WThe creators of this jazz version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which opened on Broadway on November 29, 1939, were hoping for a big hit. The music alone seemed to be worth the admission fee. Among the hits were Ain’t Misbehavin’, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Jeepers Creepers, Darn That Dream and more. This was all mixed with the swinging representation of Mendelssohn’s Marriage March from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1842. The music was played by some of the celebrities around: Bud Freeman’s band played on one side of the stage, Benny Goodman’s racial group played on the other side, and Donald Voorhees in the center with 50 people. Conducted the orchestra of.
The Shakespeare musical has 150 performers, including many of America’s most popular black artists, including Maxine Sullivan in Titania, Fano Hernandez in Oberon, and Louis Armstrong in the bottom. The trumpet player reportedly declined partly to appear in another jazz show to Broadway, a young man with a horn. Butterfly McQueen (also known as Gone with the Wind) played Puck. Agnes de Mille, who breaks new ground with her black ritual for the newly formed black unit of the ballet theater a year later, oversaw the choreography.
The dancers included the great tap star Bill Bailey, three Dandridge sisters (who played the Titania pixie attendant), and a couple of 13 tireless Jitterbug. The set design was based on the Walt Disney manga, and it looked great. Sullivan’s Titania was crowned a “World of Tomorrow” motorized wheelchair, Mike appeared in the form of snakes and caterpillars, and a pull-down bed hung from a tree.
It was destined to be a hit and seemed surprisingly original.But Swingin’the Dream ended in just 13 performances and lost investors for an astonishing $ 100,000. That’s about $ 2 million today. Critics continued to argue what went wrong, hampered by the fact that the script for the show was not found, except for a few pages from the Pyramus and Thisbe scenes. Towards the end of the short run, CBS Radio aired Sullivan and Armstrong to play some songs and scenes, but the recordings were also lost.
Now, 80 years later, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Young Vic, and the New Audience Theater in New York are joining forces to live stream a “work in progress” concert based on the show’s surviving music. By Kwame Kwei-Armah. For Young Vic’s artistic director, “The desire to combine the two great forms of art of jazz and poetry, and in doing so, to make a statement about the state of America at the time, is now explored. I feel ripe. “
The show’s creators, Erik Charell and Gilbert Seldes, set up a musical in New Orleans in the 1890s. The program reminded play fans that “Athens in Southland” was the birthplace of the swing. A useful summary of adaptations was provided by Philip Carter in his review of Amsterdam News, the leading black newspaper in New York. The point is that the story revolves around the wedding of the Governor of Louisiana. The two men who work for him as secretaries are in love with his cousin’s daughter.
This leaves another Southern Bell, who loves one of the young people, in the cold. “Plantation Hands” “decided to play the dream of a midsummer night as a wedding pastime, where the four lovers wandered into the magical forest, where romance first entwined, then King Oberon’s. Straightened by magic. Pixie. All of this forms the background for Jackie Mabry and her fellow actors to accidentally find a line of simulated rehearsals for their play. “
The white actor was cast as the governor and his circle, and the black performer played a “rude machine” and many forest-dwelling spirits. While throwing an enhanced class and racial boundary, it nevertheless broke the gender. Quince, played by the talented stand-up comedian “Mama Mabury,” was a midwife, and Alberta Perkins played the chef Peaceful Pearl. Snag is a cleaner, Snout is Steeple Jack, Flute is Iceman, and Louis Armstrong’s bottom is a firefighter.
Serdes and Charel wanted to take advantage of the previous year’s success of boys from Syracuse, the first major Shakespeare musical based on The Comedy of Errors. The white cast made effective use of the swing, and the show performed 235 times. A decisive feature of the new Shakespeare musical was the hybrid. A mix of musical styles, a mix of Shakespeare languages and contemporary American idioms, a mix of highbrow and groin, and a mixed race of Swingin’the Dream set a precedent for Kiss Me, Kate, and Westside Stories. .. But getting the mix right wasn’t easy.
