For the first Forgotten Musicals Friday of 2022, we’re jumping back in time more than 100 years to take a look at an early Rodgers and Hart show, one that had some of the first Rodgers and Hammerstein songs thrown in for fun: Fly With Me. The combination of the talents of Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II, two of them being students and the third a young professional, makes Fly With Me quite the curiosity piece, perhaps even more so than it might be when simply viewed as a snapshot of the origins of these three theatremakers. This is of course, for the uninitiated, because Rodgers would go on to have extensive separate careers with both Hart and Hammerstein.
Fly With Me was created as an entry for the Columbia Varsity Show competition of 1920, and beat out three other entries to take home the top prize. As student shows are wont to be, Fly With Me is a show that has a clear target audience in mind. Descriptions of the gag-filled storyline, which placed a bunch of students onto a Soviet-ruled island, link closely with what student interests must have been following the Great War and during the revolution of the Russian Empire into the socialist Soviet Union, the latter which was taking place at the time. One of the highlights of the performance was reportedly a group of chorus girls who turned out to be men in drag. Charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent are so often qualities celebrated by campus audiences, as they deserve to be!
The score of Fly With Me includes many songs typical of the period, including satirical ditties and song-sketches of life with twists of what was considered exotic from an American point of view. Creating the show was a serious business, including a rewrite of the original book. The rewrite was based on another play submitted to the competition by Milton Kroopf at the suggestion of Hammerstein, who was serving as a judge on the panel selecting the winning show that year. Hammerstein’s lyrics were also interpolated into the final product through the inclusion of two songs written for a 1919 show first titled Up Stage and Down and then, with many revisions and Hart serving as its director, Twinkling Eyes. So that he could conduct the orchestra of Fly With Me himself, Rodgers had to join the musicians’ union, thus becoming the youngest conductor in New York.
While there aren’t vast resources when it comes to Fly With Me, there is a cast recording of a 1980 university revival of the show available. What’s so interesting about the show is that certainly sounds of its time, but yet it showcases Rodgers’s genius in creating a musical hook, Hart’s typical wit with emotions at a distance and Hammerstein’s sense of reaching for the poetic. As a historical document, it’s a worthwhile investment for a serious musical theatre fan. Other snippets of information can be found in books like Meryle Secrest’s Rodgers biography, Somewhere for Me, Frederick Nolan’s The Sound of Their Music and Stanley Green’s The Rodgers and Hammerstein Story, all of which were consulted as I put together this post.
Keen to share any thoughts about Fly With Me? Head to the comment box below. We’d love to hear your reactions and insights!