No, No, Nanette
|No, No, Nanette|
|Lyrics||Irving Caesar |
|Book||Otto Harbach |
1971: Burt Shevelove
|Basis||Emil Nyitray and Frank Mandel's play My Lady Friends|
|Productions||1925: West End |
1971: Broadway revival
|Awards||Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book|
No, No, Nanette is a musical comedy with lyrics by Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach, music by Vincent Youmans, and a book by Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel, based on Mandel's 1919 Broadway play My Lady Friends. The farcical story involves three couples who find themselves together at a cottage in Atlantic City in the midst of a blackmail scheme, focusing on a young, fun-loving Manhattan heiress who naughtily runs off for a weekend, leaving her unhappy fiancé. Its songs include the well-known "Tea for Two" and "I Want to Be Happy".
During its 1924 pre-Broadway tour, No, No, Nanette became a hit in Chicago, and the production stayed there for over a year. In 1925, the show opened both on Broadway and in the West End, running 321 and 665 performances respectively. Film versions and revivals followed. A popular 1971 Broadway revival, with a book adapted by Burt Shevelove, led to the piece becoming a favorite of school and community groups for a time.
A popular myth holds that the show was financed by selling baseball's Boston Red Sox superstar Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, resulting in the "Curse of the Bambino." However, it was My Lady Friends, rather than No, No, Nanette, that was directly financed by the Ruth sale.
Original production and aftermath
No, No, Nanette was not successful in its first pre-Broadway tour in 1924. When the production arrived in Chicago, producer Harry Frazee re-cast the show with new stars, had the book rewritten and asked Youmans and Caesar to write additional songs. These additional songs, "Tea for Two" and "I Want to Be Happy", would become the hit songs of the show. The Chicago production was a hit and ran for over a year. Frazee eagerly capitalized on this success, but Broadway was not his first priority. The London production opened in the West End on March 11, 1925 at the Palace Theatre, where it starred Binnie Hale, Joseph Coyne and George Grossmith Jr. and became a hit, running for 665 performances. The London production featured two songs that were not included in U.S. productions: "I've Confessed to the Breeze" and "Take a Little One-Step". Three touring productions were circulating throughout the U.S. when the Broadway production finally opened on September 16, 1925 at the Globe Theatre, starring Louise Groody and Charles Winninger. It ran for 321 performances.
The musical was translated into various languages and enjoyed regional productions, U.S. tours and international success through the end of the decade. It was made into films in both 1930 and 1940, with both film adaptations featuring ZaSu Pitts. A 1950 film, Tea for Two, was a very loose adaptation of the show. It starred Doris Day, Gordon MacRae, Eve Arden (who was also in the 1940 film), and Billy DeWolfe. The musical was seen with decreasing frequency in the following decades.
1971 revival and later productions
For the nostalgic 1971 Broadway revival conceived and produced by Harry Rigby, Burt Shevelove freely adapted the book from the 1925 original. While the 1925 book was considered quite racy at the time of the original production, Shevelove wrote from a nostalgic perspective, depicting the 1920s as a time of innocent fun. He made extensive changes and cuts to the book, but most of the original score was left intact, with only a few cuts and interpolations. The cast featured veteran screen star Ruby Keeler and included Helen Gallagher, Bobby Van, Jack Gilford, Patsy Kelly and Susan Watson. A young Ed Dixon was in the ensemble. Busby Berkeley, nearing the end of his career, was credited as supervising the production, although members of the cast and crew later stated that his name was his primary contribution to the show. Among a number of extensive dance sequences, Keeler – who returned from retirement for the production – was lauded for energetic tap routines incorporated into "I Want to Be Happy" and "Take a Little One-Step". Rigby's acrimonious relationship with fellow producer Cyma Rubin led to Rubin's terminating Rigby's contract and removing his credit as co-producer, but insiders claimed he deserved full credit for the show's success. Rigby later accepted a $300,000 settlement from Rubin.