People of the same era gave various explanations as to why the show failed. Some blamed the venue, a cave-like center theater with 3,700 seats.As a post-mortem analysis The Theater Arts Monthly said: Even Manhattan’s Pied Piper, Benny Goodman himself, couldn’t attract his followers from the waste of fog in its huge and overly elegant auditorium. While praising the “huge amount and charge” of the production, the review concludes that “there was no showmanship, and no direction or planning to make a great collection of ideas work as a whole.” I attached it.
John Mason Brown wrote in the New York Post that “Shakespeare was pushed behind the scenes” and that the show was great when he was particular about dance and music, and by being very close to the original, the show’s creators “May delight the school Marm,” he added. But they have silenced Goodman and Armstrong for a long time. “Brooks Atkinson went a step further in his New York Times Review, I wonder if the show went better “by completely forgetting Shakespeare”.
The show had never been run outside the town to solve the problem, but Pittsburgh Courier reported after the night that “a rush fix improved it significantly.” .. Had the run been extended, it would have been sharper. However, the salaries of many of those performers exceeded $ 6,000 a week and did not include Benny Goodman’s band. Faced with so many vacant seats in a huge theater, the producer relied on handing out tickets. The place was full on Thursday before the store closed, according to the New York Times, but the gate for the night was only $ 596. Seating costs (the most expensive is $ 2.20) were deliberately kept low, but the show wasn’t able to attract white spectators and apparently made little effort to train black spectators.
Did Swingin’the Dream arrive on Broadway earlier than that moment? The white audience certainly didn’t seem ready to pay to see the black performer play Shakespeare.You can get a glimpse of this attitude in Time’s negative reviews, “A self-respecting bard hunter will not catch the prey of such hybrids,” the Boston Globe informed its readers that “the cast will be black.”
Still, musicals not only embraced swings, but dominated the era. No matter how progressive the creators imagined their show, they were reluctant to give their black stars the freedom of improvisation that was at the center of the swing, and gave them the sneaky minstrels. I was driven to the role of. Black critics were particularly sensitive to this. William G. Nan, who writes for Pittsburgh Courier, accused Charel of failing to “own his supercast star.”
Bud Freeman, one of the few white artists in production, later wrote in his autobiography, “If Charel knew the wonders of blacks, he might have had a review that would still be in place.” wrote. It didn’t help that the show’s creative controls reflected the world of play, with white actors cast as agents and black actors playing “Plantation Hands.”
If anyone in the cast suffers from this, no one on the record said so. In 1939, as the Great Depression reached its tenth year, black performers faced tough choices. At least in the theater world, things have improved since the government created the Federal Black Theater, part of the New Deal’s Federal Theater Project, in 1936, saving many unemployed careers.
It was good to find a job in difficult times, but was it too expensive to accept a routine role and couldn’t afford it? Philip Carter asked in the same way on Amsterdam News. “Some people feel that’dreams’ deserve the same support as other companies when 150 blacks are paid. But the same high ideal is that such support is with black actors. The day black art is recognized without Lampoon and Burlesque will make others feel that it will only push into the distant future. “
As Pittsburgh Courier reported, the sudden closure of Swingin’the Dream “added more than 200 performers to the job seeker list again, most of them colored.” Six months later, the House Un-American Activities Committee closed the entire Federal Theater Project, considered it destructive, and declared that “the pursuit of racial equality forms an important part” throughout the United States. Opportunities for black actors have been significantly reduced. Communism Teachings and Practices “.
Live-streamed concerts could herald Shakespeare in the post-pandemic world. Theater companies are looking to the past as they struggle for a more inclusive and collaborative future. If so, the story of Swingin’the Dream embodies both the dangers and promises of this future. In the meantime, it’s good to listen to some notable jazz in a closed state, imagine the wonderful Satchmo in his horn, and breathe new life into the “most unusual” dreams of the bottom. ..
• Swinging’the Dream will be live streamed on January 9th. James Shapiro is an English professor at Columbia University in New York. He is the author of the split American Shakespeare.
Midsummer Night Saxophone Comedy: The Revival of the Lost Shakespeare Jazz Musical | Musical
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