Slide
The online magazine of Theatre Heritage Australia
PETER PINNE concludes his look at the life and career of Australia-born, UK-based revue composer Charles Zwar.

07122020074820 0001 Page 2Zwar’s first credit for the fifties was for the company of four productions, The Lyric Revue, which opened a pre-London tour at Cardiff, Wales, 23 April 1951 (24p), then moved to the Lyric Hammersmith (134p), 24 May 1951, before transferring to the Globe Theatre, London on 26 September 1951 (317p). The cast included Dora Bryan, Ian Carmichael, Joan Heal, Graham Payne, George Benson, Roberta Huby, Jeremy Hawk and Myles Eason amongst others. Direction and choreography was by William Chappell, design by Louden Sainthill, and musical direction by Norman Hackforth. Music was by Graham Payne, Noel Coward, Richard Addinsall, Donald Swann and Zwar, whilst lyrics and sketches were by Gerald Bryant, Arthur MacRae, and Paul Dehn. There were skits on Sunset Boulevard; Peter Pan as Tennessee Williams might rewrite it; Cinderella revised by Freud; and Nancy Mitford on ‘Lady Robinson of Cruise’. Coward’s contribution was ‘Don’t Make Fun of the Fair’ which poked fun at the ‘joys’ of the Festival of Britain. Zwar and Bryant’s ‘Bar Aux Folies-Bergere’, about a pretty barmaid at the Folies Bergere was called ‘charming’ by the Times, whilst Theatre World gushed, ‘Topical comment, wittily concise … It has ideas, punch and personality.’

The Lyric Revue closed on 28 June 1952, and a second edition opened two days later at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, and transferred to the Globe on 10 July, 1952 under the title of The Globe Revue with mostly the same cast and Chappell and Hackforth still doing director, dance and musical direction duty. Zwar’s content remained the same. Sketches included; a satire on modern production styles with a staging of Madam Butterfly in ‘Modern Trends’, a bowler-hatted Carmichael miming undressing on a beach under a raincoat in a sketch called ‘Bank Holiday’, whilst Coward’s contribution this time was ‘Bad Times are Just Around the Corner’, delivered manically by Bryan, Payn, Heal and Carmichael as Morris dancers. The Times thought the best of Dehn’s lyrics ‘presents a cabaret girl seated on a piano. Figuratively as well as literally she can get round and out and in, but she cannot “Get Off”.’ They also liked Bryan and called her ‘an admirable little comedienne whose versatility gradually establishes her for the leading place in the revue’.

 

 Laurier Lister’s Penny Plain (443p) was basically a successor to his earlier 1947 Tuppence Coloured with the same principal cast: Joyce Grenfell, Elisabeth Welch and Max Adrian. It opened at St Martin’s Theatre, 28 June 1951 and played a year closing on 19 July 1952. Zwar had one item in the show, ‘Good Day For Godiva’, which had a lyric by Michael Flanders, and was sung by Welch. Other sketches included Grenfell and Julian Orchard suggesting that Tennyson’s ‘Maud’ may have had good reason to be wary when invited to come into the garden, and Adrian scored as a very sick actor who would rather die onstage than allow his understudy to go on. Flanders and Swann’s ‘Surly Girls’ had the men in drag in a send-up of Ronald Searle’s St Trinian’s. The Times called it, ‘no more than a mildly amusing entertainment’, whilst Theatre World went with ‘although topicality abounds and there is much that scintillates, on the whole a slight disappointment’. Produced by Dare Clingberg, John K. Gibson and Prometheus Productions, direction was by Lister, dances by Bert Stimmel, and musical direction by John Pritchett. The cast also included Desmond Walter-Ellis, Rose Hill, Moyra Fraser, Jimmy Thompson and June Whitfield.