The 1971 production was well-reviewed and ran for 861 performances. It sparked interest in the revival of similar musicals from the 1920s and 1930s. Tony and Drama Desk Awards went to costume designer Raoul Pène Du Bois, choreographer Donald Saddler, and Gallagher as best leading actress; Kelly won a Tony as best featured actress, and Shevelove's work earned him a Drama Desk Award for outstanding book. This production transferred to London in 1973, with a cast starring Anna Neagle, Anne Rogers, Tony Britton and Teddy Green. Further tours and international productions followed. Performance rights are available for the 1971 version, which has become the most frequently performed musical of the 1920s.
City Center's Encores! presented a new production of No, No, Nanette in May 2008, directed by Walter Bobbie, with choreography by Randy Skinner, starring Sandy Duncan, Beth Leavel and Rosie O'Donnell.
Curse of the Bambino
Some years after the premiere, it was claimed that producer Harry Frazee, a former owner of the Boston Red Sox, financed No, No, Nanette by selling baseball superstar Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, resulting in the "Curse of the Bambino", which, according to a popular superstition, kept the Red Sox from winning the World Series from 1918 until 2004. In the 1990s, that story was partially debunked on the grounds that the sale of Ruth had occurred five years earlier. Leigh Montville discovered during research for his 2006 book, The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth, that No, No, Nanette had originated as a non-musical stage play called My Lady Friends, which opened on Broadway in December 1919. That play had, indeed, been financed by the Ruth sale to the Yankees.
Based on 1971 Revised Production
- Act I
Jimmy Smith, a millionaire Bible publisher, is married to the overly frugal Sue. Jimmy thus has plenty of disposable income, and, because he likes to use his money to make people happy, he has secretly become the (platonic) benefactor of three beautiful women: Betty from Boston, Winnie from Washington, D.C., and Flora from San Francisco. Sue's best friend, Lucille, is married to Jimmy's lawyer and friend, Billy Early. Lucille is a spendthrift and delights in spending all the money Billy makes. Jimmy and Sue have a young ward, Nanette, who they hope will become a respectable young lady. At Jimmy and Sue's home in New York, many young men come to call on Nanette. Lucille advises the young people that having one steady boyfriend is better than many flirtations ("Too Many Rings Around Rosie"). Tom Trainor, Billy's nephew and assistant, works up the courage to tell Nanette that he loves her, and she returns his sentiments ("I've Confessed to the Breeze"). Tom wants to settle down and get married as soon as possible, but Nanette has an untapped wild side and wants to have some fun first.
Jimmy's lady friends are attempting to blackmail him, and he, afraid that Sue will find out about them, enlists Billy's legal help to discreetly ease the girls out of his life. Billy suggests that Jimmy take refuge in Philadelphia. Unknown to Jimmy, Billy decides to take Tom and meet the three ladies in the Smiths' home in Atlantic City, Chickadee Cottage ("Call of the Sea"). Sue and Lucille, hearing that both their husbands will be away on business, also decide to take a vacation to the cottage.
Nanette wants to go to Atlantic City with her friends, but Sue forbids her to go. Jimmy, wanting to make Nanette happy, gives her $200 and agrees to secretly take her to Chickadee Cottage, with the grumpy cook, Pauline, acting as Nanette's chaperone ("I Want to Be Happy"). Nanette is tired of everyone (especially Tom) trying to control her behavior and dreams of the extravagant fun she will have ("No No Nanette"). To tease Tom, she shows him the $200 and refuses to tell him how she got it. Tom angrily breaks off his relationship with Nanette, and, under the pretense that she is going to visit her grandmother in Trenton, New Jersey, Nanette leaves for Atlantic City (Finaletto Act I).
- Act II
Nanette arrives in Atlantic City and quickly becomes the most popular girl on the beach ("Peach on the Beach"). Meanwhile, Jimmy crosses paths with his three girlfriends, who confront him with the promises he made to them ("The Three Happies"). Tom meets up with Nanette, and they resolve their quarrel, fantasizing about being happily married one day ("Tea for Two"). Lucille runs into Billy, and though she is surprised to meet him in Atlantic City, she assures him that she does not mind whether he spends time with other women as long as she's there to watch – and he comes home with her at the end of the evening ("You Can Dance with Any Girl At All").
