Jerome Kern

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Jerome Kern : biography

January 27, 1885 – November 11, 1945

The "Princess Theatre shows" were unique on Broadway not only for their small size, but their clever, coherent plots, integrated scores and naturalistic acting, which presented "a sharp contrast to the large-scale Ruritanian operettas then in vogue" or the star-studded revues and extravaganzas of producers like Florenz Ziegfeld. Earlier musical comedy had often been thinly plotted, gaudy pieces, marked by the insertion of songs into their scores with little regard to the plot. But Kern and Bolton followed the examples of Gilbert and Sullivan and French opéra bouffe in integrating song and story. "These shows built and polished the mold from which almost all later major musical comedies evolved. … The characters and situations were, within the limitations of musical comedy license, believable and the humor came from the situations or the nature of the characters. Kern’s exquisitely flowing melodies were employed to further the action or develop characterization." The shows featured modern American settings and simple scene changes to suit the small theatre.Kenrick, John. , accessed May 11, 2010

The team’s first Princess Theatre show was an adaptation of Paul Rubens’ 1905 London show, Mr. Popple (of Ippleton), called Nobody Home (1915). The piece ran for 135 performances and was a modest financial success. However, it did little to fulfill the new team’s mission to innovate, except that Kern’s song, "The Magic Melody", was the first Broadway showtune with a basic jazz progression. Kern and Bolton next created an original piece, Very Good Eddie, which was a surprise hit, running for 341 performances, with additional touring productions that went on into the 1918-19 season. The British humorist, lyricist and librettist P. G. Wodehouse joined the Princess team in 1917, adding his skill as a lyricist to the succeeding shows. Oh, Boy! (1917) ran for an extraordinary 463 performances.Bloom and Vlastnik, pp. 230–31Oh, Boy! was staged in London as Oh, Joy! in 1919 at the Kingsway Theatre, where it ran for 167 performances: see Jasen, p. 279 Other shows written for the theatre were Have a Heart (1917), Leave It to Jane (1917)Because Oh Boy! was a hit at the Princess, Leave It to Jane opened at the Longacre Theatre instead. and Oh, Lady! Lady!! (1918). The first opened at another theatre before Very Good Eddie closed. The second played elsewhere during the long run of Oh Boy! An anonymous admirer wrote a verse in their praiseThe poem is patterned after Baseball’s Sad Lexicon. that begins:

This is the trio of musical fame,
Bolton and Wodehouse and Kern.
Better than anyone else you can name
Bolton and Wodehouse and Kern.Steyn, Mark. "Musical debt to a very good Guy", The Times, November 28, 1984, p. 12

In February 1918, Dorothy Parker wrote in Vanity Fair:

Oh, Lady! Lady!! was the last successful "Princess Theatre show". Kern and Wodehouse disagreed over money, and the composer decided to move on to other projects.Suskin, Steven. . Oxford University Press U.S., 2000, p. 10 ISBN 0-19-512599-1 Kern’s importance to the partnership was illustrated by the fate of the last musical of the series, Oh, My Dear! (1918), to which he contributed only one song: "Go, Little Boat". The rest of the show was composed by Louis Hirsch, and ran for 189 performances: "Despite a respectable run, everyone realized there was little point in continuing the series without Kern."

Early 1920s

The 1920s were an extremely productive period in American musical theatre, and Kern created at least one show every year for the entire decade. His first show of 1920 was The Night Boat, with book and lyrics by Anne Caldwell, which ran for more than 300 performances in New York and for three seasons on tour. Later in the same year, Kern wrote the score for Sally, with a book by Bolton and lyrics by Otto Harbach. This show, staged by Florenz Ziegfeld, ran for 570 performances, one of the longest runs of any Broadway show in the decade, and popularized the song "Look for the Silver Lining" (which had been written for an earlier show), performed by the rising star Marilyn Miller. It also had a long run in London in 1921, produced by George Grossmith, Jr. Kern’s next shows were Good Morning, Dearie (1921, with Caldwell) which ran for 347 performances; followed in 1922 by a West End success, The Cabaret Girl in collaboration with Grossmith and Wodehouse;The Observer, September 24, 1922, p. 11 another modest success by the same team, The Beauty Prize (1923); and a Broadway flop, The Bunch and Judy, remembered, if at all, as the first time Kern and Fred Astaire worked together.