Saturday, September 27, 2008

CHILDREN OF DREAMS

Okay, a real treat this time around. CHILDREN OF DREAMS (1931), by no less than Oscar Hammerstein II and Sigmund Romberg, is anything but a high school musical, but it's such a curiosity that I had to post something about it here.

I found the listing on eBay and thought, "Hmm, how cool. It's a stage version of an old movie musical." Well, no. Not at all. First off, it's a Vitaphone picture from Warner Brothers, one of three that Hammerstein and Romberg wrote together. Even though it's listed as a property now owned by Fox, no copies are known to exist.

But here's the deal: it's a screenplay coupled with the full score -- musical numbers, dance sequences, underscoring, the whole shot: a veritable cookbook for making your own movie, should you choose. It dictates pan shots and close ups and every fade in and every fade out. This wasnt something done for inhouse use at Warners: it was a commercially-available publication, which sold for the then-outrageous price of six dollars. I've never seen anything like this before. An acquaintance of mine runs a blog called Vitaphone Varieties (which can be read at http://vitaphone.blogspot.com/). He's seen three or four copies of this at various libraries in Brooklyn, and he too is just as puzzled by its publication as I am.

So what's this mystery piece about? Migrant farm workers -- and not the ones you think of today. Remember: this is 1931, when kids from college would spend the summer picking apples to make a few bucks and folks caught flat-footed by the Depression would drive from one farm to another to eke out a meager living. So our story revolves around two couples: Tommy and Molly and Gus and Gertie. The latter are down-to-earth folk, the kind that you know will get married and raise a bucketload of kids and be happy about it all despite everything. Tommy dreams of a life on the open road with his girl, but things change when Molly is offered the opportunity to go to New York to become an opera singer. Tommy is all noble about it, but you know inside that he feels like a whipped dog, because Molly just happens to be leaving on what he had hoped would be their wedding day. Nevertheless, he sends her on with his best wishes, even as the ensemble is watching Gus and Gertie getting married instead.

After a brief scene with a singing teacher in Rome, suddenly we're in the Metropolitan Opera, where Molly is making her debut as the title character in "Antonia", which, from what I can tell, is a riff on Norma: medieval England, lots of nobility getting into sword fights. Tommy has come to see her perform and winds up at the party afterwards, thrown by the mother-and-son team that took her to New York. The son, Jerry, is obviously smitten with her, for all the good it does him: this woman is now obsessed with her career. But she still remembers what a good voice her boyfriend had, so she convinces Tommy to sing a little something for this crowd of Fifth Avenue swells. Needless to say, it doesnt go well: Tommy might have been the Troubador of the Orchards, but in the big city, he's just another American Idol wannabe. Awkwardness ensues. He goes back to the orchards. She stays in New York.

Two years pass, and now she's making a concert stop in San Francisco. All of society is abuzz about her upcoming marriage to Jerry. Without telling anyone in her entourage, she heads out to the orchards for old times' sake and re-connects with Gertie and Gus, who now have three kids and are deliriously happy. Jerry finds her in the orchard and says, "Look, I know this place means a lot, so why dont we get married here? Right now?" Without bothering to ask if she'd like to do it, he dashes off to find a justice of the peace, while she reminisces about her carefree life as an apple picker -- and, of course, Tommy.

Well, guess who she runs into and who's been pining for her for two solid years and who's willing to pick things up where they left off way back when. For her part, she's more than willing to do so as well, and they head off for parts unknown in his truck as her fiancé and her manager are told by the farm doctor that she's lost her voice and will never sing again... except for maybe a lullaby. We see Tommy happily singing to his girl as she drives the truck into the sunset. Fade out.