Sue is shocked to find Nanette in Atlantic City. Nanette at first lies and said she was only visiting her grandmother in Trenton, but Sue knows that cannot be true: Nanette's only living grandmother lives in Omaha, Nebraska. Nanette admits that she actually spent the night in Atlantic City. Against her protests, Sue arranges for her to go back to New York with Pauline. Sue overhears Billy speaking to the women and, assuming that he is having an affair with them, tells Lucille. Billy, to keep Jimmy's secret, does not deny it, and Lucille says she is leaving him. Meanwhile, Tom, shocked by Nanette's behavior, breaks off their relationship. Jimmy is oblivious to the confusion he's created (Finaletto Act II).
- Act III
Billy tries to call Lucille on the telephone, but she refuses to answer. Flora, Winnie, and Betty tempt him to spend time with them instead ("Telephone Girlie"). Lucille, finding herself alone, realizes that she misses Billy, and nothing else can make her feel better ("Where-Has-My-Hubby-Gone Blues"). The truth begins to emerge as Lucille realizes that Billy cannot be the benefactor of the three girls; he never has any money to spend because Lucille spends it all! Jimmy finally pays off the ladies, and finally the truth comes out: Billy has not been cheating on Lucille, and though Jimmy has been spending his money on the three girls, it is strictly platonic.
Nanette and Pauline, unable to catch a train to New York, return to the cottage, where Tom and Nanette make up; however, it appears that once more, Tom wants to settle down while Nanette wants to enjoy being single. Tom produces a magnificent engagement ring, and Nanette has a change of heart, now insisting that they should get married today ("Waiting for You"). Sue and Lucille decide that in order to ensure Jimmy never again has philandering opportunities, Sue must spend all of Jimmy's money herself. The show ends with a tea dance, where Sue wows Jimmy with a fancy dress and a final dance number ("Take a Little One-Step"; "Finale").
1925 Original Broadway production
1971 revised production
The original Broadway production opened to positive reviews; in The New York Times, Herman J. Mankiewicz pronounced it "full of much vigorous merriment and many agreeable tunes," and "a highly meritorious paradigm of its kind." It acknowledged that the plot was slight but praised the score, noting that "I Want to be Happy" and "Tea for Two" were already hit tunes (having premiered in the Chicago production the previous year). Robert C. Benchley in Life magazine admitted "We had a preconceived notion that No, No, Nanette! was a pretty dull show, probably because it had been running so long before it came to New York...No, No, Nanette! is really very amusing." Charles Winninger, in the role of Jimmy Smith, received particular praise for his comedic abilities. The New York Times proclaimed "Winninger gave the greatest performance of his career...it was a more than hardened theatre-goer who was not moved to near hysterics by his every appearance." Benchley stated that "Winninger and Wellington Cross, with that ease and facile kidding which comes to comedians after a long run, are a highly comic pair."
The 1971 revival also received almost uniformly positive reviews from major newspapers, which welcomed its innocent nostalgia. Clive Barnes of the New York Times stated: "For everyone who wishes the world were 50 years younger ... the revival of the 1925 musical No, No, Nanette should provide a delightful, carefree evening. ... This is far closer to a musical of the twenties than anything New York has seen since the twenties, but it is seen through a contemporary sensibility." Douglas Watt, in the New York Daily News, agreed. However, there was some critical disagreement concerning the overall tone of the production. The New York Times thought it "attractively tongue-in-cheek", while John O'Connor of The Wall Street Journal deemed it "a sparkling revival" that was "spiked with jiggers of self-conscious and self-congratulatory camp." T. E. Kalem, in Time magazine, stated: "The show is a copious delight, but it has a sizable temperamental flaw. No strict decision was made as to whether it should be played straight or campy." Jack Kroll of Newsweek considered it a sincere representation of the 1920s, declaring it a "very moving show."