In 1951 Alan Melville had deserted revue and worked with Ivor Novello writing his last musical, the Cicely Courtneidge vehicle, Gay’s the Word. The following year he joined forces with Zwar to create the musical Bet Your Life (362p). Kenneth Leslie-Smith, who had credits for BBC radio musicals, one of which (Sweet Yesterday) ended up playing the West End in 1945, was co-composer of the score. It was written for comic Arthur Askey who played a jockey who whispers the names of girls in his sleep on his wedding night. His bride thinks he’s cheating on her until it is revealed they are the names of the winning horses at the next day’s meeting. The plot bore similarities to George Abbott and John Cecil Holme 1936 comedy Three Men on a Horse, itself musicalised in Eddie Cantor’s 1941 Banjo Eyes, and later by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans in 1961’s Let It Ride. Apart from Askey the show also starred Julie Wilson, fresh from her stint of playing Bianca in London’s Kiss Me Kate as the wife, and Sally Ann Howes as a racing journalist, Brian Reece, Tom Gill and Noele Gordon. The Jack Hylton production opened at the New Theatre, Oxford, 4 December 1951, where it played two weeks before an eight-week Christmas season at the Manchester Opera House. It arrived at London’s Hippodrome 18 February 1952, with direction by Richard Bird, staging by Alex Shanks, dances by George Carden, musical direction by Bretton Byrd and costumes by the impressively chic trio of Erté, Clere and Pierre Balmain. Zwar and Leslie-Smith provided a lively score, but Melville’s book was criticized as not being witty enough. Still, it had a healthy life. ‘Miss Wilson is her most colourful self, particularly in her big number “I Want a Great Big Hunk of Male” [Zwar]’ (Theatre World). Wilson stayed with the show for four months and then was replaced by Noelle Gordon, at which point the running-time was cut-down to two-hours and it played twice nightly closing 25 October 1952. It had the longest run of any Zwar musical.

Laurier Lister’s Airs on a Shoestring (772p) was a successor to Penny Plain produced and directed by Lister, with musical numbers staged by Alfred Rodrigues, and musical direction by John Pritchett. It re-opened the Royal Court Theatre as a public theatre. The theatre had closed due to bomb damage during the war, and had reopened as a ‘club’ theatre in 1952. It closed early in 1953 for renovation to bring it up to London County Council code. Max Adrian headed the cast with Moyra Fraser, Betty Marsden, Denis Quilley, Peter Reeves, Sally Rogers, Bernard Hunter and Charles Warren. Zwar wrote one number with Michael Flanders, ‘Sweet Memories’ performed by Adrian. Some items were repeated from Penny Plain but overall the material was new; ‘Guide To Britten’ (Flanders/Swann) performed by the five men, took a satirical swipe at Benjamin Britten; Adrian was a class-conscious fly feeding joyously on fresh salmon on a fishmongers slab (‘Fly Customers’ Richard Waring); and Marsden performed a monologue by Joyce Grenfell about a secretary in love with her unpleasant boss (‘Sir Edgar’). New sketches were added during the course of its lengthy run. After it closed in March 1955 it went on a provincial tour.

Zwar was back in the pit playing one of two pianos (the other ivory tickler was Arnold Mayne) and writing two items with lyricist Paul Dehn, ‘Tailor Made’, and ‘Riviera, Goodbye’. The show was H.M. Tennent’s At the Lyric which played a pre-London engagement at the Cambridge Arts Theatre 7-12 December 1953, before transferring to the Lyric Hammersmith, 23 December 1953 where it ran for 170p. The cast, which was headed by Hermione Baddeley and Dora Bryan, also included Eric Berry, Ian Carmichael, Rachel Roberts, Shirley Eaton and Myles Eason amongst others. It was written by Alan Melville with additional lyrics by Dehn and Michael Flanders, music by Kenneth Leslie-Smith, and direction by William Chappell. The Times said ‘it is a bright and boisterous show’, and thought Baddeley ‘had become almost the broadest of our revue comediennes’. They thought her ‘droll’ as a suburban housewife glued to the television though the sink is full of dishes and a tapioca pudding is burning in the oven. They also liked her as a bejeweled canasta player in a private hotel in Torquay, and as a cabaret star at the Casino de Paris. This was the revue that Bryan introduced her classic ‘Miss Manderson’(Melville) in which she was a psychotic patient confiding to her psychiatrist she has spent her life pushing her nearest and dearest over cliffs and is no sooner told by the doctor that she has dreamed these incidents that she pushes him through the window. The Times called her ‘admirably quiet and alarming’.

At The Lyric transferred to the St Martin’s Theatre 20 May 1954, with a new title, Going to Town (36p) The cast, content and writers basically remained the same, except that Vivienne Martin and John Walters joined the performers and some new material was added. ‘Trouble in the Far East’ (Melville/Leslie-Smith) lampooned The King and I and Teahouse of the August Moon with Eric Berry scoring laughs as Herbert Lom, whilst Baddeley and Bryan burlesqued a third-rate music-hall turn. Zwar added two new items to the running order, ‘Body Beautiful’ and ‘Deadline’. When the show closed on 17 July 1954 it went out on a short regional tour.  

