Babes in Arms (1937) - 1999 Staged Concert Production

Babes in Arms (1937)

Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Lorenz Hart
Book by Messrs. Rodgers and Hart

Directed by Greg MacKellan
Musical Director: Dave Dobrusky
Choreographer: Jayne Zaban

Playbill Notes

The Broadway careers of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart burned brightly in the 1920's, but had lost some of their luster by 1931. A three-year hiatus in Hollywood left the two eager for a comeback on the Great White Way and they returned to New York full of inspiration -an amazing five year burst of creative energy resulted in no less than eight hit musicals. In terms of of popular song hits, the crown jewel of that group is Babes in Arms.

The April, 1937, opening of Babes followed the team's one-two punch with Jumbo and On Your Toes. A group of children playing made-up games in Central Park had inspired Rodgers and Hart to create a new show that revel in the freshness and enthusiasm of a group of young people starting out in show business. Being Rodgers and Hart they also added the realistic touch of social commentary in the parts of Peter, a communist, and the DeQuincy brothers, African-American youths who endure the vitriolic racism of another character.

If critics ignored the political aspects, they adorded everything else about the show and it scored a resounding success. Among the youngsters making notable first impressions were Alfred Drake, Wynn Murray, Grace McDonald, Dan Dailey, and former child star Mitzi Green, who played Billie.

Of course, Rodgers and Hart had unknowingly created a genre with Babes, one that took off like gangbusters with the Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland film version, which, incredibly, kept only two songs ("Babes in Arms" and "Where or When").

In the late 50's, Rodgers commisioned a sanitized, de-politicized rewrite. It is the version of Babes in Arms which has been produced for the last forty years.

The original '37 version of the show was dusted off and produced by the University of Cincinnati in 1998 and this production convinced the Rodgers and Hammerstein organization that they had a forgotten gem on their hands.

New York's acclaimed Encores! series of musicals-in-concerts followed suit in Feburary of this year. The reviews were so ecstatic that they almost resulted in a Chicago-style Broadway move for the concert. Incidentally, playwright John Guare made minor editorial cuts and revisions for Encores! Our production retains some of these changes but it also restores some original material.

We invite you to sit back and let the shimmering Rodgers melodies and shrewd Hart lyrics take you back to a time when "Hey, Kids! Let's put on a show!" was the freshest idea on Broadway.

-- Greg MacKellan

Plot Summary

A group of teenagers, whose parents are out of work vaudevillians, stage a revue to keep from being sent to work on a farm. Unfortunately, the show is a flop. Later, when a transatlantic French flyer lands nearby, they are able to attract enough publicity to put on a successful show and build their own youth center.

Press Release

SAN FRANCISCO (19 October 1999) -- San Francisco's award-winning "lost musical" company, 42nd Street Moon, closes its seventh season with a concert production of the rarely heard original Broadway version of Rodgers & Hart's Babes in Arms. Virtually abandoned after its opening in 1937, this version of the famous musical predates the 1959 rewrite with which most audiences are familiar. Babes in Arms, directed by Greg MacKellan with music direction by David Dobrusky, plays Nov. 24 (press opening: November 26) through Jan. 2 at San Francisco's New Conservatory Theatre Center.

In Babes in Arms, a group of teenagers -- children of vaudeville performers -- put on a show to stop the welfare department from sending them to a work farm on Long Island. Simple, cheery, and warm-hearted, Babes in Arms is typical of the musicals of the age: an elementary plot, building a framework on which to hang any number of marvelous songs and dances. In fact, the score was the most successful Rodgers & Hart ever created, including classic hits such as "My Funny Valentine," "Where or When," "The Lady is a Tramp," "Johnny One Note," "Imagine," "I Wish I Were in Love Again," and "Babes in Arms." Choreographed by George Balanchine and marking the stage debuts of Alfred Drake and Dan Dailey, the show charmed theater-goers.

In 1959 Rodgers, feeling Babes was outdated, commissioned George Oppenheimer to rewrite the book around the score. The resulting version, which was the only one available for production for nearly forty years, deleted one of the show's subplots and two of the songs, added new characters, and reassigned the remaining songs to different characters. In the well-known movie, starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, the show strayed even further from the original -- the story was totally rewritten and all songs except "Babes in Arms" and "Where or When" dumped.

Strangely enough, one of the subplots that was removed in the "updated" version concerns an issue that is sadly alive and well today: racism. In this original version, two dancers of color face unreasoning prejudice from one of the other teens, a chord that was perhaps too dischordant for Rodgers & Hart's original audiences. In fact, the amount of denial regarding this problem at the time is evident even in The New York Times' review of the show, in which the critic -- intending praise -- remarked, "there are two dancing fools, Harold and Fayard Nicholas, who clatter across the stage with the rhythmic frenzy that only the Negores can conjure out of a Broadway night." (Those "dancing fools" went on to become the world famous Nicholas Brothers, dancing stars of '30s and '40s films.)

When the 1937 version was presented earlier this year by New York's "Encores" series, critics noted that this original script was far more interesting than the watered-down 1959 version. Many also noted the pleasure of hearing well-known songs within their original show framework, instead of through the medium of various cabaret or recording artists. The New York Times said, "the extra bonus in hearing these old favorites is discovering their original contexts, whose sensibility is miles away from the sophisticated smokiness of a cabaret."

42nd Street Moon's concert version of Babes in Arms will feature Nick Dothée, Lianne Marie Dobbs, Dan Brake, Amy Cole and Joel Patterson. Playing the former child star, Baby Rose, will be Marsha Ward -- who, as a child, originated the title role in the London production of ANNIE. Also appearing are Darren Criss, Christian Cagigal, Marissa DeClercq, Erin Cole, Martin Lewis, Tom Elliott, and Stephen Pawley.