(The plot of the movie closely adhered to that of the stage musical but, with America’s subsequent entry into the war, it also included an extended finale in which the trio of soldiers aid in the capture of a German U-boat cruising the waters off Long Island.)
Original Broadway cast recordings
Cover versions by Hildegarde
(Orchestra under the direction of Harry Sosnik)—Decca Album #291 (released in 1941)
Additional cover versions:
Vocal and musical arrangements and orchestra conducted by Dennis Deal
Included on Ben Bagley’s Cole Porter—Volume Three (Painted Smiles Records (1979)—PS1370
Let’s Face It! enjoyed a far more successful career in Britain than it had in Australia. Following a five month pre-London tour, which commenced at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, on 22 June 1942, the musical played for a further seven months at the London Hippodrome, after opening there on 19 November 1942, featuring a cast headed by Bobby Howes and co-starring Joyce Barbour and Pat Kirkwood.
From The Sketch (London), 15 July 1942
Amongst changes made to the London production was the expected omission of the Sylvia Fine-Max Leibman specialty numbers (although Bobby Howes performed his own mimed version of the basic premise of ‘Melody in 4-F’ ) together with the Act 2 opening ensemble ‘I’ve Got Some Unfinished Business With You’ (also missing in Australia) and the interpolation of ‘Just One of Those Things’ (a Cole Porter number originally written for the Broadway musical Jubilee in 1935 ) as a second Act solo for Pat Kirkwood. Other less explicable changes were the relocation of the setting of ‘Mrs. Watson’s Summer Home’ from Southampton, Long Island to Greenport, Long Island and the name of the second Act ‘Hollyhock Inn’ which was retitled ‘The Lucky Horseshoe Inn’. In place of the original Broadway orchestrations by Hans Spialek, Donald J. Walker and Ted Royal (as used in the JCW production ) the score was re-orchestrated by Debroy Somers, whose band also occupied the Hippodrome orchestra pit under the direction of Danny Walters. (With the stage musical’s closing on 12 June after a West End run of 348 performances, the Bob Hope Paramount film version subsequently premiered in Britain in November of 1943.)
It would have to wait until the post-war years of the late 1940s before the ‘American invasion’ of both the Australian and British theatre took hold with the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein and the newly ‘integrated’ musical scores of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and others that followed in their wake.
From Theatre World (London), January 1943. Courtesy Rex Bunnett.
 In his review for The Sunday Times (22 November 1942, p.2) James Agate noted that:
[Howes] has a brilliant scene of pure miming showing the progress of a soldier from his moment of joining, through his ‘medical’ and training, up to the day when he received his decoration for gallantry, his heart swells, and his eyes glisten.
 It was while he was engaged in writing the score for Jubilee that Cole Porter paid his one and only visit to Australia. Embarking on a world cruise of the Southern Hemisphere to seek inspiration for the musical, accompanied by his wife, Linda, playwright, Moss Hart (his collaborator on Jubilee) and a group of friends that included actor-director, Monty Woolley, Cole arrived in Sydney aboard the Cunard-White Star liner Franconia, when it berthed there on 4 March 1935 with a reported 250 passengers aboard. Moss Hart spent time visiting the Independent Theatre in Sydney during the stopover, but the Porters’ sight-seeing activities in the city and beyond went unrecorded, before the ship departed on 6 March en route to New Guinea and Java.
 The original orchestra parts for Let’s Face It! remain extant in the ‘J.C. Williamson collection of performance materials’ archived at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. The original instrumentation included orchestral parts for violin A, violin B, violin C, violin D, cello, bass, flute, oboe, clarinet and alto sax (shared part), tenor sax, clarinets, horns, 1st and 2nd trumpets (shared part), 3rd trumpet, trombone, drums and harp.
By the time that the show commenced its Melbourne season there had been a number of cast changes (with Marjorie Gordon replacing Yvonne Banvard, Douglas Stark replacing Ron Beck and Natalie Raine substituting for Joy Youlden for the first few performances; and although Frank Martin and Percy Martin remained in the cast, they both played different characters from those that they had enacted in Sydney, and were joined by Charles Albert and Frank Bradley as two of the three husbands) plus the interpolation of a new (uncredited) song for Don Nicol in the second Act—‘Black-Out Baby’, as noted in the subsequent newspaper reviews, which also revealed that the local theatre critics were less easily pleased than their Sydney counterparts.
NEW SHOW HAS LIFE BUT LITTLE WIT
By J.E. Tremearne
Cole Porter's music is distinctly superior to the ‘wit’ of Let’s Face It, a hotch-potch musical comedy, which, judging by the Melbourne premiere at His Majesty’s on Saturday night, depends largely on stupid indelicacies, smart dressing and much dancing. The ballets are numerous, but unlike the costumes, need more contrast in style.
Don Nicol was the outstanding figure in the performance, and at times carried the show, but even this comedian seemed unhappy occasionally, particularly when he did the street woman characterisation in ‘Black Out Baby.’ Mr Nicol had Fred Murray, a good step dancer, and Douglas Stark as his companions in the United States Army, and the three made a great hit with the friendly first-night audience in a statuary act, which was very funny for a while, but was unduly prolonged and ended In custard pie buffoonery.
