PE0253. THE BLUE KITTEN (Rudolf Friml, w.words by Otto Harbach & William Carey Duncan), w. Howard Carr Cond. Gaiety Theatre Orch.; Ethel Levey, Roy Royston, Dorothy Brown, William H. Berry, Bobby Howes & Estelle Brody; Dance Music by Jack Hilton, Percival Mackay's Band & Kit-Cat Club Band. (England) Palaeophonics 129, recorded 1926, w.Elaborate ‘The Play’ 20pp. Brochure replete w.photos from the London production & biographies.
“Rudolf Friml was at the peak of his fame when THE BLUE KITTEN opened in London in December 1925. 1924 had seen the premiere of ROSE MARIE and in 1925 came THE VAGABOND PRINCE. Hovering between light operetta and pop, these two shows were as popular as any in the inter-war years. Although we like to think of inter-war musicals as slick and jazz-influenced, most stage shows owed as much to European light musical tradition as they did to the new American sounds. Friml’s sentimentality was much parodied even then but remained a favourite with audiences through to the 1950s.
In some of its songs, THE BLUE KITTEN had tried to adopt a more transatlantic tone but they were half-hearted affairs and the show is not now considered a highlight of Friml’s career. It had premiered in New York in 1922, to no great critical or commercial acclaim. However, Friml’s high-profile ensured that, three years on, the London opening received full publicity and several cast recordings were made, unusual at the time.”
- Elvira Barney, 25 Oct., 2011
“THE BLUE KITTEN is a Parisian cabaret-restaurant where the head porter is Englishman Christopher Popp. He has managed to keep this job a secret from his wife, Lucille, a very starchily aristocratic French lady. At his wife’s chateau in Fontainebleu their daughter, Madeleine is in love with a young Marquis, Armand de Velin. Armand is a regular at the Blue Kitten, and unaware that Madeleine’s father is the porter who knows about all his peccadilloes, especially with La Totoche, one of the girls from the Folies Bergčre. The spurned Totoche and her friend Cri-Cri pursue Armand to Fontainebleu where she passes herself off to Lucille as a Duchess. Christopher’s nephew Octave inadvertently causes the truth to come out. Lucille is horrified that her husband works as a porter; Popinet, Armand’s tutor, is horrified at the idea of a Marquis marrying the daughter of a porter. It is left to Totoche to point out that all decent people would respect a marquis for marrying a porter’s daughter. And so all ends happily.
Based on the French farce LE CHASSEUR DE CHEZ MAXIME by Yves Mirande and Gustavo Quinson, and adapted by Dion Titheradge, this had originated on Broadway in January 1922, running for 140 performances. Curiously its London run achieved exactly the same number of performances.”
“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.
Rudolf Friml had four aspects to his career: pianist, operetta composer, American-style musical composer, and finally as a film composer, though he also wrote instrumental works and songs. Never an innovator, he was one of the most popular composers during his heyday, setting Broadway records for his time, and songs from his musicals and films are still often resurrected in recitals and recordings. Friml's musical talent showed at an early age, to the extent that neighbors and friends helped pay for him to study at the Prague Conservatory, where he studied with Dvorák, among others. He toured Europe and the United States as accompanist for violist Jan Kubelík, but with the triumph of his Piano Concerto #1 in 1904 and the premiere of his first ballet, O MITAKE SAN, devoted himself to composing and settled in the United States in 1906. His big break as an operetta composer came in 1912 when he wrote the wildly successful THE FIREFLY as a vehicle for star Emma Trentini. He followed this in 1913 with HIGH JINKS and in 1915 with KATINKA. After World War I, he briefly experimented with American-style musicals, but these were not as successful as the operetta idiom and he returned to that with ROSE MARIE in 1924, a great success with 557 performances, and THE VAGABOND KING in 1925 with 511. However, the combination of World War II and changing tastes in stage musicals had rendered his style of musicals old-fashioned and his last two stage works, LUANA and MUSIC HATH CHARMS, barely managed 20 performances each. Films, however, were another story, and several of his classics, including THE VAGABOND KING, ROSE MARIE, and THE FIREFLY were made into successful movies. Friml himself wrote music specifically for films, often uncredited, including the famous ‘Donkey Serenade’ from BACHELOR BAIT."
- 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