Sweet Bye and Bye CUNY Article

American Music Review Volume XLI, Number 1, Fall 2011 Inside This Issue Empowering Bess, and Porgy, Too: The Great American Opera One More Times by Ray Allen Porgy’s Cane: Mediating Disability in the A.R.T.’s Porgy and Bess by Stephanie Jensen-Moulton Science-Fiction Rock and Roll by Will Fulton The Politics and Poetics of Norwegian Jazz by William Bares From Bebop to Bhajans by Carl Clements Vernon Duke’s Sweet Bye and Bye by Aaron Ziegel Institute News Fall 2011 Home Page An Historical Flop Fl
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   American Music Review Volume XLI, Number 1, Fall 2011 Inside This IssueEmpowering Bess, and Porgy, Too: The Great American Opera One More Times by Ray AllenPorgy’s Cane: Mediating Disability in the A.R.T.’s Porgy and Bess by Stephanie Jensen-MoultonScience-Fiction Rock and Roll by Will FultonThe Politics and Poetics of Norwegian Jazz by William BaresFrom Bebop to  Bhajans  by Carl ClementsVernon Duke’s Sweet Bye and Bye  by Aaron ZiegelInstitute NewsFall 2011 Home PageAn Historical Flop Flips Back into Existence: Vernon Duke’s Sweet Bye and Bye By Aaron Ziegel, University of IllinoisNew recordings of music by Vernon Duke are few and far between. His two great season- and city-specifichit songs, “April in Paris” and “Autumn in New York,” remain familiar standards, but full recordings of hismusicals or concert works are a relative rarity. In 1999, the Chandos label issued his early ballet score  Zéphyret Flore , dating from when the composer was still Vladimir Dukelsky. Despite Gennady Rozhdestensky’sinsightful conducting, that disc did not remain in print for long. More recently, Naxos devoted an entirealbum to Duke, pairing his concertos for piano and cello as part of their “American Classics” series (released2007). On the popular-song side of his output, Dawn Upshaw’s splendid 1999 song recital from Nonesuchably illustrated the richness of Duke’s work in musical theater, mixing standards with lesser-known fare. Interms of new recordings of complete shows, however, listeners have had little from which to choose. CityCenter Encores! production of the  Ziegfeld Follies of 1936  , a collaboration between Duke and Ira Gershwin,made it into the Decca Broadway catalogue in 2001. That album was essentially the end of the story until2011, when the enterprising PS Classics label resurrected Duke’s 1946 show Sweet Bye and Bye  as part of their series of new studio recordings of “forgotten musicals.”  Vernon Duke and the creative team of Sweet Bye and Bye Death in Philadelphia (1947) by Al Hirschfeld Sweet Bye and Bye  was a flop of epic proportions—Duke called it “the noisiest and floppiest of them all”—never making it past out-of-town tryouts.1 On paper, the lineup looked good: Duke teamed up with lyricistOgden Nash, while Al Hirschfeld—taking a detour away from cartoons and drawings—and the  New Yorker humorist S.J. Perelman provided the show’s book. And what a book it was. The year is 2076. The timecapsule buried at the 1939 World’s Fair has resurfaced (literally brought to the surface by scuba divers, sincemost of Long Island has been underwater following a hurricane in 2064). When scientists open the capsule, adocument is discovered which gives a controlling share in the world’s most profitable candy-making cartel tothe heir and namesake of the company’s srcinal founder. Thus enters the musical’s lead, Solomon Bundy, aCandide-like simpleton, employed as an arborist in a world with few surviving trees. Through a series of complicated twists and turns, the naïve Solomon is transformed by his love interest (the CEO-personalityconsultant Diana Janeway) into an arrogant business executive. He ultimately has to fight to regain his trueself and to win back Diana, for she had fallen in love with the srcinal Solomon and not the corporate cloneshe helped to create. The show sought to critique capitalism-gone-awry through the guise of a futuristicmusical comedy.Whether or not one thinks a convincing musical could ever have been made out of these ingredients, poorcasting choices killed the project on arrival. Album producer Tommy Krasker’s engaging booklet notes(generously illustrated with production and cast photos) thoroughly document a troubled history that even thecomposer himself left out of his otherwise tell-all autobiography. Through continuous rewrites and cuts, thebook musical srcinally envisioned by Duke and Nash ultimately morphed into something more akin to asketch-comedy revue, and after the expenditure of a half-million dollars, the producers finally pulled theplug.What PS Classics has given listeners here is what may be the best possible version of Sweet Bye and Bye ,  with restored musical numbers that make the strongest case for Duke and Nash’s score. Although the Libraryof Congress’s Vernon Duke Collection holds file upon file of relevant musical materials, no srcinalorchestrations survive. Producer Krasker turned to orchestrator Jason Carr, familiar to Broadway audiencesfrom his recent work on revivals of Sunday in the Park with George ,  A Little