The plot of an old farcical comedy was twisted about to do service for Let’s Face It, and much silly dialogue incorporated. Those responsible for the ‘book’ apparently found it much easier to be suggestive than subtle. Some of the company spoke their lines so weakly that they could not be heard throughout the theatre, but it is safe to say that no wit was missed.
Marjorie Gordon had some bright moments, but was not infrequently too demonstrative as the leader of the three women who decided that their philandering husbands should not be the only ones to have fun with the young people, and she had as adequate support as the play allowed from Marie La Varre, much more subdued than usual, and Lily Moore. It was unfortunate to find an actor like Frank Bradley wasted in the part of one of the ridiculous husbands.
The company was distinctly weak in singing, but Marie Ryan’s tones were pleasing In ‘Someone’s Rocking My Dream Boat,’ while clever Natalie Raine’s bright and friendly manner aided her in putting over other already popular numbers. But Cole Porter has to thank Gabriel Joffe, the conductor, most for whatever success was achieved with his music.
The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday, 22 November 1943, p.7, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245801152
His Majesty’s—“Let’s Face It”
With the straight comedy, or farce, Cradle Snatchers, as a base, and built up with music and lyrics by Cole Porter (whose contributions are frequently presented on the radio), and with pantomime and revue-like items interspersed, the new production, Let’s Face It, at His Majesty’s Theatre is somewhat difficult to classify.
If not strictly a musical comedy, it could perhaps be termed a play with music. It is a boisterous affair, and on Saturday night it created considerable hilarity, with the comedians, male and female, displaying great zest. The Pygmalion adjective bobbed up again, and some of the script could do with a little pruning.
The story revolves around the decision of three married women to get ‘even’ with their philandering husbands by inviting three servicemen from Camp Roosevelt, USA, to the summer house of one of the womenfolk. There are, of course, the usual complications.
The chief fun makers were Don Nicol, very amusing as one of the servicemen, and Marjorie Gordon, who was very cordially received on her return from ‘straight’ plays, and maintained her reputation as an excellent comedienne.
They were well supported by Lily Moore, Marie la Varre, Fred Murray and Douglas Stark. An amusing telephone sketch was given by Ron Shand. Features of the performance were the skilful specialty dancing and the delightful ballet numbers. The chorus was satisfactory, but with an occasional exception the solo singing was far from adequate.
The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday, 22 November 1943, p.4, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206362233
[N.B. In 1914 George Bernard Shaw scandalised London audiences with his inclusion of the vulgar term ‘bloody’, spoken by Mrs. Patrick Campbell as the cockney flower-seller, Eliza Doolittle in his play Pygmalion (which later became the basis for the musical My Fair Lady.) Thereafter the ‘Pygmalion adjective’ was used as shorthand for the offending word in polite society, as in: ‘Not Pygmalion likely!’, etc.]
NEW MUSICAL COMEDY
By The Chiel
Like the cactus, the rabbit, and some other importations that have found Australia congenial habitat, American plays and musical comedies seem to have taken an ineradicable hold on the country. Though there are other sources of production, at present it would appear that the cachet of Broadway is the only passport to the Australian stage. As with others, Let's Face It, Cole Porter’s musical comedy, based on The Cradle Snatchers, is redolent of the land of its birth.
The comedy originates in the determination of 3 neglected wives, Maggie, Nancy, and Cornelia, who are old enough to know better, to punish their erring spouses by paying them back in their own coin. At Maggie’s instigation, they visit a service camp and induce 3 young soldiers, at $100 an inducement, to be their weekend guests at a country house. Although engaged to marry damsels of appropriate years, impecuniosity impels the 3 musketeers to accept an otherwise distasteful contract. The country party does not run smoothly owing to the arrival of the 3 husbands and the 3 fiancees on the scene, and the 3 wives and the 3 soldiers are left with a good deal of explanation to make. The wives, at any rate, face it with courage worthy of a better cause.
The several ballets are a pleasing feature, especially that which closes the first act. Of the long list of characters, the 3 wives, played by Marjorie Gordon, Marie La Varre, and Lily Moore, claim the higher honours, which they share with Don Nicol, who as Jerry, Maggie’s partner in iniquity, is an inspired fun-maker. Marie Ryan, as Jean, one of the deserted fiancees, is at her best in ‘Somebody's Rocking My Dream Boat.’ [sic]
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), Monday 22 November 1943, p.6 – https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11785290
By Gregory Parable
“Let's Face It”
Music by Cole Porter lifts Let's Face It, on the musical side of the production, to a higher level than any of the weakly musical comedies seen here in recent times. Porter’s work is competent within its class and, orchestrally, can be listened to; some of the accompaniments in the present show are more than ordinarily pleasing and, at times, ingenious.
Unfortunately, Let’s Face It, is not all Cole Porter, though he writes neat lyrics for his music. The rest of the book, by Dorothy and Herbert Fields, while it has the merit of attempting continuity and some measure of relevancy, is disfigured by objectionable lines; added to these, certain interpolations, notably the ‘Black-Out Baby’ number imposed upon the unfortunate Don Nicol, suggest that Let’s Efface It would be a better title for the piece. The management would be well advised to prune the show of its indelicacies; good taste always pays. The production is worth presenting well, for otherwise it is bright, exquisitely dressed and amusing—for adults.
