Financially strapped producers; a book in need of a major rewrite; a star who quit during an out-of-town tryout; several cast replacements; a huffy resignation from the librettist—Pardon My English suffered all these woes and more. It is then, perhaps, no surprise that the original endured only 46 performances at the Majestic Theatre and hasn't been seen since.
Still, Encores! saw something in the goofy split-personality plot and, particularly, the Gershwin score, which featured "Isn't It a Pity," "The Lorelei" and "My Cousin in Milwaukee." And so Encores! artistic director Jack Viertel hired David Ives to rework the book and Chicago director Gary Griffin to guide a cast headed by Brian D'Arcy James, Emily Skinner, Rob Bartlett, Jennifer Laura Thompson and Don Stephenson. The results will parade across the City Center stage March 25-28.
The score the cast will perform has only been in circulation since 1982, when theatre historians discovered it—and several other scores by the likes of Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart—gathering dust in a warehouse in Secaucus, New Jersey. As for the libretto, no one knows where the version that played on Broadway ended up. (Teaneck, maybe?) The words Ives shaped came from the first draft submitted by Herbert Fields and Morrie Ryskind, which was sitting patiently in the Library of Congress. (These hiding places are testament to the fate that often befell the raw material of early-20th-century musicals, when they did not succeed immediately with the public.)
Pardon My English seemed to have traced the edge of the precipice since its inception. Producers Alex Aarons and Vinton Freeley were nearly bankrupt when they asked George and Ira for a score, and Fields and Ryskind for a book. The showmen wanted a lighthearted romp to put smiles on the faces of depressed Depression audiences. Ryskind and Fields delivered a bizarre story of speakeasy owner in dour Dresden who switches personalties when struck on the skull. Bang! He's Golo the German bootlegger. Bang! He's English dandy Michael Bramleigh.
The tepid reviews from a Philadelphia tryout launched an overhaul of the book; Ryskind eventually resigned. A stop in Newark launched a boat that took star Jack Buchanan back to England; the actor bought out his contact at a cost of $20,000. Buchanan was replaced; later, his replacement was replaced. Also fired were ingenue Ona Munson and her replacement. According to Viertel, Ives has cut and pruned and "discovered a kind of wonderfully chaotic musical comedy fable." Whatever the result, it will certainly provide some juicy comic opportunities for the concert presentation's skilled musical leads.
James, a veteran of Titanic and Sweet Smell of Success, would likely have been starring on Broadway this spring in Harmony, had that show not collapsed out of town due to financial problems. Skinner, of Side Show and The Full Monty fame, appeared on Broadway last year in Dinner at Eight.
Bartlett is currently performing in Broadway's Little Shop of Horrors, while Thompson spent the last couple seasons employed in Urinetown and Little Fish. Stephenson recently ended a stint as Leo in Broadway's The Producers.
The acclaimed Encores! series offered Cole Porter's Can-Can as its season opener Feb. 12-15. Star Patti LuPone raked in plaudits from the critics and the show proved the series' biggest seller to date.