How Encores! Revived (and Revised) Cole Porter's The New Yorkers Score for a New Cast Album

Cast Recordings & Albums   How Encores! Revived (and Revised) Cole Porter's The New Yorkers Score for a New Cast Album
The Encores! production, starring Scarlett Strallen and Tam Mutu, was seen at City Center in 2017.
Robyn Hurder and cast in <i>The New Yorkers</i>
Robyn Hurder and cast in The New Yorkers Joan Marcus

At last available for home listeners via Ghostlight Records, Cole Porter's score for The New Yorkers (inspired by cartoonist Peter Arno's work for The New Yorker) is not quite what premiered on Broadway in1930—it might be better.

Much of the original material for the musical had been lost, with the only surviving material consisting of copies of the script with barely decipherable notes from a stage manager. Encores! Artistic Director Jack Viertel, along with a research team and music director Rob Berman, pieced the show back together for a 2017 production, making edits and inserting additional Porter songs. Encores! researchers also discovered missing songs written by the show’s original star Jimmy Durante Durante in a Los Angeles archive.

Now, at last, is the cast album from that concert, featuring Scarlett Strallen as socialite Alice Wentworth, whose bootlegger lover, Al Spanish (Tam Mutu), leads her on the adventure of a lifetime in New York City—from Park Avenue to Sing Sing and back again. Rounding out the principal cast are Cyrille Aimée, Clyde Alves, Todd Buonopane, Mylinda Hull, Robyn Hurder, Byron Jennings, Eddie Korbich, Jeffrey Schecter, Tyler Lansing Weaks, and Ruth Williamson.

The cast album is available on Amazon, iTunes, and Apple Music.

The musical features music and lyrics by Porter, and a book by Herbert Fields, based on a story by E. Ray Goetz and Arno. The score restoration for The New Yorkers was made possible by The Joseph S. and Diane H. Steinberg Broadway Musical Restoration Fund and Denise R. Sobel.

Here, Viertel shares behind-the-scenes stories about the lovingly reassembled score, which includes such Porter favorites as "Love for Sale," "Night and Day," and "I Happen to Like New York."

When Encores! Music Director Rob Berman and I dived into The New Yorkers it was for three reasons: Cole Porter, the love of discovery, and the fact that the show (unlike so many antique musicals) was actually funny and sexy—even though no one had heard from it in almost 90 years. But some of the score had disappeared, and none of the orchestrations existed except for one (see "Night and Day," below). So, we had to import some Cole Porter songs to make a full evening. We didn’t feel bad about this—the show is so amoral and celebrates so much infidelity that we thought we’d better join in. But when it came to creating an appropriate overture, Rob and I agreed that it should only contain songs that had been in the original score. Rob wrote it, and Encores! Assistant Music Director Josh Clayton and Larry Moore orchestrated it using many devices that orchestrators used during the late ‘20s and early ‘30s. So, it sounds wonderfully authentic (muted trumpets, a clarinet solo) but it is newly minted—in the ancient style.

Like a lot of these period musicals, this one begins with a chorus number that doesn’t really mean anything or say much but sets up the mood—speakeasy hotcha—and gives plenty of opportunity for chorus girls, tappers, and so forth. In staging the show, director John Rando was able to use the number to transition from a prologue in a doctor’s office to the Club Toro, where everyone is having a raucous and fairly drunken evening. The show is mostly about sex and alcohol, so this number, which opened the original production, sets the stage.

If the character of Lola McGhee had a song in the original, we couldn’t find it, so we grabbed one from Fifty Million Frenchmen, which Porter had written the year before. We needed a feature for the fabulous Robyn Hurder—and here it is. There were three or four numbers that we discussed as possibilities, but Rob favored this one in part because it didn’t sound like any of the other songs in the show—even though it was in the same style.

Jimmy Durante brought his own act to the original production, including his own songs (he wrote ‘em!). “The Hot Patata” was probably already a hit when Durante interpolated it into the show, and it is certainly typical of his brand of anarchic nonsense and vaudeville songwriting style. Here, Kevin Chamberlin doing a take on Durante but not a direct imitation, does nothing to help make it sound reasonably logical. Forget it. The New Yorkers was billed as a “sociological satire,” thus sidestepping the question of whether it was a revue or a book show. When Durante was on stage it was very much a revue—with a plot. Of sorts.