The principals are an uneven team; some can scarcely be heard. Don Nicol, Fred Murray and Douglas Stark are a strong trio and Nicol, when opportunity presents itself, proves his worth as a comedian. Marjorie Gordon, Lily Moore and Marie La Varre are a riotous team that provides plenty of amusement, except when they suffer from the vulgarities provided them.
Marie Ryan has not much to do. Her ‘Somebody's Rocking My Dream Boat’ [sic] loses effect for lack of accompaniment; it has not enough substance to stand by itself.
The dancing is colourful and pleasing, particularly the specialty numbers; the ballet, though sprightly, could do with more variety in its routine.
Gabriel Joffe, appreciative of the possibilities of Porter’s score, conducts with characteristic good judgment. (His Majesty’s.)
The Advocate (Melbourne, Vic.), Thursday, 25 November 1943, p.18, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172210285
An interesting insight was provided by The Australasian columnist ‘Felicity’ on how JCW still managed to provide glamour in its productions when hampered by a wartime economy and the rationing system.
Services on Leave Frequent Ballet, Concerts, and Plays
DEAR PHILLIDA: This last week has seen the opening of new seasons of concerts, ballet, and revue. All of them, it would seem, are intended first and foremost to entertain men and women of the services, who form a large part of the audience at all the shows.
Our Allies, too, have been remembered, and the new revue [sic] will provide humour more familiar to many of them than to us, for Let’s Face It at His Majesty's deals with some strange but amusing adventures of 3 United States Army men.
As part of their frolics the 3 service men hire themselves as guests at the home of a rather elderly charmer, Mrs. Watson (Marjorie Gordon), who, with her 2 still-more-elderly friends, determine in this way to take revenge on their philandering husbands. The fun is fast and furious, as the servicemen naturally have sweethearts of their own, and one of these gets herself engaged as a chaperon to the 3 elderly ladies.
The show abounds with gay dancing by the far-famed JCW chorus, and there are quite a few good specialty dancers, among them being tap-dancing Fred Murray, Nicholas Ivangine, and Phyllis Kennedy, and of course our own Roy Currie. I really wondered, at times, how the ballet had managed to look so luxurious—pink satin and brocade and velvet Turkish trousers for the men in the Persian rug dance.
I heard from a member of the JCW organisation, however, that the clothes collected over the years have all been kept and thoroughly overhauled for this show; hence the chorus in all its glory!
Another little titbit I heard from the same source was that the custard pie which Jerry (Don Nicol) hurls at his officer, whom he sees making love to his sweetheart, Natalie Raine, has to be renewed every night—it’s not one of those of which you can pick up the bits.
The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.), (extract), Saturday, 27 November 1943, p.18, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article142147851
The Christmas-New Year pantomime season at His Majesty’s (which commenced on 27 December) saw the versatile Don Nicol do double duty at the theatre, playing the Dame as ‘Widow Twankey’ in Aladdin at the matinees and reverting to American serviceman, Jerry Walker in the evenings. While Nicol’s fiancée in Let’s Face It!—Joy Youlden, became his ‘son’ Aladdin in the afternoons and other cast members to draw a double pay-cheque at the time included Fred Murray and Douglas Stark as the Chinese Policemen, Ron Shand as ‘Wishe-Washee’ and Marie Ryan as the Princess. Although a routine recycled from the evening’s entertainment (as seen in Les Thorp’s film footage) was evidently considered unsuitable for the pantomime’s audience of children by The Herald critic, who commented that: ‘The ballet of faces painted on men's torsos, which are wiggled about to represent human grimaces, could well be omitted.’ The Herald (Melbourne, Vic.), Tuesday, 28 December 1943, p.7, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245800813
Despite the perceived public demand for ‘new musicals’ during the war years, it would appear that audiences still preferred their old favourites, as White Horse Inn and The Girl Friend had both out-run Let’s Face It!, which closed its Melbourne season on Thursday, 13 January 1944 after only eight weeks (three weeks shorter than its Sydney run) and subsequently disappeared from the JCW touring repertoire. An additional reason that the show did not go on to tour Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth or New Zealand was due to the fact that the Paramount film version of Let’s Face It, starring Bob Hope and Betty Hutton (with Eve Arden reprising her original stage role of Maggie Watson) opened around Australia from late January of 1944 onwards making the stage version ‘old news’ and JCW evidently didn’t see any point in spending additional money to launch a legal action to seek an embargo on the film’s release at that time. (Ironically, in typical Hollywood fashion of the 1940s, most of Cole Porter’s original stage score had been jettisoned for the film, and additional songs by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn substituted instead.)
Notwithstanding the fact that the Broadway production of Let’s Face It! had succeeded chiefly on the strength of its star-making lead performance by Danny Kaye (his successor in the role, José Ferrer, only managed to keep the show open for an additional month to see out its total New York run of 547 performances on 20 March 1943) the Australasian performing rights to the musical were subsequently acquired from Vinton Freedley by E.J. Tait on behalf of J.C. Williamson’s and the production scheduled to open in Sydney in mid-1942.
