Recording of Sweet Little Devil, an Obscure Gershwin Score, Released May 22; Danny Burstein and Rebecca Luker Sing

By Kenneth Jones
May 22, 2012

PS Classics, the record label devoted to the American Songbook and the heritage of musical theatre, releases a studio cast album of George Gershwin and B.G. DeSylva's 1924 musical Sweet Little Devil on May 22.



The recording cast includes Bethe Austin (Goodspeed Musicals' The Boy Friend), Tony Award nominee Danny Burstein (South Pacific, Follies, The Drowsy Chaperone), Philip Chaffin (PS Classics' "When the Wind Blows South," "Warm Spring Night," "Where Do I Go From You?"), Sara Jean Ford (The Phantom of the Opera, A Little Night Music), Jason Graae (Falsettos, A Grand Night for Singing), Tony nominee Rebecca Luker (The Music Man, The Sound of Music, PS Classics' Death Takes a Holiday) and Sally Wilfert (Make Me a Song).

The album team includes conductor Sam Davis and vocal arranger David Loud. Robert Russell Bennett's original orchestrations are heard.

Here's the "Sweet Little Devil" track listing:

Overture
Strike, Strike, Strike
You're Mighty Lucky
Virginia
Someone Believes in You
The Jijibo
"Sam and Joyce scheme"
Our Little Kitchenette
Finale Act I
Quite a Party
Under a One-Man Top
Flirtation Ballet
"Joyce and May scheme"
Matrimonial Handicap
Just Supposing
Hey! Hey! Let 'Er Go!
Hooray for the U.S.A.
Finale Ultimo

The Sweet Little Devil recording, offering Gershwin's earliest surviving score, is being released on the same day (May 22) as PS Classics' two-disc new Broadway cast album of Porgy and Bess — Gershwin's final Broadway score.

Sweet Little Devil and The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess are available at the label's website at www.psclassics.com. For many theatre-related recordings, visit PlaybillStore.com.

PS Classics characterizes the 1924 Sweet Little Devil score as being "the moment when Gershwin was finding the musical voice that would come to define him." The disc is part of the label's Forgotten Musicals series. The score features lyrics by George's then-regular collaborator, B.G. (Buddy) DeSylva, with whom he had written "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" and "Somebody Loves Me."

Sweet Little Devil ran 120 performances, playing Broadway's Astor Theatre January-May 1924. Gershwin would soon pair with his lyricist brother, Ira. DeSylva would later collaborate with Lew Brown and Ray Henderson on Good News and other shows.

"Back when I was working as an archivist for Mrs. Ira Gershwin, back in the mid-1980s, one of my first jobs was to go through existing materials, and write a few pages about each show: what survived, and what the potential was for restoration or recording or performance," PS Classics co-founder Tommy Krasker previously told Playbill.com. "I took to Sweet Little Devil right way. It's early Gershwin, so he hasn't yet fully mastered the style that would come to define him, but hey, a good song is a good song, and Sweet Little Devil is full of them. And the lyrics by Buddy DeSylva are top-notch; to my mind, he's one of the most underrated lyricists from that period. In fact, in the years before Larry Hart and Ira Gershwin got going, I might go so far as to call him the best lyricist in town."

The book was by Frank Mandel and Laurence Schwab. It starred Constance Binney, "a film and stage actress so popular at the time that she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame," Krasker said. Sweet Little Devil was her last stage show.

Krasker added, "Part of what makes doing Sweet Little Devil irresistible is that we have a set of orchestra parts from 1924. And for a change, it's not from the Warner Music Warehouse in Secaucus. I can't remember the exact turn of events, but it was music historian Ron Spivak, who was serving as musicals editor and archivist for the rental library Samuel French back in the 1980s, who discovered boxes and boxes of old musicals in their archives: musicals that had been licensed for performance following their Broadway runs in the '20s and '30s. They included an original ten-piece orchestration for Sweet Little Devil. Those materials were then donated to the Ira and Gershwin Trusts, and Michael Owen, the archivist there, made the materials available to us last year."

According to Steven Suskin's book "Show Tunes," Sweet Little Devil's pre-Broadway title was A Perfect Lady.

PS Classics' previous restorations have included the forgotten Con Conrad/Gus Kahn musical Kitty's Kisses, the Arlen-Gershwin-Harburg revue Life Begins at 8:40 and its 2011 releases of the 1930 version of the Gershwins' Strike Up the Band and Vernon Duke & Ogden Nash's Sweet Bye and Bye.

Krasker was a co-producer of studio recordings of a number of Gershwin scores on the Nonesuch label in the 1980s and early '90s. They include Lady, Be Good!; Pardon My English; Strike Up the Band; Girl Crazy; and Oh, Kay!

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Founded in 2000 by Tommy Krasker & Philip Chaffin, and a six-time Grammy nominee (for its cast albums of Assassins, Nine: The Musical, Grey Gardens, Company, A Little Night Music and Sondheim on Sondheim), PS Classics celebrates the heritage of Broadway and American popular song through its award-winning cast recordings; solo albums by Kate Baldwin, Maureen McGovern, Victoria Clark, Jessica Molaskey and Christine Andreas; and recordings drawn from rare sound archives, including "Sondheim Sings." The company recently released a lavish, two-disc album of the Broadway revival of Follies.