Cole Porter’s 1941 musical Let’s Face It! had the distinction of being the only new musical to be staged in Australia by J.C. Williamson’s during the war years of 1940–45.
Although JCW continued to stage new American and British plays, plus locally-produced musical revues and pantomimes, its contribution to Musical Theatre in the early ’40s consisted (almost) entirely of revivals for which The Firm already held the Australasian performing rights, ranging from the evergreen Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas (which toured from 1940 to late 1942 and late 1943 to early 1945); the Gladys Moncrieff star vehicles The Maid of the Mountains, The Merry Widow, Katinka, Viktoria and Her Hussar and Rio Rita, plus perennially popular musical comedies and operettas of the 1920s and early ’30s (including, perhaps ironically, the German operetta White House Inn, albeit with its Austrian setting).
The reason for this was two-fold; firstly the war in Europe halted the availability of both new British musicals and Anglicised European operettas (the wartime London stage also survived mainly on revivals of popular past favourites, plus cheaply staged musical revues, with barely twenty new British musicals produced during the whole of the war’s duration.) American musicals (for which the financial outlay was considerably greater than for a stage play) were generally not produced in Australia until they had proven themselves capable of attracting an audience to the London stage beforehand, thereby demonstrating their universal appeal beyond the borders of the United States to the ever cautious Managing Directors of J.C. Williamson’s at this period—the Tait Brothers. (Of the 28 new Broadway musicals staged by JCW Ltd. under the Tait’s management between July of 1920 to 1938, two had premiered in Australia prior to their production in London and a further four were not produced in the West End at all. During the tenure of Ernest C. Rolls as co-managing director of the-then JCW off-shoot, Australian and New Zealand Theatres Ltd., the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart musical I Married An Angel was bought directly from Broadway in 1938 at his instigation, and had failed to attract a substantial local audience, resulting in a large financial loss for the company.) Secondly, wartime Government restrictions limited the transfer of large sums of money to overseas countries, which would also encompass rights and royalty payments due to foreign composers, lyricists and librettists.
Wartime rationing, too, limited the available resources needed to mount new productions, and so it proved easier for JCW to open up its well-stocked scenic stores and costume wardrobes to remount popular shows from past years. (The last home-grown Australian musical comedy to be staged by the company was Blue Mountain Melody in 1934 as a star vehicle for the popular team of Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard, who had since married and made their home base in Britain, and JCW was evidently not going to risk spending money on any further untried ‘local product’ without the built-in box office appeal of such performers to attract an audience.)
Let’s Face It!, however, had two points in its favour with regard to its staging by JCW—it had also been slated for production on the London stage (where it premiered at the Hippodrome on 19 November 1942, amongst only a handful of new American musical shows to play the West End during the war years, which included Cole Porter’s Panama Hattie, Dubarry Was a Lady and Something For the Boys and the Irving Berlin revue This is the Army with its original US all-military cast) plus it had a topical plot that dealt with American army personnel. With the entry of the United States into the war following the Japanese bombing of its naval base at Pearl Harbour on the Hawaiian island of Oahu on 7 December 1941, followed by the formal alliance of Australia (under Prime Minister, John Curtin) with America to fight the Japanese in the Pacific, US servicemen had become a familiar sight on the streets of the Eastern capitals of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, where they had established military bases and training camps.