A Boat-Load of Musicals
Who doesn’t enjoy a cruise? I’ve never personally been on one, but that doesn’t stop me from fantasizing about it. Some voyages are better than others (so I’m told) but there is something exciting about the prospect. From the organized activities and entertainment to the plethora of buffets and exotic drinks served while sailing on the water, short of sea-sickness, it sounds like one could enjoy the experience. Shipboard storylines have certainly been the subject for a handful of Broadway musicals. Until I have the opportunity to secure my berth on a luxury liner, I will instead sit back and think about the Broadway musicals that have taken place aboard them.
Very Good Eddie
The 1915 musical Very Good Eddie, with music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Schuyler Greene and Herbert Reynolds, and a book by Guy Bolton with Philip Bartholomae, is somewhat forgotten in this day and age and most people certainly don’t know that the better part of its story takes place onboard a boat. The story: three couples take a day cruise on the Hudson River, comedy ensuing when two of the couples accidentally change partners. Corny, old-fashioned fun by today’s standards, Very Good Eddie was once the toast of Broadway, one of the successful installments in the legendary Princess Musicals series.
The most iconic of all musicals to take place on a boat is the 1934, musical comedy Anything Goes with music and lyrics by Cole Porter and a book by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse. Set aboard the ocean liner the S.S. American, Anything Goes tells the story of two stowaways running from the law, Billy Crocker and Moonface Martin, originated onstage by the comedy duo of William Gaxton and Victor Moore. When the two meet-up with an old friend, nightclub singer and evangelist Reno Sweeney (originated by Ethel Merman), farcical situations abound as they try not to get caught. With songs like “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “Blow Gabriel Blow” and the titillating title song, Anything Goesis the quintessential 1930s musical comedy. Who wouldn’t want to sail on this ship?
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
The 1949 musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, based on the best-selling novel by Anita Loos, has much of its action taking place aboard The Ile de France, an ocean liner departing the United States for Paris, France. Aboard the ship is Ms. Lorelei Lee, a bubbly blonde gold digger who has a sugar daddy, and Ms. Dorothy Shaw, her more practical, more brunette chaperone. Dorothy spends most of the trip trying to keep Lorelei from straying, fascinated as she is with the buffet of wealthy men for the grabbing. The Jule Styne/Leo Robin score is a confection, full of terrific numbers including “Bye, Bye Baby,” “I’m Just a Little Girl from Little Rock” and the musical theatre standard “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Carol Channing became a big star on Broadway with her daffy and delightful performance as Lorelei.
The Broadway production of Noel Coward’s musical Sail Away didn’t exactly have the happiest of launches, with critics and audiences generally lukewarm about the show. What the 1961 show did have going for it was Elaine Stritch in the cast as cruise director Mimi Paragon leading the guests on their shipboard adventures. Set aboard the British luxury liner the Coronia, Sail Awaysuffered from an old-fashioned musical comedy plot that had the acerbically delightful Mimi finding love amidst the mostly obnoxious passengers. One of the show’s highlights was the deliciously sardonic “Why Do the Wrong People Travel?”
Not all shipboard stories end happily, unfortunately, and we all knew from the moment that we entered the 1997 Broadway musical Titanic that we were in for a good cry. With a majestic score by Maury Yeston and a complicated book by Peter Stone (trying his best to introduce multitudes of characters to create empathy while simultaneously remaining true to history), the show told the story of one of the most-horrible maritime. The RMS Titanic, on its maiden voyage, was shepherding celebrity, aristocracy, and the common folk from England to New York. In an effort to show expediency, the powers that be ordered the ship to move faster than its capabilities, forcing it to hit an iceberg and sink, resulting in the deaths of over 1,500 people. The musical takes us through the whole tragedy, but it is the show’s first fifteen-minutes that sparkle musically. The grandeur of Yeston’s music, from the overture through “Godspeed Titanic,” makes for one of the most-breathtaking openings of a Broadway musical.