A few facts about the film itself: it starred Margaret Schilling and Paul Gregory. Charles Winniger was the kindly old doctor that allows them to make their escape, and John Rutherford played the rich kid that wanted to marry her. I'm not that much into movies, so I cant tell you about the rest of the cast. The film was directed by Alan Crosland, who directed over sixty films, including the original Jazz Singer. Romberg and Hammerstein also worked together on New Moon and Red Shadow, two bodice-ripping historical operettas. From there, the two went their separate ways, with Hammerstein providing the screenplay to the you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it Golden Dawn and Romberg a film version of Puccini's Girl of the Golden West. Both men realized that Hollywood was an intruiging idea and little more, and both left to return to work for the stage, with Hammerstein of course becoming half of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

It's not that CHILDREN OF DREAMS is a bad movie (well, as much as you tell from reading the screenplay, of course) but an eminently predictable one. Granted, since it was made in 1931, moviegoers probably still sat on the edge of their seats wondering if Molly and Tommy would indeed get back together (unhappy endings were still a possibility for romances back then), but it's still formulaic writing. The lyrics are, granted, early Hammerstein, sounding more like bad college poetry than anything else and certainly light years from the brilliance we'd see later in Carousel or South Pacific. As an example, her big aria in "Antonia":

Leave me not alone, leave me not alone,
Take not all I love, the only love I've ever known.
If you smile no more, then no more smile I.
No more does the moon arise
To see the day of summer die.

Do these eyes no longer see?
Can these hands no longer feel?
Arms that were so strong no longer crush me.
You die so drops the run from the breast of the sky.
So go, go I.
Goodbye, my love, good bye.

Oooo-kay... I dont think Bioto or Ghislanzoni had much to worry about.

And Romberg's work, as lush as it appears on the surface, is downright pedestrian, nowhere near the melodic beauty of Desert Song. The opera-within-a-movie (which apparently employed every major singer then at the Met to ensure authenticity of sound) is remarkably hackneyed, saved only by some choral work that hides the essential thinness of what's being performed. It's contract work from both of them and little more.

Still, we have this perplexing mystery of the score publication itself. I dont know if this was an experiment on the part of Warners to see if there would be interest in what really amounts to an overpriced souvenir or what, but it's the only one of its kind I've ever seen. I'd be curious to know if there are any similar items like this out there.

Friday, September 26, 2008

SHOOTING STARS

An oddity in the sense that it's both a one-act *and* a full-length show, SHOOTING STARS (1935), by Edward Bradley and Don Wilson, is one of those vaguely agreeable scripts that throws a ringer at you in the last scene.

Set in a department store that's about to celebrate its fifteenth anniversary with a huge sale, it starts not with an overture per se but a pantomime of the janitor prepping the store for opening and then promptly falling asleep, which immediately leads to the mannequins in the display windows stepping down from their perches and singing:

Oh, we are mannequins,
We're mannequins,
When we appear the fun begins
We take this chance to sing and dance before you
We display in glad array
The season's newest styles
Youth and beauty on parade
We're mannequins!

... at which point they return to the window and resume their positions. It's a bouncy, jazzy little number. Now, you're thinking, Hmm, this could be interesting: a slightly surreal opening that sets things up in a way vaguely reminiscent of Evening Primrose.

Okay, so the clerks enter, clock in, take the dustcovers off their display cases, and happily tell the store manager that every bargain sign is in place. She opens the doors, and the consumer hordes rush in:

Oh the horn that says it's morn
Another day is breaking
To hounds, to hounds, the cry resounds
Of merry, merry making

We're hunters too, but we pursue
No hare or fox with view halloo
We're on the trail of every sale
Where prices have been cut in two

... and so it continues, in a relatively complex opening number that goes on for an amazing fifteen pages (Remember: the usual length of a song in one of these things is, at most, six) and ends with the customers wreaking havoc at every sales counter they can find. And as all this is going on in the background, we're given bits and pieces of exposition: things have been disappearing around the store, and a detective has been hired to find out what's going on. The janitor (whose name, by the way, is Hamfat) returns to tell the manager that there's been another theft, this time from the bakery department. The manager berates him for being lazy and forgetful, and his excuse?

Ah puts oil on mah hair an' things slip mah mind.