One of Porter’s most underappreciated ballads, I think. The lyric never goes over the top and turns purple, as some of his lesser ballads do, and the melody is incredibly insinuating on a couple of listens. Scarlett Strallen and Tam Mutu can sing anything beautifully, but in this scene there was true heat between them that made you care—there was an incredible kiss in the musical interlude (you can practically hear it in the orchestration), and by the end you really wanted them to end up together, preferably in a very nice hotel room with room service. It’s that kind of song, and just about perfectly judged by Mr. Porter.

This number is really a song written to be a transition, with the male chorus forming a wall downstage so the stagehands can move scenery upstage, but it’s a lively tune and a funny lyric, if a little outdated (“Don’t give her something highbrow to read / maybe she doesn’t know how to read”). It’s the essence of a prohibition anthem. Peter Arno, whose cartoons for The New Yorker magazine were the inspiration for the show, often depicted pickled speakeasy customers with two xs where their eyes should be, so apparently everybody was saying it with gin.

This is one of two songs that—by some people’s standards—might be considered cheats. It’s Cole Porter at a later period (1938) and we just liked it, and we needed a song for Scarlett Strallen’s character to sing at this point in the show—she’s the leading lady and she hasn’t had a solo yet! So, we grabbed this one. Rob wrote my favorite dance arrangement in the show for this one, and we were able to record the dance portion, so I always wait with special anticipation. The lyric is wonderfully risqué as they used to say, and one of the reasons the show seems relatively free of offense in today’s world, is that the libido level is equally high for women and men. Practically no one can keep their clothes on. And there are no innocents.

Often said to be Porter’s favorite among his own songs, this was written to be sung by a “lady of the evening” who never appears before or after her one moment in the limelight—adding fodder to the argument that the show is a revue with a plot. We wanted someone really special, and not necessarily of the musical theatre world to have that special spot, and Cyrille Aimee, the internationally acclaimed jazz singer, agreed to come on board and treat the song almost as it was originally done. We couldn’t resist giving her a small, romantic scat chorus, because it’s what she does so beautifully. Besides, we had a totally authentic reprise coming up.

I was completely unaware of this song prior to playing through the score for the show with Rob at the piano—it made me instantly giddy. I’m sure in 1930 dozens of dance bands did it as a fox trot in hotel ballrooms across the country, but the lyrics are too idiosyncratic for it to have become a standard. It’s another libido number, but this one is about food, of all things. The wonderful comic-singer-actress Mylinda Hull and Todd Buonopane made a meal of it, so to speak, assisted by the male ensemble doing justice to a dandy Rob Berman vocal arrangement. In the show, they sang while dancing with giant inflated turkey drumsticks. Don’t ask.

Mylinda Hull as the wonderfully named Mona Low entertains the speakeasy crowd again, with a tune that is instantly recognizable as Porter. In the show, she ad-libbed the dialogue about the Rockefellers and the co-op board, although I don’t think there were co-op boards in 1930. We liked it too much to cut it. She also always put a suggestive pause between the words “I’ve got a big electric” and “fan.” I wondered about that; but she doesn’t do it on the recording.

One of Porter’s best-known songs of urgent love, this was written for Gay Divorce, the show he did immediately after The New Yorkers. Because Gay Divorce was adapted into a movie (The Gay Divorcee) we had an orchestration that we were able to insert, slightly adapted, into our own version of the song to use as our own dance break. Anyone who knows the film (and recognizes orchestrations) will certainly find it familiar.

