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.

2 comments:

bix1951 said...

Do you know of any revivals of these old musicals?

Sean Martin said...

Unfortunately, I dont think any of them have been performed since perhaps the 1960s, and even then it was sporadic. The main publishers -- Willis, Witmark, and Ditson -- had all pretty much abandoned the catalogues. Broadway producers had figured out that schools were a huge market and had adjusted their businesses accordingly to capitalize on it.