Rediscovering Broadway history: the complete score of Lerner and Loewe's The Day Before Spring is uncovered and performed for the first time since 1946

Music Feature

27 December 2009

Lerner and LoeweFor most of the past three years, I have been engaged in the first full-length musicological study of the 1956 Broadway musical My Fair Lady by Lerner and Loewe. Based on Shaw's Pygmalion and its 1938 adaptation for film, My Fair Lady was hailed as one of the most important and influential stage works of the 1950s. Its popularity has continued to grow, and Emma Thompson is currently writing the screenplay for a new film version due to start filming in the near future.

During the course of my research, which led to my being awarded a PhD in the autumn of 2009, I uncovered numerous long-forgotten documents, including the complete scores (with orchestrations) of the cut ballet sequence from the show, the orchestrations of two cut songs ('Come to the Ball' and 'Say a Prayer for Me Tonight'), early versions of a number of familiar songs, and the script used during the rehearsals for the show which differs substantially from the final published script used on Broadway.

On the side, I've found a number of songs written by Arthur Schwartz and Alan Jay Lerner in 1953 for a projected film version of Paint Your Wagon that ultimately didn't happen, from a period when Lerner and Loewe had fallen out; and materials from Saints and Sinners, an unproduced musical by Frederick Loewe and Harold Rome written during that same period. I've also uncovered over 500 unpublished letters related to the gestation of My Fair Lady, which illustrate its development over five years. The results of my research will be published next year by one of the world's major academic publishing houses.

During the course of my investigations, I became fascinated by the lesser-known output of Lerner and Loewe. Without doubt they are one of the two or three most important songwriting teams for Broadway of the so-called 'golden era', and their later works such as Brigadoon (1947), Paint Your Wagon (1951), Gigi (1958)and Camelot (1960)remain staples of the repertoire. But what of the earlier pieces?

The team first collaborated on two shows in quick succession between 1942 and 1943: Life of the Party and What's Up? Sketches for songs for both of these remain in the Library of Congress's Music Division, which owns most of the important Frederick Loewe autograph manuscripts (the major exceptions being Gigi, the late movie The Little Prince and the unperformed show Saints and Sinners). There's also a piece of score from a dance number from What's Up? in the New York Public Library, but to my knowledge the majority of both scores are still lost.

Lerner and LoeweHowever, their next work is an interesting anomaly in the Lerner and Loewe canon. Whereas their first two shows were unquestionable flops, The Day Before Spring (1945) had a respectable run of 167 performances at New York's National Theatre. It wasn't exactly a commercial success, but several of the reviews noted the artistry that was at work in Lerner and Loewe's score. There were also distinguished contributions from producer-director John C Wilson, who was to go on to direct Kiss Me, Kate and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, choreographer Antony Tudor, who was one of England's finest dancers and modernist choreographers, and the orchestrator Harold Byrns (in his only Broadway musical credit), who was a great German conductor and worked frequently with the Deutsche Oper Berlin. The show also marked the first collaboration of Frederick Loewe with musical director Franz Allers, who went on to conduct most of Loewe's remaining works to great acclaim. The cast included Irene Manning, Lucille Benson and John Archer, as well as Tom Helmore, who went on to understudy Rex Harrison in the original Broadway cast of My Fair Lady as well as appearing in numerous films.

With all this information to hand, I set about trying to locate the music for the complete show. The Library of Congress has parts of the score for fifteen of the numbers, which were purchased in 1999 during a massive sale of Loewe manuscripts. These were used as the basis for a partial reconstruction of the score in 2007 for the New York 'Musicals in Mufti' production at the York Theatre – essentially a rehearsed reading in everyday clothes. Magnificent though this achievement was, the absence of some of the material meant that music had to be invented to fit the words in the script (which has survived complete) for a couple of numbers. In addition, the overture, scene change music, all-important Antony Tudor ballets, reprises, entr'acte and the end of the Act 1 finale had all been lost. So it was still very much a 'lost' musical, and I was determined to track it down.

