Sunday, March 22, 2009

THE MODEL BRIDE

Barbie meets the high school operetta in THE MODEL BRIDE (1949) by Harold Allen and our old friend Don Wilson. Designed with a virtually all-female cast (only one male role, but even that can apparently be played by a girl), this relatively short piece chronicles the lives (and of course loves) of six "manikins" who work in a bridal shop in Atlantic City.

Run by Madame Beaumont, a "lady of a certain age", the shop caters to the very wealthy, so it's not too odd when a certain man-about-town named Larry Purcell has started buying a lavish trouseau for his bride.

Problem is, no one knows who the young lady might be. Some folks already think he's a little crazy, planning for a wedding day without a bride, but Mme. Beaumont is more philosophical about it: as long as the cash is coming in, who cares.

She does have her standards, though. No nouveau-riche trash for this establishment:

MME. BEAUMONT. Our styles are distinctly Parisian, quite a la mode you know. They are not the common department store styles. Our customers must remember that. If there is any doubt as to that I will have to raise the prices. That will convince anybody that they come from Paris.

... and only a few lines later:

We must be very careful to see that we have only the best people as our customers. Rather than have any of those vulgar nouveau-riche wearing my creations in public, I would rather lose a sale altogether. As for catering to anyone who represents, shall I say the working element, rather than that I could raise the prices still higher. After all, I am not in this profession for the mere money.

This leads to a rather manic patter song in which she tells us her history as a girl behind the counter:

Now if you successful be and win a quick promotion
Observe your patrons carefully and humour every notion
And never hesitate to to discuss things tete-a-tete
It will help in your work behind the counter

The girl behind the counter
Is the girl you've got to spot
She's bound to have your number
And she knows you to a dot

For she sees that youre a married man
The first time that you call
A Democrat or Republican
Oh she knows it all
No detail does she overlook
Your life is just one open book
You cant conceal a thing from her
The girl behind the counter

Ah, but there's still the question of Larry's Mystery Bride. Rumours swirl: maybe she's a cripple or blind or has just awful taste in clothes, leaving her hapless groom to pick out not only her wedding dress but also her dresses and her hats and her hosiery and her lingerie (I'm surprised it stops there, but it does.). Or maybe she doesnt even know about the wedding at all! Or maybe she's poor and cant afford nice clothes and he's getting her all this as a surprise!

The only thing the models know for certain is that whoever this mystery bride is, she's a perfect thirty-six. As such, Purcell always requests the same model to show the clothes he's buying, a young lady named Dulcie who's (conveniently) also a perfect thirty-six. She, natch, is hopelessly in love with him, but he's rich and she's poor and so that's that, as far as she's concerned. Of course, we know better, right? However, no one ever said operetta heroines were especially bright, so Dulcie closes Act One with a plaintive little song:

Oft I in all this brilliant dress parade
Have worn the wedding train and veil for some lucky maid
I've posed and smiled and charmed men with my art
I've tried to hide the loneliness breaking my heart

So today I'll be gay
I wont let them know I care
I'll conceal how I feel
Let them wonder, let them stare
For I know love will find me in the weary throng
And when it does my heart will thrill with song

And when I've found true love at last
No more I'll search alone
For someone who will care for me
Someone to call my own
In lovely spring I'll wear his ring
And hand in hand we'll roam
Forever together our lives will be
And no more I'll search alone

... at which point she throws herself on the divan and sobs as the curtain descends.

Act Two, and Larry shows up to make sure everything's ready -- after all, today's his wedding day! He remains coy about who the intended lady is and toys somewhat mercilessly with Mme. Beaumont that everything is to be sent to the hotel to the attention of "Mrs. Lawrence Purcell". Then he confesses: he's not dead certain himself who the young lady is, but Mme. Purcell remains professional about something she's dying to know.

Larry asks to see the bridesmaids' dresses first; his lack of reaction makes them wonder if he really knows what he's doing (Trust us: the audience too). Mme. Beaumont then announces that the bride's dress is ready for inspection, and Larry asks that everyone leave the room so he can look at it with all due attention. Mystified, they do. And when Dulcie comes in, all decked out, Larry's a hopeless fluster that finally tells her she's the intended bride. The other models will be her bridesmaids (That's convenient, wouldnt you think?), and Mme. Beaumont can give Dulcie away ("It'll be the first time she's given anything away to a customer!"). The other girls express their surprise, but Mme. Beaumont shares that she had this figured out a long time ago -- after all, she was a girl behind the counter.

And with that the curtain falls, with only a few lagging questions: does she know anything about this guy? And how come he has such great taste in lingerie?

Well, it is a Barbie world, after all. Sure, she's in love with the big lug, but it's more about the clothes and the DreamHouse in Connecticut and the DreamCar and the DreamHoneymoon. In years to come, no doubt, she'll take up work as an airline stewardess or maybe even an astronaut. But on occasion she'll open the closet and take out that wedding dress and try it on just to make sure it still fits, because at the links the other day Larry introduced her to the nicest young man named Ken, and she likes what she sees....

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