Forgotten Musicals Friday: DEAREST ENEMY

DEAREST ENEMY

DEAREST ENEMY made Helen Ford a star. How much of that had to do with her entrance wearing only a barrel is up for conjecture…

The success of The Garrick Gaieties opened up doors for Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Although they had tried to get Dearest Enemy produced before, those in the know had thought that a musical by a relatively untried songwriting team that dealt with an apparently trivial event during the American Revolutionary War would never fly. But with a hit like “Manhattan” behind them, Dearest Enemy suddenly became a viable proposition. With a book by Herbert Fields, direction by John Murray Anderson, direction of the libretto by Charles Sinclair and Harry Ford and dance and ensemble direction by Carl Hemmer, the show ended up running for 286 performances.

At the centre of Dearest Enemy is the historic incident of how Mary Lindley Murray detained the British troops in her home, thereby allowing 4000 American soldiers to sneak past and assemble in Washington Heights in 1776. Fields threw in a couple of fictional love stories, between Jane, Mary’s daughter, and the Harry Tyron, the British general’s son and between Betsy Burke, Mary’s niece, and Sir John Copeland, a British captain, and Rodgers and Hart gave them all a great score through which all and sundry could be romanced.

It’s nice to have a musical from the 1920s with so much material available. The best thing is that in the 1950s, a television broadcast of the show was flighted and this is now available on DVD. A cast recording lifted from the soundtrack of the television special is available, as is a studio recording from the 1980s. Neither is ideal, but until we get a full, authentic recording of the full score, they’ll have to do. Certainly, the manage to showcase the fine score despite their shortcomings.

I always try to pick a favourite and least favourite song from the shows featured in this column and thanks to the cast recordings and the DVD, I actually find myself in a rather unique position in this months selection of musicals: a knowledgeable one! And since the score is such a fine one – although the history books sadly seems to be consider it unremarkable – I’m spoiled for choice when it comes to picking a favourite. “Here in My Arms” was the hit song in the 1920s, but I am more partial to “I Beg Your Pardon” (simply charming) and “Sweet Peter” (endlessly entertaining). But all three are great songs. In fact, I’m hard pressed to find a least favourite in the score. The only number that appeals less to me than the others is “Heigh Ho Lackaday”, which kind of slows things down right at the start when I’d personally like things to get going.

That aside, I think Dearest Enemy is a remarkable little show, all the more so given the period in which it was created. I know I’d rather give it a spin or a watch than 1776. And if retooled and new Gerswhin shows like Crazy For You and Nice Work If You Can Get It can make it on Broadway, why can’t a revival of Dearest Enemy be remounted too?

Want to add your own thoughts about Dearest Enemy? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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