ON THE RECORD: Gershwin's Sweet Little Devil and John Pizzarelli's "Double Exposure"

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10 Jun 2012

Cover art for <i>Sweet Little Devil</i>
Cover art for Sweet Little Devil

This week's column discusses the new studio cast album of the early Gershwin musical Sweet Little Devil and a new CD from John Pizzarelli, "Double Exposure."


Sweet Little Devil [PS Classics]
I periodically sit down and play through my stack of obscure Gershwin sheet music, which includes the seven published songs from Sweet Little Devil (some of which were published under the pre-Broadway title, A Perfect Lady). So I have more than passing familiarity with the score from the long-forgotten musical which began the most important year in George's professional life. Most important by far, was 1924. On Valentine's Day — three weeks after Sweet Little Devil opened — he played piano at the premiere of a concert piece he wrote during the stretch between the Boston and New York openings, "Rhapsody in Blue." Which almost instantly catapulted him to a fame. In June he wrote the last of his scores for George White's Scandals, which for five editions had brought forth what was for the most part hackwork-on-assignment. The 1924 edition did contain the second of the two good songs (out of 30 published titles) that Gershwin wrote for White, "Somebody Loves Me."

Gershwin spent that summer in London, where he wrote his first West End musical comedy, Primrose, a moderate hit which never jumped the Atlantic. After which he embarked on what would be the first major musical of his career, in part because of three major factors. Most important was the decision to cease wandering from lyricist to lyricist and settle on one, his elder brother. (Ira had been gathering Broadway experience under a pseudonym, so as not to infringe upon George's growing prominence.) The second was to tie his fortunes to a pair of young-and-eager producers with a taste for bright, dancing musical comedies named Alex Aarons and Vinton Freedley. The immediate success of Al and Vin's Gershwin musicals enabled them, within three years, to build their own theatre, the Alvin. Which remains a prime house today, even though a later landlord changed the name to the Neil Simon.

The third key to the success of Lady Be Good, which opened December 1 of that same 1924, was in the choice of stars. George was already friendly with Fred Astaire and sister Adele (who was the charismatic one). The Astaires and the Gershwins were a perfect match. They would work together on one additional Broadway musical plus the smashingly successful London transfers of both shows. After Adele retired, Fred moved to Hollywood — where George and Ira wrote five immortal standards for him to sing in the movies (including "They Can't Take That Away from Me" and "Nice Work If You Can Get It").


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