Another Jimmy Durante song, this was the biggest mystery we solved. Although we believed the song hadn’t been heard since 1930, we did acquire, from the Jimmy Durante Archives at UCLA, a copy of the words and music, which made not the slightest bit of sense to us as so many Durante songs do not. We were at a loss as to how to stage it or what it meant (not a lot, for sure), until one of our researchers discovered that Durante had done it on an early NBC TV special in 1950. It was apparently a signature number of his career. And a kinescope of this TV show also lived at the Durante archive. I got on a plane and went to L.A., got the librarians to rack it up on a TV screen, and secretly filmed it with my iPhone, after which I replayed the audio into the same phone by holding the headset they had given me against the phone’s microphone. I flew home the next day, my assistant synced up sound and picture and voila! It’s a crazy number in which Durante and the company eventually—and for no discernible reason—built a giant monument to wood on the stage, throwing in tables chairs, a canoe, a piano, a bed, and several of the stringed instruments in the Encores! orchestra, among many other items. This is my favorite kind of comedy. Aristophanes would have loved it.

This was our Entr’acte and is an authentic restoration of a recording by Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians and one of Waring’s vocal groups, “The Three Girlfriends.” Waring appeared in The New Yorkers with his band and two vocal groups including the Girlfriends (it was that kind of 1930s spectacular), and we believe they did this reprise somewhere in the show; it was recorded that year. This is what it sounded like and it’s quite a special relic of the times in its way. Waring, meanwhile, invested his profits in a new kitchen gizmo, which became the Waring Blender.

This song, under the title “He Never Said He Loved Me,” was written for The New Yorkers, cut out of town, and re-used in Nymph Errant three years later. We returned it to its natural home because we loved it and wanted to give the venerable comic performer Ruth Williamson something worthy of her talents. A classic Porter list song. And how often does one hear one’s medulla oblongata referred to in a lyric?

This was the hit dance tune from the show that has survived (unlike “Getting Myself Ready for You”) thanks to recordings by Bobby Short and others. Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks still play an arrangement of it in their weekly outings on West 54th Street. We loved the idea that the company was flying away not to some exotic isle, but to Sing Sing, having arranged to get themselves arrested for running an amateur speakeasy. That is so not what you hear when you hear the song on a jazz or pop album.

A prison anthem probably sung by Waring’s Pennsylvanians in the original and probably not Porter’s greatest song, but who could resist? It’s a parody of the type of song that was routinely done by groups like the Yale Whiffenpoofs, and indeed, there are pennants hanging from the prison walls commemorating all of the top prisons in the country as the boys give it a go. With megaphones.

Another song from Fifty Million Frenchman, written a year before The New Yorkers. We needed a moment for the two leading characters to finally say “I love you” unequivocally as the second act was racing toward a conclusion, and this comic number seemed appropriate to the bootlegger and the hell-bent-for-anything heiress. As Scarlett and Tam did this number, it was clear they were going to find a way—even though there were still a few complications to get through.

This is the other out-of-period Porter song. It’s from 1941, and we had to do a little re-jiggering (with the Cole Porter Trust’s cooperation) to get some of the ‘40s references out of it. Even so, there are one or two that don’t quite belong, but we’ll leave it to listeners to find them. This was a showpiece for Danny Kaye and for us it became one for Arnie Burton, playing a rival gangster who is far more Noel Coward than George Raft. The song was too irresistible not to use it, re-jiggered or not.

One of the best-known songs in the original show and for obvious reasons. It’s a take-home tune that’s a lighthearted tribute to our very own city (and Porter’s adopted home). We needed to get our main characters home from an ill-considered foray from Sing Sing to Naples, Florida, so the song begins with longing and moves steadily to celebration as New York City comes into view and we find ourselves back where we started—the Club Toro. A wedding is about to take place (naturally) when there is a sudden threat of one more spate of mayhem—guns, gangs, and goons. Luckily Scarlett Strallen brings a halt to the whole thing with the show’s final anthem, which is also a tribute to the great city…

This song is from The New Yorkers but I confess that we cheated in how we used it. It actually wasn’t in the show on opening night—Porter wrote it on an ocean liner heading for Paris shortly after the opening and somehow wired it back to the producer. It was given to a very minor character to sing midway through Act Two. But it seemed to us like a perfect way to bring the evening to a close, and so we did. I remember a meeting at which some informed Porter person said that the composer had Ravel in mind when he composed it, at which point one of our orchestrators piped up with, “Well, then we’re gonna need a harp.” Which is why there’s a harp.

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