The original play that had provided the basic plot for the musical, Cradle Snatchers by Norma Mitchell and Russell Medcraft, had been successfully produced in Australia by JCW in 1927–28 and although the prior number of Cole Porter musicals staged locally by The Firm amounted to just two (Gay Divorce in 1933–34 and Anything Goes in 1936) his songs were well known to Australian audiences of the period by virtue of his Hollywood film scores and in the realm of popular music, encompassing gramophone records, radio broadcasts and performances by local dance bands. Additionally, the American troops stationed in Australia would provide a ready-made audience (presumably) eager to see an up-to-date hit show from their homeland during their periods of ‘R & R’, especially one with a plot that dealt with the exploits of soldiers on leave.
However, not all was smooth sailing, as reported in The Wireless Weekly’s ‘At The Stage Door’ columns:
The Theatre Royal will revert to musical comedy on July 4.
JCW intended to produce the New York success Let’s Face It on that date, but owing to difficulty in obtaining the orchestral score, the season will begin with a revival of The Girl Friend.
The cast will include Don Nicol, as principal comedian, Marie Ryan, Lily Moore, Allan Christie, Fred Murray and Bobby Mack.
Don Nicol will also appear in Danny Kaye’s New York role in Let’s Face It, which is written around Cradle Snatchers, a farce presented by The Firm about ten years ago. Music is by Cole Porter. In support will be the other members of the Thumbs Up-Sally company, who have been playing in Adelaide.
Mr. E.J. Tait says that JCW is not anxious to stage revivals, but the public must understand the extraordinary difficulties, particularly in regard to dollar exchange, due to the war.
However, two possible productions he suggested for presentation either here [Sydney] or in Melbourne ‘in the near future’ were My Sister Eileen and Arsenic and Old Lace.
The Wireless Weekly (Sydney, NSW), Vol. 37, No. 25, 27 June 1942, p.14
Two months’ later, Jesse Collings was able to report in the same periodical’s ‘At The Stage Door’ columns:
Royal Prepares for Broadway Hit
Back from his trip to Brisbane, E.J. Tait is throwing himself into the work of getting the new American musical, Let’s Face It ready for presentation at the Theatre Royal.
This is ‘E. J’s’ answer to those who have been grumbling about revivals and demanding new shows.
It is a long time since we had a new musical at the Royal, and we are lucky to get this one, which has been a smash hit on Broadway.
‘It was only through my friendship in the right quarter that we have been able to do it,’ Mr. Tait said. ‘It has been agreed that the financial side of the deal shall stand over until the embargo on sending dollars out of the country has been lifted.’
Story of Let’s Face It is based on the comedy, The Cradle Snatchers, which had a successful run on stage and screen.
Three married women, not so young as they were and not very interested in their blasé husbands, think it would be a great idea to invite three attractive young men to spend a weekend with them in the country.
The mirth-provoking denouement to their ‘cradle-snatching’ adventure is not quite what they expected. Story has been brought up-to-date and the selected young men are now chosen from the US Army.
Music is by rhythm-master Cole Porter and there are 12 ‘hot’ numbers.
The new show will be put over by the company now appearing in The Girl Friend, with a few additions. Leading roles will be taken by Marie Ryan, Marie La Varre, Lily Moore, Joy Youlden and Don Nicol.
The Wireless Weekly (Sydney, NSW), Vol. 37, No. 33), 22 August 1942, p.14
Understandably the Sylvia Fine-Max Liebman specialty number ‘Melody in 4-F’ was omitted from the Australian production, as its gobbledygook lyrics made little sense without the accompanying pantomimed actions, as performed by Danny Kaye, and the uncredited song ‘Let’s Make Faces’ substituted as a solo for Don Nicol instead. Additionally the Act 2 opening ensemble number ‘I’ve Got Some Unfinished Business With You’ sung by the soldiers’ fiancées and the philandering husbands was replaced by the interpolated ‘Someone's Rocking My Dream Boat’ by Leon René, Otis René and Emerson Scott, as a solo for Marie Ryan. The song had already became a popular number in 1941 in recordings by the Ink Spots, Erskine Hawkins and Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson, amongst others, and was recorded by the big bands of Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, and Artie Shaw the following year.
To emphasise the comedy of the piece, the glamorous wives of the original Broadway production (in the persons of Eve Arden, Vivian Vance and Edith Meiser) were re-cast for the Australian production as distinctly more mature ladies with fuller-figures, as played by character actresses, Yvonne Banvard, Lily Moore and Marie La Varre.
With direction by Alan Chapman, ballets by Hazel Meldrum, musical direction by Andrew McCunn and ‘dialogue directed’ by Gerald Kirby Let’s Face It! finally made its Australian debut at the Theatre Royal, Sydney on the evening of Saturday, 12 September 1942 and the next day’s Sunday papers were the first to weigh in with their critical opinions:
“LET’S FACE IT”
The New York musical success, Let’s Face It, had a gala premiere at the Royal last night.
This is the first new American show to be staged in Sydney for three years, and a good house gave it a glad hand.
