Tip-Toes and Tell Me More
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Tip-Toes, which made its Broadway debut on December 28, 1925, was produced by Alex A. Aarons and Vinton Freedley, who had been the producers of the Gershwins' smash hit Lady, Be Good! the year before. Attempting to repeat that success, they once again combined the same book writers, Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson, with the Gershwin brothers. Tip-Toes was well received by audiences and the press, and ran for 194 performances. It was given a subsequent production at the Winter Garden Theatre in London, opening August 31, 1926, running for 181 performances.
One of the most overlooked Gershwin shows, Tell Me More was also the most unlikely of Jazz Age musicals. In an era marked by lavish extravaganzas and brash star vehicles, Tell Me More, which opened on April 13, 1925, relied on charm, modesty, and an impish sense of humor. Because it failed to recoup its investment on Broadway, it was relegated to the list of Gershwin flops; because its score was largely forgotten, it has been widely regarded as a minor effort. In truth, it's a key show. As the only full-length collaboration between George and Ira Gershwin and B.G. DeSylva, it combines the delicacy and grace of the scores George had written earlier in the decade with DeSylva and the bold wit he had pioneered in partnership with his brother Ira four months earlier in Lady, Be Good! The best of both worlds, Tell Me More was a one-of-a-kind achievement.
This two-CD set collects a couple of shows by George and Ira Gershwin. Both produced in 1925, the two musicals--Tip-Toes and Tell Me More--are fairly obscure and don't boast as many famous songs as contemporary Gershwin offerings such as Oh, Kay! and Lady Be Good. Still, they are bursting with wit, invention, and joie de vivre. Based on a 1998 concert production, Tip-Toes is delicious, and several songs deserve a place in the Gershwin pantheon: the ballad "Looking for a Boy," the love duet "That Certain Feeling," and the rousing dance number "Sweet and Low-Down." The score is also notable for its spectacular writing for duo pianos. Tell Me More is not as immediately accessible (indeed, it had the shortest run of any Gershwin musical, with 32 performances), but it's delivered with élan by its topnotch cast, which includes Sally Mayes, Christine Ebersole, Diane Fratantoni, and David Garrison. Under the expert musical direction of Rob Fisher (from New York's famed Encores! series), this double set is, of course, essential for Gershwin completists. In fact, just about any fan of zany Jazz Age artifacts should relish it. --Elisabeth Vincentelli
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But if I were standing in the theater district with the "Rhapsody" playing at the concert hall and "Porgy and Bess" playing across the street, and "Tip-Toes" or "Tell Me More" playing on the corner, I'm taking my date to "Tip-Toes" or "Tell Me More."
"I can't help swaying
I must begin
When they are playing
Kern or Berlin..."
This soundtrack album is a "double" album, to boot, with "Tell Me More," another Gershwin-Gershwin with B.G. DeSylva show thrown in. In these two fine shows from 1925, Gershwin's melodic Broadway based songwriting consistently shines.
By way of background, George Gershwin had already hit it big on Broadway by 1925. He had already been writing professionally for five or six years. He had had several major songs interpolated into shows and he had done three complete shows before this one. Rodgers and Hart were just breaking with Manhattan for the Theater Guild. Berlin was doing very well, and Cohan was on the decline. Hammerstein was writing operettas, and Jerome Kern was king.
Tell Me More is the typical twenties musical. What Ken Russell’s The Boy Friend so successfully captured in its psychedelic approach occurs quite naturally in this charming score: A ridiculous farce set to twenties music. The music, however, is supplied in this case by George Gershwin, and the lyrics are by Ira Gershwin and B.G. DeSilva. The Gershwins were just hitting their stride, and it was before the pretension set in.
[The set also includes Tip Toes (without DeSilva), and it’s just about as strong. It is definitely cut from the same cloth. I like it almost as much as Tell Me More. So there’s a bonus. “It seems to be a---darn good idea.”]
What we have is a “restoration” score of a 1925 Gershwin musical. It’s reconstructed from the available record but the recordings are modern. The voices are very good because there is little thought of having to hire actors or even stars, as would have been the case in 1925. We don’t have to listen to the static of the 78’s and there is a good deal less affectation than we might otherwise have encountered had we listened to period recordings, which don’t exist anyway. The show was not a big hit, but it ought to have been.
The Gershwins, to my ear, do not always ring true. In some of the shows, most of the numbers are trite and inconsequential with two or three major high quality hits. Oh, Kay! has Someone to Watch Over Me and Girl Crazy has Embraceable You. Worthy standards indeed! Quite a few Gershwin shows have very little to recommend them. Of Thee I Sing comes to mind. This was Ira’s idea of political satire, which was not required. I don’t think George or Ira was ever more successful than when they were writing light Broadway shows at just about this time.
As you listen to Tell Me More, in the second act you will encounter Ukulele Lorelei. In this piece, the girl chorus imitates the sound of a ukulele (it sort of sounds under water), and I can’t help but reflect that this piece is by the same fellow who wrote Rhapsody in Blue and American in Paris. For my limited taste, Ukulele Lorelei is the sort of thing he should have been doing. And speaking of the chorus, I really enjoy the wise-acre nature of this show’s chorus. It sounds like a bevy of beauties, but they have some funny lines throughout the show, particularly when dealing with Monty. (“Jaunty! But Undefiled!”)
The title song is a beautiful duet number, very melodic and quite amusing in all aspects. Another beauty from the first act is Three Times a Day. But, there are no throw-aways. Each song is very well constructed. The second act features two prescient numbers. Love Is in the Air is the title of a great Sondheim song eliminated from Forum. This 1925 version is a lovely scene setter. Another recognizable title is My Fair Lady. There was some talk of having that be the title for the show, but Gershwin’s recent hit, Lady Be Good already had a lady. Not a lot of chance that Lerner stole it as this score was largely lost to world for about sixty years.
Both "Tell Me More" and "Tip-Toes" were part of the discovery of many Gershwin manuscripts buried in a New Jersey warehouse; and we can be most thankful to New World Records for restoring the scores and bits of the dialogue in a two-CD boxed set (80598-2). The music is what you would expect from Gershwin: 1920s jazzy with that special core of Gershwin genius. Yes, a good deal of it sounds like Berlin and Kern--as did just about every other contemporary composer except Romberg (who sounded like Herbert). On the other hand, "Kickin' the Clouds Away" from the earlier show seems to be the inspiration for Berlin's "Shakin' the Blues Away" written two years later! "Tell Me More" also does not shy away from ethnic jokes (i.e., mistaking a request to disguise oneself as British for doing so as Yiddish) that do not offend at all. And if we moderns grow impatient with the rich bubbleheads of the F. Scott Fitzgerald crowd, they are still a breath of fresh air after the population of "Miss Saigon" and plays of that sort.
The game casts have voices just right for this sort of characterization and delivery. The "Tip-Toes" production is taken from the Carnegie Hall Concert version and is outstanding.
This New World set deserves a place of honor among the other Gershwin Brothers restorations on other labels. And do not forget the New World complete recording of Kern's "Sitting Pretty," which (like these two Gershwin shows) did not produce any hits but is delightful from overture to Finale Ultimo.