From Here and There (77p) was billed as an ‘Anglo-American’ revue and opened at the Royal Court Theatre, 29 June 1955. Themed around six prosperous American tourists in London and six not-so prosperous English tourists in New York, is was conceived and directed by Laurier Lister. Delores Claman was credited with music, lyrics and sketches were by Jack Gray and Jerry de Bono, décor by Stanley Moore, choreography by John Heawood, and musical direction by Zwar who alternated with Geoffrey Wright playing one of two pianos in the pit. Stanley Barrett was on the other. Betty Marsden and June Whitfield headed a cast that included Charlotte Mitchell, April Olrich, Michael Mason, Peter Mander, Dennis Betis and Peter Tuddenham, with guest American performers: Richard Tone, Myra De Groot, James MacColl and Ellen Martin. Two of the Americans had good Off-Broadway revue credits, Tone for two early Jerry Herman revues Parade and I Feel Wonderful, and English-born De Groot for Upstairs at the Downstairs. The Times carped that the material was mostly ‘commonplace’ and ‘sadly lacks a centre’. Zwar contributed six numbers to the show, amongst them ‘Liberty Belles’ (Zwar/Johnny Wilson) which found Marsden and Whitfield as two Wren officers with boys in every port. Marsden, dressed in a sarong and playing a ukulele, also scored in ‘Paradise Lost’, ‘Marsden appears as a clever comedienne when she is stranded on an island during nuclear weapon tests’ (Times). Tone and Whitfield were also noticed in ‘The Dancing Lesson’ (Zwar/Charlotte Mitchell). On 25 July Max Adrian replaced MacColl who had returned to America and played out the rest of the short run which ended 27 August 1955.

In 1959 Zwar turned to musical comedy again when he and Alan Melville adapted the lightweight period Scottish comedy Marigold into a musical. The original play by Allen Harker and F.J. Prior had been very successful in the West End during the late twenties running for three years from 1927 until 1929 at the Kingsway Theatre. Set in Peebles, Scotland in the 1840s, Marigold, the ward of Miss Pringle, finds true love in the arms of the handsome young Officer Archie Forsyth, but not before she turns down the hand of her betrothed, the dull turnip farmer James Payton, spends a forbidden day in Edinburgh, and accepts a dowry from her ‘real’ mother, French actress, Madame Marly. Seventeen-year-old Sally Smith was cast in the title role, with Sophie Stewart, who had played the ingénue in the original play, as Miss Pringle, William Dickie as the turnip farmer, and Jeremy Brett as the Officer. Jean Kent played Marigold’s mother Madame Marly. It was the first time Zwar and Kent’s paths had crossed since she debuted in the movie Hullo Fame. Stewart had also starred in a 1938 film version of the play. The Stage said ‘Mr Zwar’s music is fancy but soon forgotten’ whilst Plays and Players thought ‘Zwar’s music never quite reaches a peak but is pleasantly hummable and now and then (“Always Ask Your Heart” and “Princes Street”) hits the button.’ It was a gentle and charming piece, but in an era which had just seen the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and kitchen-sink musicals like, Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be, Expresso Bongo, and The Crooked Mile, a light-romantic score in the Bless the Bride vein was not what audiences were looking for. Marigold played seasons in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, before opening at the Savoy Theatre, London 27 May 1959. It stayed at the Savoy for seven weeks before being evicted, but producer Stephen Mitchell found a new home for it at the Saville where it played another three weeks for a total run of 77p.

