02 November 2006

A Castle in the Air

Songs and entire musical productions of another day can be revived --- as indeed they often are, but what can never be replicated is the one element that always and forever adheres these shows to a fixed point in time --- and that's, quite simply, the time in which they first appeared.

Audiences who first attended the "Ziegfeld Follies of 1927" in late Summer of that year, and carried away the melodies they heard with them, can never be duplicated again. The way they interpreted (and embraced) the music and performances of that production is something beyond our understanding today, try though we might.

How can we begin to understand how or why a particular song or performance moved an audience of 1927? What did it remind them of in their daily lives? What feelings did it produce that, when related to friends or relatives or family members, caused audiences to continue to buy tickets for a production that would run for a highly respectable 167 performances?

That's only part of the reason that something like the various editions Ziegfeld's "Follies" have refused to succumb to revival --- even by the showman's own hand. The performances and melodies are locked into a moment in time that, when
revived, can't help but appear inane, silly or grotesque --- or all three. It doesn't help either that all too often, modern interpretation of any Twenties material seems to include the notion that performers must be shrill, overly animated and all sound like Betty Boop. Perhaps this is how the current public consciousness perceives that long ago decade --- I don't really know, but it was obviously a larger-than-life period of time that was already being parodied before the decade that followed it even closed. To be fair, I suppose that's the way it always was and always will be --- in that the present generation always believes itself the height of sophistication and that anything which preceded it is laughably quaint and naive. Ah well.

Rather than further analyze questions for which there are no answers, let's instead lift back the veil of time for a moment on "The Ziegfeld Follies of 1927," as it appeared in the waning months of that year. Billed as a "Musical Revue in Two Acts," the production --- with music by Irving Berlin, featured (among others) the likes of vocalist Franklyn Baur, the Brox Sisters, Eddie Cantor, Irene Delroy, Ruth Etting, Al Jolson, Claire Luce and the Albertina Rasch Dancers.

So, for a few moments, slip off the hot streets of New York City and into the air cooled confines of the New Amsterdam Theater --- where all those voices, and countless others, still surely reverberate even today somewhere from deep within. But only if you listen for them. Really Listen...

Medley from "The Ziegfeld Follies of 1927" (In Two Parts)
Performed by Franklyn Baur, The Brox Sisters, Arden & Ohman and the Victor Orchestra
Under the Direction of Nathaniel Shilkret
Recorded September 14th, 1927


1 comment:

Susan Humeston said...

This music makes me think of George Gershwin. I can see where he got his ideas and his unique sound. I'd only heard him before, but never the rest of the music that surrounded him. Very interesting.