The play moves speedily throughout and there's not a dull moment. A well-connected story running through the piece holds interest, and the dialogue is witty and up to the minute.
Joy Youlden is youthfully attractive, and sings and dances snappily. She takes the part of Winnie, and her opposite number is Jerry (Don Nicol), and he's never been better.
Yvonne Banvard, Lily Moore and Marie La Varre are three highlights of the show, and prove themselves gifted comedians. They set out to teach their husbands a lesson, because, as Marie says, ‘they got off the fairway into the rough.’
They teach them a lesson—and how!
Marie Ryan sings superbly, specially the song, ‘Someone's Rocking My Dream Boat.’
Roger Barry, who is always delightful on the stage, gives grace and ease to his part of hubby, Julian Watson, and Fred Murray’s dancing is a joy.
Scenery and settings are of a super standard, and the freshness of the frocking deserves praise aplenty.
Cole Porter’s charming music ripples through the performance—the number, ‘Everything I Love,’ sung by Don Nicol and Joy Youlden, being a genuine gem.
Hearty Fun In ‘Let’s Face It’
New American musical, Let’s Face It, launched at Theatre Royal last night, was given a hearty welcome by enthusiastic audience.
Story concerns three middle aged wives who, bored by their golfing and philandering husbands, invite three young soldiers to their week-end cottage in the hope of finding new romance.
This is a farcical situation which is developed with plenty of broad humor. There are snappy lines and witty wisecracks, and enough genuine fun to make the introduction of certain vulgarities unnecessary and regrettable.
The dancing and choral numbers were delightful. Marie Ryan scored with her song on a blacked-out stage, with the spotlight playing on her; Marie La Varre solved the secret of eternal youth by turning a somersault and doing the splits; Lily Moore ran away with the comedy stuff.
Don Nicol, Ron Beck, and Fred Murray were amusing as the three soldiers, and Murray also did some good solo dancing—J.C.
"LET'S FACE IT"
JCW’s Let’s Face It is the funniest piece of entertainment seen at the Royal for many a year.
The Sunday Telegraph theatre critic, who went to the theatre last night expecting JCW’s usual musical comedy cup of tea, came away with the comfortable sensation of beer under the belt.
Let’s Face It is a new show—wisecracking, tune-rich, guffawing copy of an original now in its ninth Broadway month.
Cole Porter wrote the music for the Cradle Snatchers tale of three ripe ladies (Yvonne Banvard, Lily Moore, Marie La Varre), who filch three young 1942 soldiers from camp and girlfriends.
Irrepressible Don Nicol, Fred Murray (an easy, ingratiating comedian), and rotund Ron Beck share rib-aching slapstick with the siren trio—whose zest is enormous.
Joy Youlden, soubrette turned heroine, is a big reason—a vital, charming, streamlined reason—for the success of Let’s Face It. Joy has personality.
Standouts among those Cole Porter tunes—romantic ‘Everything I Love,’ swinging ‘Let's Face It,’ and comic ‘A Lady Needs a Rest.’
Standout bit of the evening—Ron Shand's ‘Rirrian’ routine.
Standout of the production—tangy pace, youthful chorus, crisp, clever costuming, and a trio of topnotch speciality dancers, McErlean, Kennedy, and Bazeley.
The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), Sunday, 13 September 1942, p.7,
Monday’s review in the Morning Herald was no less effusive:
TUNEFUL SHOW AT THEATRE ROYAL
Cole Porter’s music has made the old farce, Cradle Snatchers, into a bright new musicale, Let’s Face It, which was given its Australian premiere at the Theatre Royal on Saturday night.
The show is funny, topical, and tuneful. It went with a zest from the moment Marie La Varre turned a catherine wheel and sang the best comic song in the programme, ‘A Lady Needs a Rest.’ Yvonne Banvard and Lily Moore completed the trio of middle-aged women, who enticed three young men from a US Army camp to prove to their husbands that their attractions had not entirely departed.
Humorous ‘baby games’, played by the sextet were interrupted by the arrival of the husbands, complete with girl friends.
Yvonne Banvard's vitality never flags, but a little restraint would be an advantage. Lily Moore made the most of the best part she has had for some time.
Don Nicol, Ron Beck, and Fred Murray, who played the roles of the three soldiers, helped to keep the pace moving.
Joy Youlden was an appealing heroine, and with Don Nicol, she sang the romantic tune of the show, ‘Everything I Love.’
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Monday, 14 September 1942, p.7,
Sydney Royal, which in a series of revivals has been presenting what seemed to be the long death-agony of musicomedy, has come all alive and kicking with Let’s Face It. It’s fresh from America, it’s topical, it’s funny, there are no doldrums and everybody—Joy Youlden, Yvonne Banvard, Lily Moore, Marie La Varre, Don Nicol, the specialty dancers, the singers, the ballet—works as if they really meant it this time. Don Nicol hit on part of the reason for its success when he said at the end that the co. had been delighted to be given something new they could get their teeth into. But there's more than that to it: it’s Australian, as well as American. It’s about Uncle Sam’s army at home, but Uncle Sam's army is here, and for all time the US troops are part of the Australian tradition. And on top of that, they've worked in a fair sprinkling of local gags. So delighted was the house to hear something Australian that Ron Beck had only to mention Percy Spender to get a laugh that shook the roof.
