Opera Scotland

Lady, Be Good!

Music

George Gershwin (born Brooklyn, 26 September 1898; died Hollywood, 11 July 1937)

Text

Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson (Book); Ira Gershwin (Lyrics)

 

Premieres

First Performance: New York (Liberty Theater), 1 December 1924.

First Performance in UK: London (Empire Theatre), 14 April 1926.

First Performance in Scotland: tbc - probably Glasgow (), March 1926.

 

Background

Lady, Be Good! , the first great success that saw the Gershwin brothers working together, was a stylistic mixture of a musical comedy. It boasted very little plot, but presented opportunities for several speciality acts to do their turns, including 'Ukulele Ike' and the piano duo of Arden and Ohman. However it was principally created as a vehicle to celebrate the return to New York of the celebrated brother-and-sister song and dance act of Fred and Adele Astaire, who had spent the previous two years in Britain.

The piece contains several numbers that went on to be recognised as classics, in particular the title song and 'Fasciniating Rhythm'. Other important elements include 'Hang on to Me', 'So Am I', 'The Half Of It, Dearie, Blues' (with a big tap routine), 'I'd Rather Charleston' and 'Little Jazz Bird' (featuring the ukelele).

The British cast performed a much-altered show, produced by the London impresario Alfred Butt, but still headed by the Astaires. It played with great success for a pre-West End run of three weeks in Glasgow. The subsequent London opening was at the Empire in Leicester Square. That famous theatre was, at the time,  earmarked for demolition, an event that was deferred as a result of the work's success. The touring company was, like many major shows of the period, under Macdonald and Young's management.

 

Main Characters

Dick Trevor (tenor)

Susie Trevor, his sister (soprano)

J Watterson Watkins, a shady lawyer (baritone)

Daisy Parke, a party guest (soprano)

Bertie Bassett, her boyfriend (tenor)

Josephine Vanderwater, a wealthy socialite (mezzo-soprano)

Shirley Vernon, Dick's girlfriend (mezzo-soprano)

Jeff White, a ukelele entertainer (tenor)

Jack Robinson, disguised as a tramp (tenor)

 

Plot Summary

The action opens in Beacon Hill, Rhode Island, outside the Trevor home. Dick arrives home after a night on the tiles to find his sister in floods of tears because they have been evicted - probably something to do with not paying any rent for eighteen months.

That evening, wealthy socialite Josephine Vanderwater is hosting a wonderful party. Eventually the scheduled guests are joined by gatecrashers, including Dick and Susie, and their slightly dodgy lawyer, Watty Watkins. He is hoping to persuade the hostess to help influence their landlord, her uncle, towards leniency. But the eviction was actually her idea, because she loves Dick, and her aim had been to entice him into her tender embrace.

Dick has just about decided to give up Shirley (equally poor) in favour of Josephine, when Susie argues that they will survive without such a sacrifice. Jeff, a hired entertainer, now interrupts proceedings by starting to sing 'Fascinating Rhythm'. Susie now meets, and falls for, a handsome vagrant, though  he leaves before she can learn his name. Watty now propeses a scheme to make lots of money - all she needs to do is pretend to be the widow of the wealthy Jack Robinson, lately deceased in Mexico. 'Lady, Be Good' is sung as an attempt to turn her towards crime. She only decides in favour of this course of action when Jo announces her engagement to Dick. The first act ends with Dick and Susie again at loggerheads.

At the Robinson Hotel several days later, Watty brings his 'Mexican' lady to carry out their deception. Shirley alarms Dick by telling him that she is thinking of getting married herself - he clearly still prefers her to Josephine. The first person Susie tries her disguise on is her handsome tramp - who promptly introduces himself as Jack, very much alive, and with no widow, or even wife to obstruct matters. He is now a millionaire, as a result of his uncle's death. After a few further complications they are successfully paired off, while Dick is reunited with Shirley. Josephine settles for the lawyer, who recognises a good opportunity when he sees it.

The Cast

Detective
 
Dick Trevor
 
J Watterson Watkins
 an unscrupulous lawyer
Jack Robinson
 disguised as a tramp
Jeff White
 a ukelele entertainer
Manager
 of the Robinson Hotel
Susie Trevor
 Dick's sister

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