Thursday, September 16, 2010

AT THE TOURIST CAMP

As you've seen from other entries, I sometimes find the cover art more fascinating than the actual work itself. This was never more true than for AT THE TOURIST'S CAMP (1937), by Elsie Duncan Yale and Clarence Kohlman, who also provided us with the very odd and phantasmagorical MOOON MAIDEN.

Let's get the work itself out of the way. A short, 48-page work that purports to last an hour (although I suspect less), TOURIST'S CAMP is the story of Mrs. Smiley, who, along with her son Chester and her sister Miss Melody, runs a tourist camp named "Happy Haven". It has your usual assortment of oddball residents: the woman who loves, in equal parts, fishing and epic poetry; a wealthy if off-beat family from Texas; a very pushy 30s version of a Mary Kay saleswoman... and the stuttering Professor Propendorimentasia (Say that six times fast).

Now one would hope this would be a happy little troupe, but that's not quite the case. There is jealousy and snobbery and a touch of teenage lust and... well, just all sorts of things going on between the various tourists, which makes you wonder why they dont pack up and leave for a Happier Haven someplace. And into this soap opera arrives a lone hiker, Charles Dill, president of (what else?) a pickling factory.

But Mrs. Smiley's not buying that for a moment, because she knows that he's got to really be Charles Dial, a radio producer who's supposedly traveling about the country in cognito. As a result, everyone does a little star turn for "Mr. Dill", in the hopes of getting a job on the radio. Sadly for them, it turns out that he really is Charles Dill...

— but wait! The Professor isnt the Professor! He's Charles Dial, and he's so impressed with everyone that he gets Charles Dill to sponsor a radio show soap opera about tourist camp life, with everyone here for its cast!

EVERYONE (in concert). Hurrah!

... which takes us to the closing number:

ENSEMBLE. Then off to the city
To win a fortune or two.
No more, you see, may we campers be,
For we've too much to do.

PROFESSOR (sternly) You must be willing workers,
Rehearsing day and night
I have no time for shirkers
They never get things right

MISS MELODY. My heart is filled with grief and care
Ah Life you are so fickle
To think that I should have to share
The spotlight with a pickle

... and so on and so on as we build to a crescendo about roses and lilies and campfires and pickles and how we all just love each other... even if we really dont. But hey, it's summer, and they all have the chance for a cushy job with lots of pay, so, for now anyway, it's all good.

The copy I own is in perfect condition; it doesnt like it's been cracked open since printing, let alone actually be used — and honestly I'm not surprised. I suppose this could have been written as an easy-to-stage diversion at a real tourist summer camp, but I cant imagine any possible production possibilities beyond that. The music is interesting, but it's so solidly undercut by Yale's less than pedestrian lyrics. As for her book, well, it's just too... well, awful, even by 1930s standards. She tries so very, very hard to make things funny, particularly when it deals with the continually injured Chester (who's always managing to somehow hit himself in the head with a rake), except they rarely are: she's created an environment that barely masks a whopping big helping of hostility, to the point where it's difficult to care about anyone or his or her dreams of success as a radio performer. It's almost too delicious to think that one reason why Dial's taking this crew on is because he knows he can get storylines out of their just-barely-genteel interrelationships for years. It's hard to believe this comes from the same team that did the slightly surreal (and far more genuinely comic) MOON MAIDEN... not that that particular work was any great shake in the Grand High School Operetta Scheme of Things. But this is just so relentlessly weak that it makes RADIO MAID seem like a Gershwin show.

Then there's that cover.

Okay, two men, one in front and to the side of the other. If the perspective is to be considered correct (which is doubtful, considering it would mean the trailer on the left is parked on a pretty severe slope), the guy in back is huge. I mean, we're talking Andre the Giant big. Further, I'm not exactly sure what his friend is looking at, let alone why he's smashing his forehead into the very large question mark that the Very Large Man is apparently holding.

