Ode to a Forgotten Song
“Won’t someone please play me!?!” some songs seem to shout out, as they sit in a folder in a box in an archive somewhere mostly ignored.
But someone did go to the trouble of finding the Gershwin song “Someone” and playing it for the world to hear!
“Someone” is a song from the 1922 Broadway show For Goodness Sake, which later became the London show Stop Flirting. Mostly forgotten, For Goodness Sake was brought back to life as a staged reading by Musicals Tonight! at the Lion Theatre in New York City in 2014. This is certainly a labor of love for all involved, since the plot of the show is definitely not very compelling to today’s audiences. The plot goes something like this:
Witless, rich singles try to find love while stopping a witless, rich engaged couple from flirting. Oh, and a guy wants to break the record for flying across the Atlantic.
A critic at the time approved:
“For Goodness Sake has a plot, heart interest, suspense—nay anguish!”
It ran for 103 performances in the States and 418 performances in London (as Stop Flirting), so audiences of the day weren’t turned off by the plot, though Fred and Adele Astaire were credited for much of the shows’ successes.
Kudos to Musical Tonight! for giving the world a glimpse at a show that would otherwise go unseen and unheard. Anything they can do to bring in a modern audience to experience parts of America’s forgotten cultural treasures like this should be aided and applauded!
How TV Ruined Musicals-About-Nothing
Broadway musicals have always been evolving. Kern and Hammerstein did something very influential in December of 1927: their musical Show Boat was about something. Something important: racial prejudice. Without that element, and the expert way in which the topic was handled, Show Boat would possible be revived about as often as the Gershwins’ For Goodness Sake.
In the years that followed, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most revived and revered musicals all have had serious, weighty themes that give the viewer the sense that they witnessed something worthwhile. Light, trivial musicals were still being produced at that time, but over the years, audiences discovered that they could easily get all the inconsequential entertainment that they could ever want from radio shows and later from TV sitcoms. Old musicals that were about nothing more than ‘Will the girl fall for the earnest poor suitor or the wealthy bore?’ became old hat and were not worth the time and effort of spending one’s evening at a Broadway show.
It is a rare exception, like 1980’s 42nd Street, that proves the rule that old, fluffy rom-com musicals have a very difficult time finding a modern audience. Gershwin’s 2015 Broadway show An American in Paris gives us a fine example of how important it is to inject thematic gravitas to a revival. The storyline about a family’s potential Nazi collaboration does not appear in the 1951 Gene Kelly movie which the play is based on. As I watched the show onstage recently, I knew that this subplot was tacked on, but I appreciated the emotional weight that it added to the otherwise fairly light-hearted fare.
George Gershwin could do it all. His early works were often of the modern sitcom variety and are rarely performed. His later political satires touch on serious, relevant topics, but they are products of their specific political time in history and struggle to find audiences. It is his opera Porgy and Bess that has that satisfying mix of the entertaining and the serious which proves Gershwin capable of success in that realm, though many of his fans lament that he was taken before he had a chance to create more musicals which would become revival juggernauts.
Other “new” Gershwin stage successes like Crazy for You take the approach of jamming the show with Gershwin’s greatest hits which, it turns out, can be enough to bring in a modern audience even without overlaying a consequential subplot. Sometimes nostalgia can succeed—just play it safe and throw in top-top-tier songwriting from a recognizable name from the Great American Songbook.
Download the PDF of the simplified sheet music to “Someone” here: Someone
Lyrics to “Someone” by Ira Gershwin:
Verse 1: [She] When I take a husband,
I shall want one that will last.
[He] I’m here to say you’re looking at him now.
[She] Don’t you think that you are working just a trifle fast?
[He] It’s just because you’re different somehow.
I must find a way, dear, to compel you
To believe the things I’m going to tell you:
Refrain: If someone like you
Loved someone like me,
Then life would be one long, sweet song.
We would smile all the while.
Why can’t you see
That someone like me
Could make your dreams all come true
And could bring gladness to Someone like me?
Verse 2: [She] You’re the most convincing speaker
that has come my way.
[He] I’m sure I haven’t told you all I feel.
[She] But they tell me lawyers often don’t mean all they say.
[He] Now please don’t tease, you know my love is real.
[She] Well, your speech was great, it’s hard to beat it;
Let me see, sir, if you can repeat it.