Forgotten Musicals Friday: THE GIRL FRIEND

If The Garrick Gaieties was an important stepping stone for Richard Rodgers and Lorenza Hart and Dearest Enemy finally gave the pair a legitimate show with their names as the sole songwriting team on the bill, The Girl Friend cemented them in the public consciousness of 1920s America. It ran for 301 performances – a smash hit in those days – and paved the way for further musicals that would come from this pair, during which Rodgers would begin to develop some of the techniques that would eventually cause musical theatre to evolve. Directed by John Harwood, with musical staging by Jack Haskell, the show featured a book by Herbert Fields and brought Rodgers and Hart right up to date with a story reflecting the typical crazy pop-culture milieu of the roaring twenties. 

Musical comedies of this period are known for their threadbare narratives and this one is right up there. The rather bizarre plot of The Girl Friend starts off with a cyclist who trains on a wheel connected to a butter churn on his dairy farm! The dairyman in question is Leonard Silver (played by Sammy White in the original production), who hopes to become a great six-day cyclist by winning an important race and thus, the everlasting affection of Mollie Farrell (Eva Puck). Several gamblers and swindlers, including a professional manager and his scheming sister, try to get Leonard to ride for them or to lose the race, but Leonard manages to win both the race and the girl by the time the final curtain falls.

The score’s sweet delights can be heard on a 1987 cast recording from JAY Records, but musical theatre fans will likely be familiar with the runaway hit song of the show, “Blue Room”, which is given a splendid rendition by Ella Fitzgerald (see the album featured on the right). The arrangement performed by the Revellers in the YouTube clip below also offers a great interpretation of the song. A charming number, “Blue Room” is a memorable little ditty from the Rodgers and Hart songbook and like “Manhattan” before it really showcased the style into which they’d grow throughout their collaboration.

On the whole, The Girl Friend is a typical show of its time – a fun bit of silliness that would have resonated with 1920s audiences. Want to add your own thoughts about the show? Head to the comment box below.

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