Within two weeks of starting to search, I located it, and the score was sitting on my dining room table. I knew that the show had been sold to MGM studios in the late 1940s, the period of many of the greatest movie musicals to come from Hollywood. Supposedly, the intention was to replace the Lerner-Loewe score with one by Frank Loesser, the composer of Guys and Dolls. I guess that for that reason, people assumed that the Loewe score wasn't retained by MGM. However, having reportedly paid $250,000 for the show, MGM clearly had a right to the score. Therefore, I started looking for repositories of the studio's scores.

Lerner and LoeweAlthough the studio – along with much of its archive and library – was bulldozed to the ground after its heyday, over 200 scores were given to the California State University, Long Beach. These include Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun; Bernstein's On the Town; Kern's London Streets; Porter's Jubilee, Panama Hattie and Silk Stockings; Gershwin's Lady Be Good and Girl Crazy; and – Lerner and Loewe's The Day Before Spring. There are no orchestral parts, but the university was given a complete 222-page piano-vocal score, with many indications of instrumentation. The library was unaware of the importance of the score, and to my complete astonishment, they agreed to send it to me on inter-library loan. After a quick glance, it was clear to me that it's the real thing, and it's now possible to reassess the work – which Lerner and Loewe always resisted reviving, though they contemplated it in 1960 – for the first time since the original production closed in 1946.

The Day Before Spring is important for a number of reasons. It was the first time Lerner wrote the book for a show without a collaborator, and the last time that Lerner and Loewe as a team wrote a work set in the then-present day. Thereafter, their subject matter dealt with the early-twentieth century or earlier, allowing their high romantic style to sit comfortably with the plot, but in Spring the plot deals with the relationship of two ex-lovers who had a relationship whilst at college. They meet at a tenth-anniversary reunion, by which time he's written a novel about her. Their love is reborn, and she has to decide between leaving her husband, whom she truly loves, or her former flame.

This scenario gives Lerner and Loewe numerous opportunities for inventive songwriting, not least in the first-act finale, an imaginary scene in which Katherine asks the opinions of Plato, Voltaire and Freud as to whether she should choose love and lust. This large-scale number broke new ground in Broadway composition for its looseness of form and its thematic complexity, and much of it was reused in the 1973 stage adaptation of Gigi (though some of it has been lost until now). Another connection to Gigi is in the song 'Where's My Wife?', which was reused in the title song from Gigi as the introductory passage.

The highlight of 'The Day Before Spring' is probably 'You Haven't Changed At All', the touching love duet between Alex and Katherine when they meet again, but no less moving are 'This is My Holiday' and 'I Love You This Morning'. Upbeat numbers such as 'God's Green World', 'Invitation' and 'Friends to the End', and the bittersweet 'A Jug of Wine' and 'My Love is My Married Man', show how well Lerner and Loewe had assimilated the musical comedy style of the 1940s, and overall the piece is extraordinarily rich.

And now, for the first time in over sixty years, The Day Before Spring will be performed in its entirety. The London-based Lost Musicals company, which is renowned for reconstructing forgotten shows by front-line composers (such as Coward's Sail Away in 2008 and Porter's The New Yorkers in 2009, approached me about the score, and has now scheduled performances at Sadler's Wells for June and July 2010. (Appropriately, Lost Musicals will also stage Jule Styne's Darling of the Day in August and September of next year – a piece that used My Fair Lady as a model). There's also interest from an American record label to record the piece some time in the near future, and I'll be giving a two-hour talk at Benslow Music Trust near London about Lerner and Loewe – including The Day Before Spring – on 20 February 2010.

By Dominic McHugh

Lost Musicals will perform Cole Porter's Paris, Lerner and Loewe's The Day Before Spring and Jule Styne's Darling of the Day at Sadler's Wells and the National Portrait Gallery in London in 2010. See their website for more information.


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