The following is a guest post from Music Division Archivist Jane Cross. It is the first of two blog posts about the newly available Warner/Chappell Collection.
Arranging and describing a large collection of music can entail a journey of sorts, not only through the materials, but also through a progression of revised expectations. And sometimes, the music provides a personal connection that makes its historical context even more vivid. The Warner/Chappell Collection’s Show Music series delivered on both fronts.
The phrase “show music” was prevalent in my conversations and research prior to processing the Warner/Chappell Collection. I knew the collection was the home of scores and instrumental parts for My Fair Lady, the 1956 hit Broadway musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, so I was eager to see what other musical theater blockbusters might be in the boxes. However, many of those shows, even some by important composers and lyricists, had not survived their out-of-town tryouts or closed after barely emerging on Broadway. Among them were Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Gentlemen Unafraid (1938), Vernon Duke and Howard Dietz’s Dancing in the Streets (1943), and Jule Styne and Yip Harburg’s Darling of the Day (1968).
Among the musicals that never became hits, I encountered some titles that I couldn’t find in our musical theater reference books. What was Medic? And surely Ice Capades didn’t appear on Broadway. I realized that I needed to expand my perception of “show music” because the collection includes music for many films, documentaries, television shows, operettas, ice shows, plays, and two World’s Fairs. But it was the music for this last category that really caught my imagination, as I hadn’t realized World’s Fairs included musical productions. The 1939-1940 World’s Fair is represented in the Warner/Chappell Collection by the musical American Jubilee by Arthur Schwartz and Oscar Hammerstein, II and by the revue Gay New Orleans by Allan Roberts, Buddy Bernier, and Jerome Brainin.
As I encountered music from the 1964-1965 World’s Fair, my excitement grew because of a personal connection. My mom has many times shared with me the story of her exciting day at the fair, which she attended as part of a high school trip. I wondered, had she seen any of these shows for which I was now holding the music fifty-seven years later?
I discovered that she could not have seen Rugantino. Fair organizers tried importing this musical that was wildly popular in its native Italy, but after only three weeks on Broadway, the show didn’t make it to the fairgrounds and instead was made into a movie. But perhaps my mom encountered Jule Styne and Stanley Styne’s Wonderworld? This 90-minute “acqua-spectacle” that featured 250 singers, dancers, swimmers, divers, comedians, and acrobats starred Chita Rivera and boasted visual effects such as platforms that moved over the pool, a giant waterfall, and a female astronaut launched in a moon rocket. Although this extravaganza ran for only two months (and lost more than 2 million dollars), it is possible she could have seen it, as her trip coincided with the show’s short-lived run. When I asked her about her day at the fair, a teenage twinkle appeared in her eyes and voice as she reminisced in detail about being so far from home with her classmates, visiting the exhibits, and sampling the food. Even though she hadn’t managed to see the “acqua-spectacle,” talking about the fair was a unique opportunity for us to connect through my work.
These shows from the World’s Fairs, along with many other surprises, are just waiting to be explored further in the Warner/Chappell Collection.