Gentlemen Prefer Blondes [Masterworks Broadway]
City Center Encores! had one of their sprightliest outings last May when they brought us Jule Styne and Leo Robin's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. This 1949 musical was the last of its kind, or at least the last smash hit of its kind — its kind being an old-fashioned laff-fest with girls and gags and real honest-to-goodness tunes. Plus a low-comedy star performance by an unexpectedly uproarious newcomer as adept as Bert Lahr, Bea Lillie and others of that ilk.
Audiences who had moved on to Carousel, Brigadoon, South Pacific and Kiss Me, Kate were nevertheless happy to throng to the Ziegfeld to see this new outlandish clown with those google-eyes — back in the days when google had an altogether different connotation — bedecked in Tiffany's best, who went by the name Carol Channing. A jolly time was had by all, and Robin's song-title "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" became part of the vernacular.
But Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was the end of the line. This was a lavish affair of the sort the long-dead Ziegfeld himself used to offer. Except that Blondes was a far better show, with a far better score, than Flo's typical musical comedies. This mid-century musical harked back to pre-Depression days, with a massive set, expensive costumes, a full chorus, and a full corps of dancers. Plus two tap specialists and six showgirls. (Yes, they were billed as showgirls in the Playbill.) There were to be later attempts at this sort of extravaganza, but none of them proved as durable or as successful.
What made Gentlemen Prefer Blondes so special — along with the performance of Carol Channing and the durable plot derived from Anita Loos' satirical novel (which she had already adapted successfully as a play and movie) — was the score by Jule Styne and Leo Robin. Styne was a Hollywood tunesmith at the time, with his Broadway experience consisting of one long-running but not quite impressive musical, High Button Shoes. Lyricist Leo Robin had left town for Hollywood long before, but he did have one major Broadway credit in the 1927 Vincent Youmans musical Hit the Deck (which featured the song hit "Hallelujah!"). While Robin is pretty much forgotten today, he came to Blondes with as strong a catalog as Styne, led by such hits as "Beyond the Blue Horizon," "Louise," and "Thanks for the Memory."
For Blondes, this one-show-only team came up with a strong assortment of songs. While we expect irrepressible tunes from Styne, the surprise here is just how good Robin's comedy lyrics are. "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" is justly familiar, but "Just a Little Girl from Little Rock" is a true gem. "Bye Bye Baby," "You Say You Care" and "It's Delightful Down in Chile," are among the other delights.
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