Wednesday, August 20, 2008

HEARTS AND BLOSSOMS

Yet another from the team of Lida Larrimore Turner and RM Stults, HEARTS AND BLOSSOMS (1925) is an intruiging study in missed opportunities.

The plot is a mindless as any musical of the mid-20s: Poor Boy loves Rich Girl. In this particular variation, we have the saga of Jerry and Marie. A promising lawyer, he isnt quite a poor boy, but her mother doesnt approve of him because... well, he's poor.

To make life worse for Mom, the summer hotel where they're staying now sees the arrival of Matthew Brandon, who was once Mom's boyfriend until something never quite stated happened, and now -- even three decades after the fact -- she still cant stand the sight of him. But it gets better -- or worse, depending on your point of view -- Matthew's nephew Philip is love with Marie's sister June. As such, Philip and June must meet in secret and communicate via such things as leaving primrose petals for each other to say "I love you". Mom is about ready to pack up and leave when Jerry and Marie hit on the successful idea of taking advantage of her belief in dreams and superstition by making up a dream involving a lost document that assures both her daughters will marry into money.

Somehow, the made-up dream becomes more "real", because now June tells Jerry he has to find this mysterious document (that he made up, I think, but anyway... no one said operetta heroines were especially bright, right?). Confusion reigns for the next seventy odd pages, with lost books and buried boxes and, of course, a scattering of primrose petals, but by the end everyone's happily coupled off, and that's pretty much that.

The pity of a work like HEARTS AND BLOSSOMS is that the author and composer, by and large, ignore some real possibilities. Mama's interest in dreams and such and Jerry's plan to create one whole-cloth is one place where you would *expect* to see something in song, but instead it's covered in a few lines of dialogue and then forgotten. In fact, most of the score is pretty pedestrian, with the usual sappy duets and a sorta-comic "I remember it well" song for Mom and Uncle Matthew, which is strewn with mis-remembered memories. Also, for something that revolves around three inter-related couples, there's little parts work -- only one somewhat uninteresting quartet for the younger couples that provides the framework for the finale, but nothing that plays on the possibilities of all six singing at once. Given that this came from the same team that wrote BETTY LOU: DREAM GIRL, it's sadly disappointing.

But it's not a complete washout, because they've also given us two highly (and you have to excuse what must appear to be a bad pun) colourful characters: the bellhop and maid, Samson and Malindy, whose relationship is almost a breath of fresh air compared to the tightly composed and predictable angst of the guests. Samson and Malindy are both black, and the author and composer give them a truly showstopping sequence: a ragtime duet, "Heartbreakin' Gal", followed by a banjo strum dance. Unlike other musical numbers in the show, where things just come to a full stop so Jerry can sing to Marie, the dialogue, music, and lyrics for Samson and Malindy's big number all work in tandem to create a great scene. Further, although saddled with lines that are almost embarrassingly awful -- one has Malindy making a snap about all the monkeys in Samson's family tree -- these two share a playful yet genuine affection for each other that makes the other romantic entanglements seem all the more two-dimensional and "stagey". In that regard (and probably in that regard alone), HEARTS AND BLOSSOMS provides an interesting contrast to most of the high school operettas of the 20s and 30s, as the secondary characters are vastly more interesting and complex (well, as complex as things can be) than the people we're actually supposed to care about.

Note: I recently acquired the score to a 1931 Warner Brothers operetta, CHILDREN OF DREAMS, written by Oscar Hammerstein II and Sigmund Romberg. Starring Margaret Schilling, the film itself has been lost, but during its release, Warners apparently tried to do some second-tier marketing by publishing the movie script and score, including the incidental music. There's not a whole lot known about the film: the synopsis in the NYTimes archive seems to be the standard, because it's repeated verbatim on three other sites. Turner Classic Films apparently owns the rights but no copy. According to my friend Randy, who runs the Old Time Radio blog mentioned in my entry on BELLE OF BAGHDAD, publishing songs from a movie was a common practice, but this is the first such complete score I've seen. Because of its sheer obscurity, I'll be intruiged to see what it's about.

3 comments:

Ashira Morgenstern said...

Thanks so much for posting this! I've been putting together a "memory music" collection for my Mom, and when she told me that she had directed "Hearts and Blossoms" in High School, I began hunting it down. I've been trying to find the lyrics to one of the songs from this show for years. The chorus is something like "Bye and Bye..." -- any chance you know how we can find it? I would so appreciate it. My Dad, a WWII vet, passed away earlier this year, and this music project for my Mom is a labor of love. Your help would be deeply appreciated.
I've subscribed to your blog -- it's a one-of-a-kind historical archive and a fascinating study in how cultural values are transmitted from generation to generation -- Thanks again.

Ashira Morgenstern said...

Thanks so much for this one-of-a-kind archive! Beautiful work! I've been searching for the score for this show for years, and especially now that we're putting together a "musical memory" collection for my mother. She directed "Hearts and Blossoms" when she was in high school, and I'd love to find the score for one song in particular. The chorus ends "bye and bye"... but not much else comes to mind. If you can help us find the lyrics/sheet music for that song, we'd be so grateful.

Sean Martin said...

Ashira, I would be honoured to do so for your mother. Send me the mailing address as a comment -- I wont publish it; it'll be deleted once the envelope is addressed.

Thanks for the kind words about the blog; it's much appreciated. And give your mother my best regards.