Roberta – Studio Cast Album 1952
Few composers for the musical comedy theater – or indeed for any other medium – have been so gifted with gracious and flowing melodies as Jerome Kern. In Show Boat, Music in the Air, Sweet Adeline, Sunny, and many others, he left scores of such charm that he stands unique in popular music. The score for Roberta (or Lovely To Look At in a recent film version) is one of his most typical: from beginning to end it is civilized, musical, and eminently tuneful, with a generous sprinkling of numbers of which any composer might be proud.
This presentation of Roberta, produced for records by Goddard Lieberson, employs the music of the original stage production, plus numbers written for the subsequent film version, starring Irene Dunne, Ginger Rogers, and Fred Astaire. When Roberta was first performed in New York on November 18, 1933, its cast included Tamara, Lyda Roberti, Fred MacMurray, George Murphy, Bob Hope, and the veteran Fay Templeton, who sang “Yesterdays.” This production stars a group of brilliant young players especially chosen for the record presentation – Joan Roberts, Stephen Douglass, and Jack Cassidy of the Broadway theater, Frank Rogier of the opera world, and Kaye Ballard and Portia Nelson of the supper clubs, with a chorus and orchestra under the direction of Lehman Engel.
Initially, the show was felt to be somewhat wanting in laughter (despite the presence of some notable comedians) but as time went on, it became apparent that Roberta was not just another musical comedy, but one of the series beginning with Show Boat and moving along through Pal Joey to South Pacific, where music is closely integrated with plot and character. Kern’s participation in this line began with his score for the incomparable story of show people on the Mississippi in 1927, continued with Sweet Adeline and The Cat and the Fiddle, through Music in the Air to this adaptation of Alice Duer Miller’s Gowns by Roberta. The plot itself dealt with the inheritance of a Paris dress establishment by a young American football player, and his subsequent romance with one of the employees. Perhaps as plots go, even on the musical comedy stage, this lacked substance, but the music was so lovely and so much a part of the plot movement that the show triumphantly spanned the season in New York, made a successful tour, and has since played regularly in summer musical theaters, and through two editions on the screen.
After Roberta, Jerome Kern wrote only one more score for a Broadway musical – Very Warm for May in 1939 – but Roberta alone would suffice to mark him as a composer of genuine distinction. The grace and warmth of the songs in this score, its avoidance of hard-hitting choruses and obvious comedy numbers set it apart as a thoughtful and enchanting contribution to the musical comedy theater. Where choruses and character songs are in order, Kern supplies either a sharp satire on the originals or a blithe melody of such rhythmic complexity and freshness that they are lifted beyond the filler category. Moreover, Otto Harbach supplied him with lyrics of uncommon intelligence that are frequently capable of standing alone, as are those by Oscar Hammerstein II, Dorothy Fields, and Jimmy McHugh for the film adaptation, such as “Lovely To Look At” and “I Won’t Dance.” Fortunate in its production and stars, Roberta is above all fortunate in its score. Some twenty years later, Roberta is as delectable as ever. Its foundation is romance, and somehow audiences today are even more susceptible to romance than they were in the deep days of the depression. Moreover, they have been trained to prefer wit and taste over noise and speed on the stage. And in addition, the show offers – at least to feminine audiences – an irresistible display of haute couture as part of its plot; no production is complete without a fashion show exhibiting beguiling examples of the newest costumes.
– from the original LP jacket
Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Lehman Engel
Music by Jerome Kern
Lyrics by Otto Harbach
Lyrics to “Lovely to Look At” by Dorothy Fields
Lyrics to “I Won’t Dance” by Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, Dorothy Fields, and Jimmy McHugh
Lyrics to “I’ll Be Hard To Handle” by Bernard Dougall