While Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s songs had been heard on Broadway prior to The Garrick Gaieties, neither A Lonely Romeo nor Poor Little Ritz Girl did much to advance their careers. What was missing for them was a breakout hit, a song to infiltrate the public’s mind in the same way pop stars have their breakout hits today. After all, the music of the stage was the popular music of the time. Cue The Garrick Gaieties, which provided just that stepping stone in the career of Rodgers and Hart owing to its introduction (by Sterling Holloway and June Cochrane) of their first runaway hit, “Manhattan”.
This show, which was a revue, would lead the pair forward to bigger and better things. I’m not the biggest fan of revues. They are hard to get right and often their topicality wanes as time goes by. What would modern audiences make of skits and songs based around the relationship between President Coolidge and his wife, the Scopes trial, the New York City subway system and the Theatre Guild itself? Not much, I’d wager, even if they did offer some entertaining insights into the past. As it is, The Garrick Gaieties had two sequels and then faded into obscurity. Does that mean its material should fade along with it? No. In fact, I’d love to see a proper recording of the scores of all three revues.
Because there aren’t, it makes the discussion of my favourite and least favourite moments in the show somewhat difficult to conduct. I certainly haven’t heard all of the songs from The Garrick Gaieties, nor am I familiar with the sketches at all. Of the songs that I do know, I would pick “Manhattan” as my favourite: it is charming and lovely and has such personality about it. It’s instantly memorable and it’s easy to see why it was a smash hit for Rodgers and Hart.
And although it might be somewhat unfair to choose a least favourite song from the show because I’m only basing my choice on a selection of songs with which I am familiar, I’d say that “April Fool” holds less appeal for me than the rest: it’s not a bad song, but it lacks – perhaps – the effortless charm of the best Rodgers and Hart songs.
Of course Rodgers and Hart weren’t the only contributors to The Garrick Gaieties. Other songwriters included Benjamin Kaye, Mana Zucca, Edith Meiser and Dudley Digges, while music by Tata Nacho was used for the “Rancho Mexicano” number at the top of the second act. Sketches were also provided by Kaye and Meiser, with other contributions by Sam Jaffe, Morrie Ryskind, Arthur Sullivan and Howard Green. Directed by Philip Loeb, with musical staging by Herbert Fields, The Garrick Gaieties ran for 211 performances from June through November 1925, having had a two-performance benefit in May of that year.
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