The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), Vol. 63, No. 3267, 23 September 1942, p.2
In addition to Sydney photographer, Sam Hood’s series of stage photos of cast members taken during dress rehearsals for display in the theatre’s foyer, stage-hand, Les Thorp was also on hand at the Theatre Royal during the run with his trusty 8mm cine camera, which grants us a rare opportunity to glimpse a short selection of scenes from the original Australian production of Let’s Face It!, albeit from the vantage point of the prompt-side wings and the first-floor ‘flies’ gallery. These include Ron Shand’s telephone routine, which opens the action (alas!—viewed in ‘silence’) the three wives flirting and dancing with the trio of soldiers; specialty dancers, Gerald McErlean and Gwen Bazeley peforming ‘A Little Rhumba Number’; scenes of preparation for the troop concert at ‘The Service Club at Camp Roosevelt’, with the rotund Ron Beck seen in drag in a grass skirt and (former commercial artist) Don Nicol displaying his skill at ‘making faces’; the Act 1 opening scene set in ‘The Alicia Allen Milk Farm on Long Island’ with the female ensemble (which included among their ranks, a young Betty Pounder) and the wives arrival; chorus members seen in the wings following the Act 1 finale, and the stage crew setting up the scenery for Act 2, Scene 3—‘The Hollyhock Inn Gardens’.
Scenes from Let’s Face It! taken from the wings by Les Thorp, senior stage-hand with JCW, 1939-1956. Courtesy of Paul Worsnop.
Following a successful run of 11 weeks, Let’s Face It! wrapped up its season at the Theatre Royal on Saturday, 28 November, where it was followed by a revival of the German operetta White Horse Inn (in Harry Graham’s English adaptation) which commenced on Saturday, 5 December following a week of rehearsals with its big revolving stage. Let’s Face It! did not immediately tour, as many of the cast members, including Don Nicol, Marie Ryan, Fred Murray, Joy Youlden and Marie La Varre also had featured roles in White Horse Inn, which also saw the return of Strella Wilson in the lead role of inn proprietress, ‘Josepha’, which she had played for the show’s Australian premiere tour in 1934.
The nostalgic appeal of the (Czech) Ralph Benatzky and (Austrian) Robert Stolz scored operetta kept audiences flocking to Sydney’s Theatre Royal for the next 18 weeks (one week longer than its original Australian premiere season at the same theatre nine years earlier) and the production finally closed on the 14 April 1943. The company then headed south to open its season at His Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne on Saturday, 24 April. The lilting melodies and quaint humour of the old war-horse continued to fill the theatre for the next 17 weeks before its closing night on 19 August, to be followed by the revival of The Girl Friend (with Nicol, Ryan, Youlden, Murray, Mack, La Varre et al. again featured) from Saturday, 21 August to 19 November 1943 for a further 13 weeks. Melbourne audiences were finally given the opportunity to front up to Let’s Face It! when it opened at His Majesty’s on the evening of Saturday, 20 November 1943.
Tthe genesis of Let’s Face It!, under veteran Broadway producer, Vinton Freedley, had actually preceded America’s involvement in the war, having been set into motion in early 1941.
Freedley had produced (and co-produced in partnership with Alex A. Aarons) plays and musical comedies in the Manhattan theatre district as far back as 1924 and had enjoyed considerable success with such productions as the Gershwin’s Lady, Be Good, Tip-Toes, Oh, Kay!, Funny Face and Girl Crazy, DeSylva, Brown and Henderson’s Hold Everything, and Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, Red, Hot and Blue and Leave It to Me! over the intervening years. In the casual manner that American musical comedies were put together in the pre-war years, Freedley had contracted Cole Porter to provide the score for his next Broadway musical to be staged in the US Autumn season, even before the libretto had been written or the plot of the show been determined. To provide the latter (at Porter’s suggestion) Freedley then signed veteran librettist, Herbert Fields (whose book-writing credits extended back to the early Rodgers and Hart musicals of the 1920s, which included Dearest Enemy, The Girl Friend, Peggy-Ann, A Connecticut Yankee, Present Arms and Chee-Chee) and also suggested that he share the writing duties with a collaborator (as Fields had done with his previous two Porter shows, Dubarry Was a Lady in 1939 and Panama Hattie in 1940.) Eschewing his previous collaborator, B.G. ‘Buddy’ DeSylva (who had also produced Dubarry and Hattie) Fields decided instead to ‘keep it in the family’ and enlisted his Broadway and Academy Award-winning Hollywood lyricist younger sister, Dorothy Fields to co-write what would be her first book for a musical comedy (but not her last; the siblings would later collaborate on Porter’s Something For the Boys and Mexican Hayride, Sigmund Romberg’s Up in Central Park, Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun and Albert Hague’s Tony Award-winning ‘Best Musical’ Redhead, as well as two less-successful shows: Morton Gould’s Arms and the Girl and Arthur Schwartz’s By the Beautiful Sea.)