Well, okay, I guess that explains who *he*s supposed to be, right? But here's where the first of many mysterious things happens in the script:

Interpolate comedy song and dance for HAMFAT for full evening's performance.

The script doesnt say *what* the song should be, just that you do it. But it gives you the flexibility of taking a short one-act operetta and making it a full evening's performance, complete with a couple of places for an intermission and no less than half the score left to the director's choices. This happens maybe eight or nine times in the script, as though the authors wrote half a show and the publisher didnt want to pay them for any more. Maybe. I'm not sure.

Well, the story rolls along: the manager has a paramour who wants her to quit her job and marry him, today, right now, this instant. But she cant because the clerks (who were mobbed with customers, remember) somehow find the time to leave their posts and bring on a cake for the owner (which leads to an especially demented song about the various flavours of cake). Everyone dances off (taking the customers with them, I suppose), leaving the stage clear for the appearance, from a cardboard box, of Wally and Filbert, two vagabonds who have set up house inside the department store and hide in various places (Think "stock 1930s comedy team" here). Customers return, and our two thieves not only sell them various items but steal a few more from them at the same time.

Our detective arrives. Not a professional, no -- it's the boy (Bill) who's in love with the girl (Shirley) who happens to be daughter of the store owner. If he catches the thieves, her father will let them get married (okay, now you think you know the ending, but dont spoil it for the rest of the readers). Within seconds of entering, he comes face-to-face with our little sinside-job burglars. However, he thinks Wally and Filbert are store clerks and orders them behind the counter so they're not blocking the aisles.

... and so it continues, with more mistaken identity and comic relief and even an extended bit of cross-dressing (Bill dresses as a girl because... well, who knows at this point...). There's a parade of marching toys and a big production number featuring dances from Egypt, Holland, and East Europe... but it all moves at a bewilderingly frantic pace, culminating in a hopelessly disorganized scene where Bill's drag starts to slip, the store owner makes a pass at him in front of his girlfriend, and, resisting arrest, Wally and Filbert take out tommy guns and start shooting up the store. Chaos ensues.

-- at which point a man stands up in the audience and says, "Terrible! This movie is positively the worst I've ever directed!" A cameraman comes on from the wings, and suddenly -- ah hah! -- we see that it isnt a store celebrating its anniversary at all, it's a movie about a store celebrating its anniversary. We lurch into the lubrigious finale:

They're always shooting stars
From early morn to night
They spend their days in a movie studio
Making the films you treasure

Yes, it doesnt scan and it doesnt rhyme. It's this... anthem, of sorts, to movie-making, sung as though we were sending these boys and girls off to war. And as Bill (still in drag) and Shirley look happily into each other's dreamy, beamy eyes, the curtain falls.

Well, face it: there were lots of movies cranked off with the same speed and haphazardness in the thirties, and SHOOTING STARS is definitely an homage to them all. Same facile plotting, same frantic pacing, same pointless musical numbers, same stock characters. I'd almost guess that the one act version I have is about the same length of one of those Vitaphone pictures, maybe seventy five minutes, if that. It has all the standard plot lines, all woven up into something not quite like a patchwork quilt (because a patchwork quilt at least has *some* order) but more like a rag rug, where one rag rolls into another in a constantly spiraling pattern that ultimately goes in a great big circle. That was the intent here, I'm sure: the same kind of haphazard script that jumps from one scene to another with no real through line, because none is needed when you look at how it all sorta-kinda ends. Things are just sorta slopped on top of each other - a romantic scene, a comic scene, a romantic number, a big production number, a comic relief scene, and so on and so on.

Oh, and the mannequins? We never see them again after their opening number. That's a pity.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

THE SEVEN OLD LADIES OF LAVENDER TOWN

Although outside the strict definition of a "high school operetta", this true classic stayed in various catalogues for decades -- and even now is available from Willis Music, in a slightly different edition.