Ruby Keeler's tap-dancing and charm in the revival were widely praised; Richard Watts in the New York Post stated "Ruby Keeler, looking every bit as attractive as in her heyday as a film star, can still do a tap dance or a soft shoe number that is a joy." O'Connor found her charming and warm, writing, "she smartly whisks the delirious audience right back to those good old Busby Berkeley movies." The score was also lauded. Barnes stated "the melodies are light, cheerful and exuberant", and the lyrics "[deserve] a place in any museum of American musical comedy, and yet live wonderfully today." Multiple critics cited Busby Berkeley's supervision as a contributing factor to the show's success; Kroll asked rhetorically "the production has dignity, taste and wit, and how else could it be under the aegis of 75-year-old Busby Berkeley, that authentic genius of the old Hollywood musicals?" Stage veterans Bobby Van and Helen Gallagher received particular praise for their performances. O'Connor stated that "the best performances came from Bobby Van as the suave, debonair dancing lawyer...and the adorable Helen Gallagher as his short-suffering wife." Watt pronounced Van "a hoofer par excellence" and said that Gallagher gave "a most stylish performance."
Awards and nominations
1971 Tony Award nominations
- Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical – Bobby Van
- Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical – Helen Gallagher (Winner)
- Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical – Patsy Kelly (Winner)
- Tony Award for Best Costume Design – Production Design by Raoul Pène Du Bois (Winner)
- Tony Award for Best Choreography – Donald Saddler (Winner)
- Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical – Burt Shevelove
Theatre World Award
- Theatre World Award – Roger Rathburn (Winner)
1971 Drama Desk Award nominations
- Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book – Book adapted by Burt Shevelove (for the adaptation) (Winner)
- Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Choreography – Donald Saddler (Winner)
- Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Costume Design – Production Design by Raoul Pène Du Bois (Winner)
- Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance – Helen Gallagher (Winner)
- Shaughnessy, Dan (2005). Reversing the Curse. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 11. ISBN 0-618-51748-0.
- Bordman 2001, pp. 452–53
- Dunn 1972, pp. 32–38
- Gänzl, Kurt (1995). Gänzl's Book of the Broadway Musical. New York: Schirmer Books. p. 61.
- Kenrick, John. "History of The Musical Stage – 1920s: 'Keep the Sun Smilin' Through'". Musicals101.com. Retrieved October 19, 2010.
- Bloom, Ken; Vlastnik, Frank (2004). Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. pp. 220–21.
- Dunn 1972, p. 290
- Kenrick, John. "History of The Musical Stage: 1970s III". Musicals101.com. Retrieved 15 February 2012.
- Bordman 2001, pp. 729–30
- Mordden, Ethan (2003). One More Kiss: The Broadway Musical in the 1970s. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 141.
- Dunn 1972, pp. 208–09, 227, 275, 286 and 305–06
- Watt, Douglas (January 20, 1971). "Nanette Serves Tea for Two and You and You–With Sugar". New York Daily News.
- Dunn 1972, pp. 204–07, 312–14, 326 and 335
- Stempel, Larry (2010). Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical Theater. Norton. pp. 650–51.
- Brantley, Ben (May 10, 2008). "Roaring Twenties Speakeasies With Tubs Full of Ginger Ale Fizz". The New York Times. p. B7.
- Kepner, Tyler (October 28, 2004). "Red Sox Erase 86 Years of Futility in 4 Games". The New York Times. p. A1.
- Montville, Leigh (2006). The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth. Random House. pp. 101–104.
- This number was cut in the out of town tryouts but included on the cast album.
- "No, No, Nanette Full of Vigorous Fun". The New York Times. September 17, 1925.
- Benchley, Robert C. (February 4, 1926). Slide, Anthony (ed.). Selected Theatre Criticism Volume 2: 1920-1930 [Life]. Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press. pp. 157–58. ISBN 0-8108-1844-2.
- Barnes, Clive (January 20, 1971). "Stage: No, No, Nanette Is Back Alive". The New York Times.
- O'Connor, John (January 21, 1971). "The Theater". The Wall Street Journal.
- Kalem, T.E. (February 1, 1971). "Perforated Valentine". Time.
- Kroll, Jack (February 1, 1971). "Magic Lantern". Newsweek.
- Watts, Richard (January 20, 1971). "Return of an Old Favorite". New York Post.
- Bordman, Gerald (2001). American Musical Theater: A Chronicle. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-513074-X.
- Dunn, Don (1972). The Making of No, No, Nanette. Citadel Press. ISBN 0-8065-0265-7.
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