According to a contemporary New York Times article (published on the front-page for the issue of 16 November 1941)—'Easy Did It, For a Change: The Career of Let’s Face It!’ written by Theodore Strauss, the nascent musical comedy then developed along the following lines:
Crunching celery and olives in the Louis XIV Restaurant, which is only a short parachute jump from Mr. Freedley’s office in the RCA Building, the producer and the Fieldses mulled over possible ideas. Mr. Freedley, who usually provides at least the locale or a main character for a show, was then toying with a play about Boy Scouts. The Fieldses turned up a collective nose. Some other ideas were dissected and dismissed before Mr. Freedley came across an item in Variety which told of an epidemic of requests from various patriotic ladies anxious to build Army morale by inviting personable privates to their homes for week-ends and sending them back to camp on Monday mornings morally and spiritually refreshed.
At first the Fieldses shook their heads dourly. Everybody, they said, would be doing an Army show this year and why stick your neck out? But Mr. Freedley, remembering the story of Cradle Snatchers and its three middle-aged female philanderers, began to argue eloquently. Gradually the Fieldses cozened to the idea and the rest was work. On the first of June Mr. Porter tuckered off to Hollywood to escape the heat; the Fieldses after an ill-fated journey to Fort Dix, where they were suspected of being fifth columnists, began to bang out a first draft of the script in Dorothy's Chinese Chippendale Study.
Meanwhile, no one knew who the performers would be. Then one day Danny Kaye’s agent walked in and let it be known that his client’s obligations to Lady in the Dark would be acquitted when that show suspended for the Summer and that Kaye would not be unwilling to better himself in the Fall, provided—but he got no further. In a short while Mr. Freedley had whispered the plot of the show to Danny and his advisers who in turn went into a huddle and came back to say yes. A few days later the Fieldses went West to begin revisions with Kaye in mind for the central role and to discuss song cues with Mr. Porter.
On July 4, after vainly casting about for other players in New York, Mr. Freedley went West too. He took quarters in the Beverly Hills Hotel, set appointments for every half hour, went down to the swimming pool in his bathing trunks, ordered a highball and waited. In six days he had accumulated most of his principals between splashes in the pool—Eve Arden, Edith Meiser, Sunnie O'Dea, Benny Baker, Nanette Fabray and Jack Williams. Harry Horner agreed to do the sets and Bob Alton, then teaching Garbo how to move her feet, couldn’t get away but recommended Charles Walters, who could. Returning East, he signed the others: Mary Jane Walsh to sing and John Harkrider to sketch the costumes. Vivian Vance strolled into a grill in Skowhegan where he had gone for a brief jaunt. Looking up from his hot cakes Mr. Freedley said: ‘How'd you like to be in a show I'm doing?’ Miss Vance said: ‘Love to.’ And that was that.
By August the decks were cleared of all except minor matters with costumers and scene builders. From his Connecticut diggings Mr. Freedley conferred by long-distance with Mr. Porter and the Fieldses until they arrived in the East two days before rehearsals began on Sept 4. Rehearsals lasted only four weeks instead of the usual five it takes to assemble a musical, and this despite one last-minute bottleneck—the second act wasn't funny enough. So five days before the show tripped off to Boston the Fieldses sat down and despite babies, husbands, hell and high water turned out an entirely new second act.
In the Boston tryout the show did a rare thing. Instead of the usual tryout loss, it made money. Mr. Freedley began to worry that the show would be oversold before it reached New York—a waste of energy because three weeks later Let’s Face It! became the first top-ranking new hit of the season. Since then, the actors have all taken out long-term leases on their apartments, Danny Kaye has moved to a sumptuous new hogan overlooking Central Park, and Mr. Freedley tries to make polite excuses to his friends as to why there aren’t any more house seats available.
Following its Boston tryout season, which commenced at the Colonial Theatre on the 10 October, Let’s Face It! received its Broadway premiere at the Imperial Theatre on the evening of Wednesday, 29 October 1941 and (as indicated in Strauss’s article) subsequently became a critical and box-office hit. Leading the critical approbation in the following day’s newspapers was The New York Times’ influential reviewer Brooks Atkinson, who gave the show a positive rave:
Let’s face the facts of Let’s Face It! which was staged at the Imperial last evening. It is a wonderfully joyous musical show. Taking an old remainder, once known as Cradle Snatchers, Herbert and Dorothy Fields have run it up into an impudent knockabout book that keeps all the performers congenially at work. Cole Porter has shaken some good tunes and rhymes out of his sophisticated juke-box. And Danny Kaye, who was the white-headed boy in Lady In the Dark last season, has twisted his sharp fingers and aquiline profile into some highly original musical mummery. Everything about Let’s Face It! is bright and brisk and continuously enjoyable.
After all, it is the people who count. You will not be devastated to learn that the libretto recounts the alarming adventures of three married ladies who decide to freshen their lives by hiring three soldiers to strut with them. It is more to the point that Eve Arden, a lovely and rangy clown with a droll style of fooling, is first lady of the masquerade, and Edith Meiser and Vivian Vance trail along with her. As for Uncle Sam’s uniformed forces, Benny Baker, the moon-faced minstrel, and Jack Williams, who was dancing in Meet the People last season, meet temptation with antiseptic forbearance. Toss in Mary Jane Walsh, who can sing with exhilarating assurance, Sunnie O'Dea, Nanette Fabray and a number of new shapes and faces, and you have a singing society well suited to merry-making.
