After critical success and financial failure out of town in 1927, a revamped version opened at the Times Square Theatre in New York on January 14, 1930. 191 performances. Music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin. Book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. Directed by Alexander Leftwich. Dances staged by Georgie Hale. Produced by Edgar Selwyn. Cast included Bobby Clark, Paul McCullough, Blanche Ring, Dudley Clements, Gordon Smith, Kathryn Hamill, Helen Gilligan, Doris Carson, and Jerry Goff.
The first of George and Ira Gershwin, George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind’s three political satires, it might have been STRIKE UP THE BAND to which Kaufman referred when he quipped that “Satire is what closes on Saturday night.” A riotous blend of Marx Brothers-style madness with a good poke to the ribs of the American military-industrial complex and political institutions, the 1927 version of STRIKE UP THE BAND was well received by critics but rejected by audiences. It might have been that the country was still too close to the harsh reality of World War I to be able to laugh at the foibles of politics and war. Going to war with Switzerland over the price of cheese tariffs? Producer Edgar Selwyn was so committed to the piece that he brought a revamped, softer version to Broadway in 1930. The war was fought over chocolate instead of cheese and was relegated to a dream sequence. The Gershwins rewrote over half of the score and, at Kaufman’s request, Morrie Ryskind was brought in to revamp the original book. And although the revised version was a hit, today most will agree that the original version is superior in its undiluted form. George and Ira, however, added wonderful new numbers to the score, including “Soon,” so when the show is revived today, Kaufman’s 1927 book is used and a smattering of the musical numbers from 1930 are interpolated to augment the score. Following that philosophy, City Center Encores! mounted a memorable production for the Gershwin Centenary in 1998.
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