Forgotten Musicals Friday: LIDO LADY

Jack Hulbert in LIDO LADY

As February trundles on, it’s time to take a look at another of the forgotten musicals created by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart during the 1920s. I’ve had such a good time with Rodgers and Hart over the past six or seven weeks that I’m inclined to stick with them for a while.

This week, I’m having a look over Lido Lady (1926), which was different from the previous Rodgers and Hart musicals for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was a project that had its origins in London. Jack Hulbert was planning to produce a play as a vehicle for his wife, Cicely Courtneidge, and himself. He wanted songs with an American flavour because the music of No, No, Nanette and Lady, Be Good was trending like a viral hashtag in London and so he hired Rodgers and Hart to write some material for the show. This was all the more remarkable because the pair had yet to have a hit in London, a city that had not seen productions of Dearest Enemy or The Girl Friend. Secondly, the script had already been written, so Rodgers and Hart were seeking out and writing for obvious song spots rather than creating original material with a collaborator as they went along or even tailoring previous songs to fit new situations as they had done before.

As per tradition when it came to musical comedies in the 1920s, Lido Lady didn’t amount to much plot-wise. Set in Venice, on the Lido, Fay Blake is the tennis-playing daughter of a wealthy sports goods manufacturer. Amidst all sorts of romantic shenanigans, there is some business about a tennis ball design going missing – and that’s about it.

Added to the songs Rodgers and Hart composed for the piece were “It All Depends on You” from Buddy de Sylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson’s Big Boy and “Tomorrow the Skies May Be Gray (But Not Today)” by Con Conrad. One of the highlights of the score was “Try Again Tomorrow,” which was a duet for Courtneidge and Hulbert, who played siblings in the show. It’s a catchy and witty little number that elicits an easy chuckle – Just a couple of minutes of unadulterated fun.

Rodgers and Hart also interpolated “Here in My Arms” from Dearest Enemy into Lido Lady. In fact, several songs bounced between various Rodgers and Hart projects of this period, partly because they were juggling so many projects as they hustled through the roaring twenties. Those easy shifts made me wonder why there hasn’t been a Rodgers and Hart equivalent of My One and Only, Crazy For You or Nice Work if You Can Get It. There seems to be so much material to re-envision. It’s difficult to argue for any kind of respect for the much-maligned 1920s musicals, even the ones that do hold together relatively well – but it seems that so much of what Rodgers and Hart did during this decade has been written off wholesale. Of course, there are some 1920s shows that can’t be revived for anything but pure historical interest and that’s just the way it is. Some things are meant for history books or historical reconstructions – but I can’t help wonder if there’s a missed opportunity here.

Another interesting aspect of the Lido Lady journey was the criticism that was aimed by the British critics at Hart’s lyrics, particularly at the more inventive wordplay in pursuit of rhyme, which they viewed as nonsensical, or at lyrics that required a performer to distort the word to fit the musical line, something that also happened in the pursuit of a rhyme on the page. I found this intriguing as Hart’s reputation as a lyricist appears to be based less on his technical craft but on his often cynical tone, humour and the pathos created through the apparent encoding of his life experiences into his lyrics. Perhaps that’s a good topic for a deep dive here on Musical Cyberspace sometime down the line.

Want to add your own thoughts about Lido Lady? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. While you’re doing that, check out the YouTube playlist below, which includes some of the musical highlights from the show in various forms as well as some silent film footage of the original stage production.

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