For let’s face this eerie fact: the songs are designed for enjoyment. ‘Jerry, My Soldier Boy’ is resounding band music. ‘You Irritate Me’ is ‘You’re the Tops’ turned upside down. In ‘Farming’ Mr. Porter shakes a wry stick at the sport of smart people. ‘Let’s Not Talk About Love’ restores the patter song to its ancient eminence as a test of memory and wind. Last year Mr. Kaye disclosed an uncanny skill in racing through the names of Russian composers without stumbling over the vowels, and here he Is in high fettle again. It is amazing. Since there are other accomplishments in his bag of tricks, Sylvia Fine and Max Liebman have written him a travestied ‘Fairy Tale’ that is compact with hilarity, and a double-talk finale that is uproarious. Mr. Kaye conquered every ermine in the house last evening.
Although Mr. Kaye is a lean and likable virtuoso (who looks like a startled Julius Caesar, in case you care) he does not swindle the other performers. For Edgar MacGregor, who has contrived the staging, has whipped Let’s Face It! into a swift and dry-humored comedy that races through the night with no concession to favorites. Jangled as the world may be today, chorus girls still come in attractive designs, looking as though they never worried about anything, and Charles Walters has found a number of ways to keep them in impish motion. Trust Harry Horner to fantasticate milk farms and country estates into gay-colored settings. The Army uniform, which was not invented primarily for the musical stage, must have puzzled John Harkrider, who designed the costumes, but luckily for all of us, women still dress like peacocks in the mating season. It’s a good thing. And so is Let’s Face It! In fact, a mighty good thing in the vein of high-pressure fooling.
The New York Times, Thursday, 30 October 1941, p.26
Photo by Vandamm Studio, New York. Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library.
The rapid rise of Danny Kaye to Broadway stardom was recounted by his capsule biography published in the show’s New York Playbill:
DANNY KAYE (Jerry Walker) has climbed from comparative obscurity to his present place at the head of the cast in less than eighteen months. For ten years he had trouped tirelessly. In China, Japan, India and England, he dodged earthquakes and typhoons, learning to regale myriads of Orientals with pantomime when language barriers became insurmountable. In these United States he had touched many a fresh water town, hoofing, playing straight-man and being one-fourth of a male quartet. A year and a half ago he finally burst onto a Broadway stage in Straw Hat Revue, a pot-pourri written by Sylvia Fine, now Mrs. Kaye, and Max Liebman, co-author with Miss Fine of Danny’s special material. It was the start of a rather precipitate ascent for the tow-headed young comedian, though when the revue folded its tents, after ten weeks of braving Broadway, he was not exactly overwhelmed by his initial experience in the Big Town. It led, however, to an engagement in La Martinique, where the Kaye comicalities began to attract attention. Came a memorable telephone call from Moss Hart and in January of this year somewhere in the second act of Lady in the Dark, the 28-year-old comedian launched unconcernedly into a tongue-twisting recital that left everybody gasping but Danny. It took fifty-four Russian-named composers and forty seconds to stop a show and step up a career into high speed. The lad from Brooklyn, Bombay and points in between had come the long way around; but, finally, he had really arrived.
In addition to its usual quota of romantic ballads and tongue-in-cheek comedy numbers, Cole Porter’s score also included a couple of specialty numbers written to showcase Danny Kaye’s facility for vocalising tongue-twisting lyrics with aplomb: ‘Let’s Not Talk About Love’ and ‘Farming’, which satirised the fad of American celebrities engaging in rural pursuits. Renowned for his risqué lyrics, Porter included such double entendres in the latter song as: ‘Dear Mae West is at her best in the hay’ and also the first use of the slang term ‘gay’ to denote ‘homosexual’ in a Broadway show, in the couplet: ‘Don’t inquire of Georgie Raft, why his cow has never calfed, Georgie’s bull is beautiful, but he’s gay! (doesn’t fray in the hay, take it a-way)’ a reference which (doubtless) went over the heads of most audiences at the time. (Both numbers were subsequently recorded by Danny Kaye in late June 1942 and released by Columbia on two 78 rpm records backed by other songs.) The score also included (with Cole Porter’s consent) two additional numbers for Kaye penned by his wife, Sylvia Fine, with music by Max Liebman: ‘Fairy Tale’ and ‘Melody in Four F’ (thereafter abbreviated to ‘4-F’.)
Let’s Face It! would prove to be Danny Kaye’s last Broadway musical for the next 27 years (until he returned to play ‘Noah’ in Richard Rodger’s Two By Two in 1970.) He left the show in late February of 1943 and departed for the West Coast to commence his Hollywood film career, under contract to Samuel Goldwyn, with Up in Arms (released in the US in February 1944) in which he reprised ‘Melody in 4-F’ in the role of a hypochondriac army draftee (‘4-F’ being the rating assigned by the US Selective Service System to draftees who are classified as unfit for military service due to physical, medical or mental disability.)