Written by H.C. Bunner and Oscar Weil, my copy of THE SEVEN LADIES OF LAVENDER TOWN (1886) was printed in 1910 in a hardcover edition that still looks amazing after a century. There are a few illustrations (uncredited, but one appears signed by CJ Taylor) that just add to the overall oddness of the piece.

The story takes place inside a sideshow tent at the Tidytown Fair (As noted, the place is "Kategreenawayland" and takes place "once upon a time".). There's a small stage, covered with a curtain that bears the legend:

Professor Lightning Haskins'
Great Mechanical and Conversational Agglomeration of
WAXWORKS

Despite this somewhat overblown description, no one's come in to see the show, save for the Duchess of Tidytown, who's come to see if the exhibit is "proper" enough to show her daughters that evening at a private performance. The professor pulls the curtain to reveal statues of George Washington, Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, John Smith, Confucious, Napoleon, and Henry VIII (who, the professor quickly reassures the duchess, has now quite reformed his wife-murdering ways since joining the waxworks). The professor apparently bought the whole lot dirt cheap from a fairy, who had changed seven otherwise respectable men into waxworks because, for some reason, they offended her. Apparently satisfied, the duchess leaves, with strict instructions that no one other than her daughters attend the performance that evening.

She's no sooner gone than seven old ladies enter to see the show and find themselves in distress because the various waxworks have the same first names as their long-lost husbands -- even Confucious (Charles Confucious, actually). They start to sing a song taught them by a fairy -- if any men around happen to be their husbands, they'll recognize their wives, no matter what. Of course, the seven men *are* their husbands, but the professor points out that he owns them, fair and square. On this sad note, the first act ends.

The second act is that night, before the arrival of the Duchess's daughters. The waxworks, awakened and aware of their plight, complain that they're always covered with a half inch of dust and have to endure the poking fingers of fairgoers. The professor reprimands them to be on their best behavior just before the Duchess's daughters, cloaked, with faces hidden, come into the tent.

But the performance is a disaster: the waxworks speak each other's lines and refuse to straighten up until they're given their wives back. To make it even worse, they've formed a union. The Duchess enters, demanding to know what the problem is -- only to reveal herself as the very fairy who changed the men in the first place. Her daughters, as you might expect, are the Seven Old Ladies, made young again by fee magic. She then takes it on herself to change the waxworks back into young men again, and everyone is happily reunited -- except for the still complaining professor, who demands what's to become of him now that his livelihood has been taken away. The fairy responds that she'll make *him* a waxwork and sell him to someone else.

And on that perplexing note, the curtain falls to a hymn of praise to Lavender Town.

It's a very short piece, only 36 pages, and Bunner and Wiel have juggled their singers quite well, always making sure that the seven couples are sufficiently offstage to provide a never-seen chorus of fair-going villagers. The music itself is reasonably melodic, albeit a little simplistic, with echoes of popular drinking songs (if I'm reading these correctly) brushed off and cleaned up to become suitable for choruses of proper little old ladies.

I cant find out anything about the history of the play, but I suspect it's based on a well-known legend of some sort. There's so much in the play that seems almost presumed, as though the authors knew their audience didnt need much in the way of story because they'd fill it in themselves. It also feels like a terribly "English" piece, even though the publication history has an American genesis -- both author and composer were from New Jersey. Maybe this was an attempt to write an American IOLANTHE, since the timing would be about right, but as with so many things in this field, it's difficult to know for sure.

