Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Wodehouse on Broadway

A century ago, while P.G. Wodehouse was writing three or four novels a year, he also wrote the lyrics for a number of popular Broadway musicals, teaming up with Guy Bolton, who wrote the book, and a variety of composers, including Jerome Kern. In the summer of 2014, I saw a revival of the 1918 hit Oh, Lady, Lady at the Ohio Light Opera at the College of Wooster. That was one of the musicals created by these three, and it was a wonder.

In 1953, Wodehouse and Bolton collaborated one more time for a delightful memoir about their Broadway experiences, Bring on the Girls! The title stems from advice the pair heard early in their careers: to liven the dead parts of any musical, just bring on the girls, namely the girls in the chorus. This was guaranteed to bring both the production and the audience back to life.

No doubt both men pooled their recollections, but the book itself displays the unmistakable prose style of Wodehouse. We find lines like this: "With men of the Guy Bolton type, memories are like mulligtawny soup in a cheap restaurant. It is wiser not to stir them." Even when Bolton himself is speaking, he sounds like Wodehouse, as with, "He was looking at me austerely, like a clergyman who has discovered schism in his flock."

There are references in the book to several of the novels Wodehouse was working on at this time and the creation of a new character named Jeeves. At one point we are reminded of those Jeeves and Wooster novels when we read, "Quick on the uptake, like all the other Wodehouses, he (Wodehouse) saw that this new arrival must be the authentic female decorator."

The hilarious stories Wodehouse and Bolton tell also seem like scenes one might find in a Wodehouse novel. There are great tales about quirky producers, oddball actors and merry mixups. Many familiar names crop up in these stories, including Flo Ziegfeld, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, W.C. Fields, Fred Astaire and John Galsworthy.

For all this, the book does have its dull spots. That's when you wish Wodehouse and Bolton would bring on the girls.

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