PE0219. WATCH YOUR STEP (Irving Berlin), w.Jacques Heuvel Cond.Empire Theatre Ensemble; Joseph Coyne, Ethel Levey (Mrs. George M. Cohan), Blanche Tomlin, George Graves, Dorothy Russell, Gertrude Lang, Billie Carlton, etc. (England) Palaeophonics 111, recorded 1915, Complete, as Recorded, w.Elaborate ‘The Play’ 20pp. Brochure replete w.photos from the London production & facsimile of original brochure. WATCH YOUR STEP was produced at the Empire Theatre, London, on 4 May, 1915, enjoying a run of 275 performances.
“WATCH YOUR STEP is a musical with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin and a book by Harry B. Smith. It was Irving Berlin's début musical. WATCH YOUR STEP tells the story of a $2,000,000 inheritance offered to any relative who has never been in love. Temptation was put before the only two claimants and they resisted long enough to win the share of the money while falling in love with each other. The original Broadway production, produced by Charles Dillingham, opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre on 8 Dec., 1914. It ran for 175 performances and featured in the cast Vernon and Irene Castle, Frank Tinney, Elizabeth Murray, Harry Kelly and Justine Johnstone. The London production was produced at the Empire Theatre on 4 May, 1915, enjoying a run of 275 performances.
When Berlin gets to break out in joyous and natural syncopation we hear ‘Play a Simple Melody’ and ‘They Always Follow Me Around’ as well as ‘When I Discovered You’ and ‘The Syncopated walk’ which were introduced by this musical, plus a tour-de-force called ‘Opera Medley’ featuring rag parodies of RIGOLETTO, AÏDA, and others - WATCH YOUR STEP catches fire. Verdi had been dead just thirteen years in 1914: here was upstart Berlin tweaking the highbrows with the most lowbrow of American music; what’s more, here he was, with the sophisticated jazzy counterpoint of ‘Simple Melody’ and the sharp, brazen wit of ‘Opera Medley’, beating them at their own game. What must this have felt like when it was so gloriously and explosively new? WATCH YOUR STEP gives us a hint."
- Martin Denton
"The book is the handiwork of Harry B. Smith; Smith (1860-1936) was the most prolific writer in musical theatre history, with a career spanning its formative years (the heyday of Weber & Fields and Victor Herbert) though its early maturity in the late teens and '20s (collaborating with composers like Jerome Kern and Berlin). Smith was born in Buffalo in 1860. In Chicago he became a newspaperman and stints as a music critic and then as a drama critic whetted his appetite for the stage. In time he became the most prolific librettist and lyricist in history. By his own estimate he wrote over 300 shows and lyrics for some 6000 songs.
WATCH YOUR STEP was a smash hit featuring many different settings, including the opera, a Pullman sleeping car, a cabaret, and more. Berlin's score is, in response, extremely wide ranging, with songs in all forms and styles and on all subjects. Love songs, waltzes, arguments duets, the ragtime ‘Opera Medley’, ‘Ann Eliza's Tango Tea’, and the risqué ‘Lock Me in Your Harem and Throw Away the Key’. There were no less than 27 Irving Berlin songs used in the play, as well as instrumental numbers and entr'actes."
- Rita Laurance
“Joseph Coyne, sometimes billed as Joe Coyne, was an American-born singer and actor, known for his appearances in leading roles in Edwardian musical comedy in London. Coyne was born in New York and made his stage début there at Niblo's Garden when he was 16. He appeared for some years in Vaudeville, as part of a double-act, and moved to the legitimate theatre, joining the Rose Lyall Dramatic Company.
In 1901, Coyne made his first appearance on the London stage, playing opposite Edna May in THE GIRL FROM UP THERE. After that engagement, he returned to the U.S. until 1906, when he made his second West End appearance. In 1907, he made a great success as Danilo in the original London production of THE MERRY WIDOW, which he followed with a succession of romantic leading roles including Conder in THE DOLLAR PRINCESS (1909), Tony in THE QUAKER GIRL (1910), Teddy in THE DANCING MISTRESS (1912) and Sandy in THE GIRL FROM UTAH (1913).
After the First World War, Coyne played Robert Street in GOING UP (1918), Jimmy Smith in NO NO NANETTE (1925) and T. Boggs John in QUEEN HIGH (1926). Among his leading ladies, The Times listed Edna May, Gertie Millar, Lily Elsie, Constance Collier, Gertrude Lawrence and Binnie Hale.
Coyne's last appearance was in APRON STRINGS at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1931, in the role of Ezra Hunniwell. He settled in Virginia Water, near Windsor, where he died of pneumonia, aged 73.
Ethel Levey appeared in burlesque theatres and on the vaudeville circuit for some years gaining modest success. During this period of her career, she met fellow vaudevillian George M. Cohan and they were married in 1900. As Cohan’s star began to rise so did Levey’s and she appeared in starring roles in several of his Broadway musical comedies, including THE GOVERNOR’S SON (1901), LITTLE JOHNNY JONES (1904) and GEORGE WASHINGTON JR. (1906). Not long after this, Levey and Cohan divorced and went their separate professional ways. Any thoughts that Levey might have owed her fame and popularity only to her association with Cohan were set aside when she proved able to retain her following, as she continued to perform in many shows. She was in London in 1912 for HULLO, RAGTIME, but was mainly active touring America on the vaudeville circuit although she did perform again on Broadway, including appearing in Irving Berlin’s revue WATCH YOUR STEP (1914). Levey continued to enjoy a successful career through succeeding decades, and was again in New York in 1945 when she played Mme. Sacher in MARINKA.”
- Anne Feeney, allmusic.com
“If you are interested in what original audiences of early 20th century English operetta and musical comedy heard, there is a great source for such recordings – the record label Paleophonics. Dominic Combe prepares CDs for them from his huge collection of shellacs and a few cylinders.
I came across these somewhat hard-to-find CDs on the website of the mail-order company NORBECK, PETERS AND FORD, (norpete.com) which is specialized in historical performances from the beginning of recorded sound all the way through to the 1960s.
There are now over fifty Paleophonics CDs, and more are being prepared or scheduled for future release. Each CD comes with a lavishly illustrated program booklet with reviews, information about the shows and fantastic publicity photographs, and artwork from the original London productions, in the form of reproductions of the magazine PLAY PICTORIAL.”
- Thomas Krebs, OPERETTA RESEARCH CENTER - PALEOPHONICS - A JOURNEY TO THE DAWN OF RECORDED SOUND IN MUSICAL COMEDY, 1 July, 2020