Bunner, as it turns out, was a poet and novelist of some renown in the latter part of the 19th century. He authored several short stories, including "Zenobia's Infidelity", which was made into a film in 1939 with Oliver Hardy; he also single-handedly raised the magazine Puck from an amusing little broadside to a vicious political satire publication. Oscar Weil wrote several comic operas, including Boccacio, but he's better known as Alice Toklas' music teacher. Toklas described him as a "pedagogue of the old school, believing in thoroughness and educating young musicians without giving them false hope". When you studied with Weil, Toklas noted, "you learned your business." There are vague echoes of all of this in SEVEN OLD LADIES, ever so slight suggestions of a layer of meaning just tantalizingly out of reach, lost now because of the passage of time.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

COSTUMING THE AMATEUR SHOW

In tandem with the Frank Beach book posted yesterday comes Dorothy Lynne Saunders' COSTUMING THE AMATEUR SHOW (1937), which, like the Beach book, emphasizes economy and style over everything else. Saunders is quick to point out the commonly-made errors -- for example, an outfit that looks great up close looks completely different from fifty feet away and under stage lights, or how it's inadvisable to use Christmas tinsel for that "shiny" look -- but from there, she takes you through a detailed process on styling, basic pattern making, and fabric choice, all done with the intent of showing you how to get the most from a minimal budget.

What makes it all the more fascinating a read is how it forces you (by necessity) to see things through the eyes of a 30s-era costumer. Sewing machines? We dont think so, thanks. If hand-stitching was good enough for our mothers, it should be good enough for you. Muslim for making a rehearsal costume? Please, isnt this roll of crepe paper good enough? Commercial patterns? How... nice, but no.

But get past the variances that have come with the passing of seven decades, and you'll hit a gold mine of useful information: how to build a pattern so it fits the actor properly, how to theatrically exaggerate contours, how to use colour to its best advantage over a large group ("Never use white for ancient Greeks; think pastels instead." -- who knew?). Granted, a great deal of this is covered today in a multitude of books, but in 1937, I daresay there werent many that also showed you how to make proper wings for a baby fairy.

Saunders also gives you examples of how to translate historical costuming into something more tenable for the smaller budget production -- how a simple tunic can work for two dozen different eras, with just the right accessories. Further, you learn how to make such props as paper roses, antique lanterns (made from shoe boxes!), and Miss Muffet's spider, all done with a Depression-era sense of economy.

But above all is her near-relentless insistence that you do not stop working on something because "it'll do". Rather, she promotes, in an almost ruthless fashion, a work ethic that says you stay with it till it's right, pure and simple. I have no doubt she would be horrified with the concept of costume rental houses when a bathrobe, some newspaper, a few yards of 4-guage silver wire, and a whole lot of sweat equity will do just fine, thank you. It's a very 30s-era mindset, one that emphasizes care, imagination and creativity. As is the case with the basic concept of the high school operetta, Saunders encourages you to find your own vision and your own voice instead of simply copying what someone else might have done.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

PREPARATION AND PRESENTATION OF THE OPERETTA

I cant imagine any school theatre department in the 1930s being without a copy of this, a book that was arguably the Bible for anyone considering mounting a production. I received a copy today (from Abebooks.com), in remarkably beautiful condition, including surprisingly complete gold leafing on the cover. Within, Frank Beach covers everything from how to choose the script to casting to building scenery to wrangling recalcitrant six-year-olds to finding sponsors to pay for everything. For a small book of only 200 pages, it tells you everything you need to know.

Written in 1930, it's fascinating to read Beach's solution for doing just about everything on the cheap: he starts from the position that the school doesnt have a lot of money to throw around and then provides hundreds of tips and techniques to stretch that money as far as possible. Under his tutorship, no material is too humble (even crepe paper!) and no method too home-spun. For example, in the section on costuming, he notes how dying something red and then dying the same material blue gives it a depth and colour that you cant get by simply colouring it purple. Rice and galvanized wire create a rain effect. A lighting dimmer is made from a watertight barrel and two pieces of iron piping. The bok is almost a celebration of elevating the simple and mundane to the level of the utterly theatrical, and I can easily see a teacher out there in Kansas or Nebraska looking at a complex and elaborate play like The Fire Prince (which was probably Beach's inspiration, as he mentions it in almost every chapter) and thinking, Okay, maybe I *can* pull this puppy off.