Night Music , and  La Cage auxFolles . Here Carr writes for an eleven-piece combo, conducted by Eric Stern. This small ensemble produces apleasantly full sound and delivers some superb solos, but the overall effect at times comes across as much toocontemporary, belying the score’s mid-1940s srcin. The choral arrangements, on the other hand, areprimarily Duke’s own and are enthusiastically delivered by a chorus of sixteen voices, particularly in theshow’s title song that opens the album. The recording includes a certain amount of spoken dialogue—perhapsmore than some listeners would like— but enough to help clarify plot points that the musical numbersthemselves do not. The booklet helpfully includes the complete sung lyrics, all the better to ap- preciateOgden Nash’s subtle wit and inventive rhymes.The real reason to own this album, however, is for the songs. Sweet Bye and Bye  includes some of thecomposer’s most complex theater writing, the type of work that led Alec Wilder to describe Duke as “a trueinnovator in the world of the sophisticated love song.”2 Chief among them are “Born Too Late” and“Roundabout,” both expertly sung by Philip Chaffin as Solomon Bundy. Chaffin delivers Duke’s treacherousvocal melodies with aplomb. He captures just the right tone of innocence and loneliness in “Born Too Late,”as Solomon explains how out of place he feels among late twenty-first-century technology and society, while“Roundabout” takes on new meaning in its srcinal context. Duke reintroduced the song in 1952, with alteredlyrics, in the show Two’s Company , where it became the plaint of a lovelorn woman. Originally, however, thesong gave Solomon the opportunity to vent his bitter disappointment at how his transformation into anindustrial tycoon has still left him unhappy and unfulfilled. Chaffin rises to the occasion admirably,delivering a poignant and agonized reading of the Act One finale, the score’s musical highpoint.The remaining lead players inhabit their roles just as convincingly. Like Chaffin, Marin Mazzie (as DianaJaneway) explores a broad dramatic range. She first appears as a controlling corporate vixen in “Diana,”softens for the show’s only romantic duet, “Too Enchanting,” and longs nostalgically for her lost love in“Just Like a Man.” Danny Burstein performs the comedic role of Egon Pope, the blustery general manager of the Futurosy candy company, with a high level of enthusiasm but in a speech-song patter that might not be toeveryone’s taste. The large supporting cast, despite maintaining the overall high level of performance, pointsup the show’s principal weakness. The plot is simply too episodic, with characters introduced and thenabandoned after only a single scene or a single song. A pair of Futurosy company secretaries, out-of-workCEO-types at an “Executives Anonymous” meeting, a tramp riding the cargo holds of interplanetary spaceliners like a railroad hobo, and an Eskimo princess who tries to seduce Solomon—each receives a musicalnumber, and indeed their songs are often quite good. But the unifying thread of Solomon and Diana’sromance gets all too easily lost amongst the surrounding bustle of plot activity.3Ultimately, Sweet Bye and Bye  as a piece of theater is no lost masterpiece, and yet we are fortunate that itszany plot inspired such high quality songwriting from Duke and Nash. Given that Duke’s compositionallanguage is primarily one that rewards a listener’s close scrutiny rather than one of immediate appeal, a worklike this is perhaps better served on record than on stage. The composer himself concluded that the show’sfuturistic, “cockeyed and wildly phantasmagorical libretto” met with disfavor because, “following the horrorsof war and the atomic bomb, nobody was in the mood to look ahead, the prospects being as bleak as theywere.”4 Album producer Tommy Krasker, however, remarks in his accompanying essay that the show’scentral theme—“how do you find your way in a world that seems to be constantly changing?”—is “especiallyapt in our ever-changing cyber-universe.” One can hope that the painstaking restoration work and committedperformances heard on this CD will help Sweet Bye and Bye  to reach a more welcoming listening public thanthe show first did in 1946. Now if only Krasker could be persuaded to revisit the Duke canon and revive aformer winner. Surely Duke’s most successful musical, Cabin in the Sky , is long overdue for rescue andrediscovery.  Notes 1Vernon Duke, Passport to Paris  (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1958), 434.2Wilder here is referring specifically to “Born Too Late.” See his  American Popular Song: The Great  Innovators, 1900–1950  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), 368.3Curiously, the images on the booklet cover and jewel case inlay depict a pair of robots working anassembly line conveyor—characters in a substitute song written by Duke and Nash but not included onthe present recording.4Duke, Passport to Paris , 434.Copyright © 2005-Present H. Wiley Hitchcock Institute for Studies in American Music
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