of Fred and Adele Astaire was one of Broadway's star attractions in the 1920s. The Astaires started their careers as child performers in vaudeville, eventually rising to headliner status on the Orpheum circuit in the first decade of the twentieth century. Adele, who was three years older than Fred, was generally agreed to be the more talented performer, blessed with the gifts of clarity and wit: her spicy style provided a center of emotional gravity to the increasingly complicated dance numbers devised by her brother.

At their peak, the Astaires enjoyed a profitable working relationship with another of Broadway's sibling teams, George and Ira Gershwin, who created the music and lyrics for Funny Face, the 1927 musical comedy that was a huge success in New York — and later on, in London's West End — for all parties concerned. The showwas designed to take advantage of the Astaires' unique onstage chemistry, which was fueled by the fact that their audiences knew that they were brother and sister; most of the musicals that showcased them in the 1920s cast them as "pals" or friendly adversaries, rather than romantic partners — for the obvious reasons. In the original cast of Funny Face, Adele was Frankie Kearns, a rich girl whose guardian, Jimmy Reeve, played by Fred, won't let her wear her jewels — so she arranges to have her friend (and romantic interest) Peter Thurston steal them. Fred and Adele stopped the show with their specialty numbers, including the title song, but the two big love duets in the score — "He Loves and She Loves" and " 'S Wonderful" — were assigned to Adele and Allen Kearns, who played Peter.

The original Funny Face plot was a balancing act that could never really work without the Astaires — which is one reason the show never had a Broadway revival in its original form. When Funny Face made a return to Broadway, in 1983, it had a new title (My One and Only), a new plot (about an aviator in romantic pursuit of an Aquacade star) and a new score (sort of). The score for My One and Only used several of the best Funny Face numbers but also re-purposed songs from other Gershwin shows and films, such as A Dangerous Maid, A Damsel in Distress and Strike Up the Band. My One and Only was a pastiche — a delightful one — and has been followed on Broadway by several other successful examples of the genre, such as Crazy For You (a 1992 gloss on the Gershwins' 1930 Girl Crazy), Putting It Together, the still-running Mamma Mia! (ten years and counting) and the current revival of Cole Porter's 1934 hit Anything Goes. The form seems to work most painlessly on shows whose librettos "need work," as the saying goes — although tinkering with classics is a tricky business, as witness the controversy over proposed revisions in the new production of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, due to have its official Broadway opening this month.

The pastiche form didn't originate on Broadway, of course, but in the opera house, as pasticcio. The opera house is where pasticciolives this month, when the Met offers its audiences the broadcast and Live in HD premiere of The Enchanted Island — a brand-new setting for glorious Baroque arias and ensembles by Vivaldi, Purcell, Rameau and other composers. spacer

F. PAUL DRISCOLL


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Current Issue: September 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 3