Particularly interesting is how Beach positions a production as the end result of cooperation between several school departments -- not only theatre and music, but also chemistry, home economics, "manual training", business, and language arts. It suggests that a theatre production is something in which everyone can participate as a project that would build meaningful life skills, regardless of field of endeavor -- a concept so radical to us today that it makes one wonder what Beach might have written were he discussing, say, a football game.

Nevertheless, his thesis is a solid one. Who better to use their nascent skills in promotion and bookkeeping than the students actually interested in business? And who better to build effects for smoke and the like than students in the physical sciences? Yes, in theory it's good for an acting student to know more than just how to act, but at the same time, it's a shame we moved away from this holistic approach to education to a more compartmentalized one.

But it's something from Beach's introduction that seems especially salient:

One measure of the value of our education is the degree to which it carries over from grades to high school, and from high school to adult years. Music, particualrly in its concerted forms, afford unusual opportunity for such a transmission of interest. For the pleasure derived from the presentation of the operetta and the cantata in the school years may find its counterpart in the ault life of a community through mature expression in the form of choral singing and amateur opera. But have the adults in the community the inclination for the production of the amateur opera? For answer we may ask: is this, primarily and exclusively, a jazz age? Can only the unusual, the bizarre, the risqué awaken a response? Are the adults of our community so effete, so surfeited with effortless enjoyment that they have lost the power of initiative and become immune to the satisfaction which results from creating one's own pleasure? Have the time-saving inventions of today actually left less time for avocations? Has the physical and mental inertia inspired by the "talkies" and the radio stifled all ambition for accomplishment along cultural lines?

A different time, indeed.

And then again, not so different after all...

Monday, September 1, 2008

UP IN THE AIR

The daunting definition of what constitutes a "real man" is the core of UP IN THE AIR (1929) by Geoffrey F. Morgan and Don Wilson (and a cover illustration by Donn Crane, as usual). Morgan's work has been discussed in here before, but Wilson is someone whose name, like Estelle Clark, is almost stapled to the hip of the format. He started his career as a composer and, based on what I've found in just the catalogue listings, got a lot of work out there. As the decades passed, he was working as less a composer and more an editor and arranger, providing those skills for, for example, a stage version of BABES IN TOYLAND (1945), but as is the case with so many that worked in this field, there's scant little information about him outside his published work.

UP IN THE AIR (a phrase that must have carried a second layer of meaning -- see its use in THE PENNANT) is Wilson hitting his stride as a composer, and it's interesting seeing him in tandem with the man who brought us plot-heavy shows like BELLE OF BAGHDAD and ROSE OF THE DANUBE. UP IN THE AIR also gives us the first glimpse of the more "theatrical" operetta, something more akin to musical comedy than opera. True to the times, the plot is almost mind-numbingly simple, but it responds to its simplicity with an energetic fervor.

At the centre of this is the Harold Post and the love of his life, Betty Burbank. Harold is a bashful, "sensitive" young man who thinks more than he acts -- which causes Betty's father, a successful businessman, no end of consternation. George Burbank believes his daughter's fiancé should be all brawn and derring-do... and not much else.

Sigh -- what's a poor boy to do to show his potential father-in-law that he's just as capable of being a man as the next guy? Well, opportunity comes knocking when his friend Joe Bennett, an aviator with intentions of being a stunt pilot in the movies, is given the chance to show off his flying skills -- and Joe, being a good friend, tells Harold *he* should come along on the flight and prove his manhood by making a parachute jump. Having never made a jump like this, Post naturally agrees (well, no one ever said operetta heroes were especially bright, right?), then, when reason starts to kick in, starts having second thoughts. He tries to wiggle out of the jump by using various alibis that will prevent him from actually going up while at the same time giving him points for at least saying, "Well, I wanted to do it, but..." Naturally, all of these collapse, and Harold finds himself getting in deeper and deeper until, finally, he has no choice, and up he goes.

But this is High School Operetta, so rather than the more probable and certainly more realistic ending that brings his broken, half-dead body centre stage for a final scene with his beloved... Harold actually succeeds. George, now satisfied, gives his blessing to the couple. All ends with happy singing and dancing.

