PS Classics Records Forgotten Kay Swift Musical, Fine and Dandy, With Carolee Carmello

By Kenneth Jones
23 Jun 2003

PS Classics, the record label devoted to the heritage of American theatre music, goes into the studio June 23 to preserve the score of Fine and Dandy, the forgotten 1930 Broadway musical by Kay Swift.



A woman theatre composer in a field largely dominated by men in the first part of the 20th-century, Swift helped create a show about a strong-willed businesswoman named Nancy, though the marquee star of the show was comedian Joe Cook. The popular comic sang the title song of the piece while the rest of the score went to other players (including actress Alice Boulden, who played Nancy). The show's librettist was Donald Ogden Stewart.

Tony Award nominee Carolee Carmello (Parade, Urinetown) sings Nancy on the new recording. The first session for the disc is June 23. Additional sessions are expected this summer, with a five roles still to be cast, said PS Classics co-founder and producer Tommy Krasker. The label's most recent release was the new Broadway cast recording of Nine.

The recording is a vintage restoration, meaning orchestral charts didn't survive (except for one song), so new ones are being created. The project's orchestrator, Russell Warner, is creating the charts from vocal scores, and worked closely with Swift before her death.

Aaron Gandy conducts, as he did PS Classics' disc of Vincent Youmans' forgotten show, Through the Years.

This is the first project PS Classics is producing under its nonprofit branch, which was formed in 2002 specifically to help restore and record these forgotten musicals. The not-for-profit setup allows the small company to seek grants and donations for the projects, which are costly and not necessarily commercial.

Kay Swift is one of the few female Broadway composers from the first half of the 20th century, and is best known for her close personal and professional relationship with George Gershwin.

Why Fine and Dandy?

"Shortly after we released Through the Years, back in the fall of 2001, I received an e-mail from Kay's granddaughter, Katharine Weber," producer Krasker told Playbill On-Line. "I had spoken with her briefly back when I was recording Pardon My English for the Gershwin Trusts a decade ago.  Kay had restored a lot of Gershwin's unnotated songs from memory in the years following his death, and we thought she might have some sketches from Pardon My English that would help us with the restoration.  Katharine obliged very kindly and  very quickly, but I hadn't spoken to her since."

Krasker explained, "Katharine was writing because of her desire to see Fine and Dandy, Kay's biggest musical comedy, recorded.  The lyrics were by Kay's husband, James Warburg, writing under the pseudonym Paul James. Kay had been working with orchestrator Russell Warner restoring the score just before she died, and Russell in turn had been working on the restoration for over a decade.  Katharine sent me a vocal score, and I thought it was delightful.  I really didn't know Kay's work at all, other than the title song, but she was an accomplished classically-trained musician and composer. I think the work will surprise a lot of people, and although the original charts survive for only one number, Russell has been orchestrating the remainder of the work for the original number of musicians: 28."

This recording has been almost 15 years in the making, Krasker said. "It was that long ago that Russell and Kay were working on putting the score back together. But as I always say, the one thing you can never do with these restorations is rush them."

Fine and Dandy was a big hit, Krasker said. "It opened just prior to the Gershwins' Girl Crazy, ran just about as long, toured, and then seems to have vanished," he said. "Perhaps it's because it was considered such a star vehicle that the show has never been revived and has faded into obscurity. The bulk of the musical material fell to [Joe Cook's] leading lady, Alice Boulden, whom he eventually married.  Her role is that of a strong-willed businesswoman who, at various points in the show, has to reveal both a tender side and a funny side. It's a real tour-de-force, and Aaron and [PS Classics co-founder] Philip [Chaffin] and I immediately thought of Carolee.  I've been wanting to work with Carolee for a long time, and the part seemed tailor-made."

The final recording will include the seven published songs from Fine and Dandy, plus an additional six unpublished songs. For information about PS Classics, visit www.psclassics.com.