Also, note that the subtitle of this work is "Dad's Vacation". Dear Reader, I've been through this thing twice now, and there's no dad anywhere, unless we're looking at the family from Texas, who are third-tier characters. Maybe this was suggested by something that happened to Elsie or Clarence's fathers? Maybe it's a self-referential in-joke? I have no clue.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

THE COUNT AND THE CO-ED

This wonderful little piece of work was on my list of orphans, and it was only by luck that I managed to find a copy of the script at, of all places, Amazon. The seller was almost embarrassed to send it, because of its near-precarious condition... but am I ever glad she did.

THE COUNT AND THE COED (1930, with unsigned cover art) continues that stream of works by the two Geoffreys, either together or with others, in which madcap humour rules the day in a piece that almost suggests the 30s-style movie musical. We're on the campus at Marden College, which has seen unfortunate financial times (Given the date of the work, that's not surprising). The President of the College has decided to show off the college a bit by producing an evening's entertainment for the benefit of some wealthy potential donors, including the Count Gustave von Weinerheister, in the hopes that maybe someone from the group will part with sufficient cash to keep the place going.

But he also has to deal with the college glee club -- and in specific, the club's resident comedian Kenneth Andrews, otherwise known as Snooze, who has the remarkable tendency of getting into scrapes of one kind or another. This wouldnt be so bad, were it not for the fact that Snooze is in love with the President's daughter Dolly; all he really wants to do for now is make a good enough impression through his performance so that the college will get its much-needed endowment and he can get his girl.

On the day of the benefit, poor Snooze has had a bit of a run-in with the law while picking up his costume. He's not exactly sure what it was he did; all he knows is that a motorcycle patrolman is hunting him down -- and naturally, panic strikes. To hide from the officer, he slaps on the costume and pretends to be owner of a delicatessan. But the President, thinking this is just one more manifestation of the Count's eccentric ways, assumes that Snooze is the Count and (happily for Snooze and Dolly) insists his daughter escort their guest to the evening's performance, with the thought that possibly not only will the college gets its money but their daughter might also marry very, very well.

But Snooze also discovers that, as the Count, he's suddenly also the object of the affections of Agatha Lockstep, the housemother of the girls' dormitory. As you might expect, this leads to a series of overlapping situations in which Snooze finally has to confess to both the policeman and the President who he really is. As it turns out with the policeman, he merely wanted to make sure that Snooze keep quiet about a possible career-harming incident... but the President is not so magnaminous. He's about to send Snooze packing —

— when a registered letter arrives, from the real Count, who sends his regrets for being unable to attend. However, he was so impressed by the actions of a certain Marden college boy who helped repair his limousine that he's sending the college a check for the endowment fund. Naturally, that certain college boy was Snooze, who claims Dolly as his reward for saving the day.

Yes, it's outrageously silly, but it's also outrageously charming, as one would expect from the two Geoffries. Like so many works attached to their names, THE COUNT AND THE COED would require only a bit of tinkering here and there to see value for a revival: the script is solid as a rock, with an almost bravura role for Snooze (who's onstage throughout virtually the entire show). The three supporting roles for the president, his wife, and the dorm mother are all marvelously written, with just enough character cliche to make them easy to approach while at the same time affording possibilities for some fun character development. And the second tier romantic couple, Hamilton and Marjorie, are given inexplicably more time musically than Snooze and Dolly, including a lovely Act Two duet, "Campus Moon". For the chorus, O'Hara doesnt take it easy on them: there are at least four places in the show where the ensemble gets a chance to really show off musically, including a remarkable medley of various college songs of the period.

But it really is Snooze who gets the whopping majority of the evening. From his first appearance on the run from the law to the final curtain in which he sings of the joys of sausages and bratwurst, his character is relentless fun, yet another role that instantly reminds one of movie stars such as Danny Kaye or Donald O'Connor or even possibly Mickey Rooney. He sings, he dances, he mugs to distraction — and even though you know he's gonna get the girl, it's delicious fun watching him arrive.

Morgan and O'Hara also provided work on another college musical, PEGGY AND THE PIRATE, which is yet another case where I have the score but no libretto. If anyone out there has a lead on this, please let me know.