Okay, like you expected anything else, right? C'mon, you know how these things are supposed to work.

At the same time, UP IN THE AIR, like BELLE OF BAGHDAD and ROSE OF THE DANUBE, is a surprisingly charming little show, with some cute lyrics and music that's fun in an early Gershwin kind of way. For example, Betty's entrance number, which extolls the joy of playing tennis:

To play a game of tennis
You must hold the racket tight
Then toss a ball into the air
And swing with all your might
If you should miss the first
Then you can serve a second ball
But if you miss hem both, of course
The score will be "love all"

Love all, love all,
Why not let the matter stand that way?
Love all, love all,
That's exactly how I feel today

For life is just a tennis game
So watch what you're about
And some may score "advantage in"
And some "advantage out"
But to keep the honors even
Will be best, without a doubt
And there'll be the "deuce" to pay!

... all sung to a fast little allegro. Or George's vaguely martial, vaguely homo-erotic take on the "perfect son-in-law":

Just give me a man who's six feet tall
With shoulders broad and square
With a tramping heel
And a grip like steel
And a will to do and dare!
If his brain will think both fast and slow
If his "Yes" means yes and his "no" means no
If he stands foursquare in the winds that blow
That's the kind of man for me!

You can almost hear the 4/4 tempe, cant you.

As for lessons in parachuting, well, hey, who needs those? As George's best friend, a movie producer, informs us: "There's no real danger in parachute jumping. It's more a test of nerves than anything else. To make this more exciting, I'll offer a thousand dollars to any novice who'll go up with (Joe) and make one." See? Nothing could be simpler, for, as Joe the best-friend aviator tells poor Harold:

If the wing should start to crumple
Or the gas should start to flare
You'll have to seek for safety
In the wide and open air

Count ten! and pull the ring
And then begin to sing!
Never fret and never worry
For there isnt any hurry
There's a mile of open air
Beneath your wing!

You can count upon a parachute to save you
Slow and easy is the downward swing
When you're dropping like a bullet
Grab the ring and quickly pull it
Count ten! and pull the ring
Count ten! and pull the ring!

Now, fully informed of how to work his parachute and having packed his emergency tap shoes, Harold's ready. Sorta.

Taken at face value, UP IN THE AIR is great fun, with wonderfully pompous characters and musical numbers that allow for more than just "stand centre stage and sing". As I said earlier, it's molded in the style of early Gershwin or Dorothy Fields, with a couple of ensemble moments that, like any big-time show of the era, completely break the story just for the sake of a production number, like "Weather", a nonsensical paean to... well, weather, enhanced by the dancing chorus appearing in various costumes for the seasons of the year. Or, for a completely out-of-left-field scene, the cast become passengers on a sight-seeing bus (!). There's a novelty ensemble number about Mexico (supposedly one of the songs in the producer's new film) and still another "I Remember It Well"-styled solo about the Good Old Days. The script bounces merrily from one scene to the next; even the obligatory black-face number verges on the theatrically self-mocking. In this light, even though it's not in the script, it's almost irresistable to imagine a scene for Harold in mid-jump, which could be staged relatively simply and provide an even more theatrical moment for a show that has more than its share.

However, there's another, somewhat darker side to this facile little piece, one that says a lot about who we were as men and women in the early part of the century. Betty, for example, makes it clear that she has no intention of following her father's wishes and concerns about any man she may choose as a future husband: she is her own person, the emerging New Woman, still giddy from getting the vote. By contrast, Harold is quieter, more introspective, more willing at moments of crisis to defer to those clearly his superior. He may plot and scheme to find ways to avoid the jump, but he never quite seems to find the actual courage to say "No" to anyone -- not his future wife, not his future father-in-law, not even his closest friend. Even though he found the shaky courage to literally put his life on the line for the girl he loves, one wonders about the pay-off... and what kind of standard it set for the future relationship between these two.