The failure of Marigold was a sobering experience for Zwar who immediately hot-footed it back to revue. Working with Alan Melville he wrote three numbers for And Another Thing … which opened at the Fortune Theatre, 6 October 1960 (244p). Produced by Anna Deere Wiman and Charles Ross, the show was written by Ted Dicks and Myles Rudge, with an additional items credit going to Lionel Bart, Barry Cryer, Robert Tanich, Christopher Dandy, and Melville and Zwar. Ross was the director, with Lionel Blair and Bob Stevenson handled choreography, whilst the twin pianos were in the hands of Ted Dicks and Charles Mallett. According to the critics, And Another Thing … was an inferior successor to Look Who’s Here! by Dicks and Ross. Bernard Cribbins and Anna Quayle headed the cast who also included Joyce and Lionel Blair, Donald Hewlett, Dennis Wood, and Anton Rodgers. The Times said ‘this is a traditional British revue, in the time-honoured manner, on the time honoured themes.’ Subject satirized included, drama critics, West End productions, Soho strip clubs, TV dance contests and Lolita. Zwar’s contributions were ‘Prayer’ performed by Cribbins, ‘Bleep’ by Wood and Rodgers, and ‘Princess and the Pea’ with Quayle. Cribbins was forced to play the early performances from a wheelchair due to a foot injury.

Zwar next contributed two songs ‘Sir Brewster’ (Zwar) and ‘The Connoisseur’ (Zwar-Dehn) to the H.M. Tennent Ltd., revue On the Avenue (14p), which opened at the Globe Theatre, 21 June 1961. Despite a starry pedigree the revue was withdrawn after a week and a half. Joan Heal, Beryl Reid and George Rose had above the title billing in the show directed by William Chappell, with décor and costumes by Peter Rice and a six-piece orchestra under the direction of Burt Rhodes. The cast also included: Marion Grimaldi, Melody O’Brien, Joanna Rigby, Michael Cole and Paula Edwards amongst others. The Times headlined their review ‘Topical but gentle wit’, whilst the Stage went for the jugular, ‘It is so dated you have the impression of seeing a revival of a show of fifteen or twenty years ago … All the girls and boys are going to be so witty, so bright and so devastating. They are not. They could not be, with such stale, puny material.’ But there were some bright spots according to the Times, ‘She [Reid] is at her wildest as a Spanish servant who despises her bourgeois employer’s lack of noble ancestry and throws an important dinner party into utter confusion’ (‘The Spanish Maid’ Dehn), whilst they said Heal ‘has several good songs and sketches to which she brings her special brand of Cockney humour.’

A month before On the Avenue opened Beyond the Fringe had swept through the West End like wildfire and revue was to never be the same again. A late-night Edinburgh Festival revue written by four recent university graduates, Jonathan Miller, Peter Cook, Alan Bennett and Dudley Moore, Beyond the Fringe, with its cutting-edge satire made shows like On the Avenue and their ilk look decidedly old-fashioned and passé. Eschewing sets, costumes, a chorus and musical numbers it changed the face of intimate revue. Its success led to the launch of the satirical magazine Private Eye (still being published to this day) and to weekly television satire with That Was the Week That Was with David Frost and Millicent Martin. At over 2200 performances it became the longest running revue in West End history.

But the old-guard did not go down without a fight. When Linnit and Dunfee’s All Square (92p) opened almost two years after Beyond the Fringe at the Vaudeville Theatre, 25 April 1963, it was back to the traditional form of revue, written by Alan Melville, with music by Zwar, design by Berkeley Sutcliffe, dances by George Carden, and direction by Charles Hickman. Charles Mallet and Harry Norman were on the twin pianos. Beryl Reid and Naunton Wayne headed the cast who also featured Nicky Henson, Anna Dawson, Robin Palmer and Joyce Blair. Despite a Daily Mirror rave, ‘had the audience laughing loud, long, almost non-stop’, and Harold Hobson (Christian Science Monitor) calling it an ‘excellent revue’, a number of the critics found the show desperately old-fashioned. Zwar and Melville wrote twelve numbers for it. Subjects skewered included: That Was the Week That Was, Rudolf Nureyev and his dash for asylum, a lady who found her lost love on This is Your Life, trade unions, debutants and erotic works of art. One sketch was based on plans to create a piazza in Piccadilly, predicting a London peopled with Italians and gondolas on the Thames.

Later in the year Zwar and Melville contributed material to Six of One (304p), billed as a revue musical in two-acts loosely based on the career (so far) of Dora Bryan. Devised by Frances Essex, it was directed by William Chappell, choreographed by Irving Davies, with Frank Horrox as musical director. The cast also included, Richard Wattis, Dennis Lotis, Amanda Barrie, John Hewer, Sheila O’Neill, David Toguri and others. The concept had Bryan appearing in mini-versions of a pantomime, a concert party, a revue, a musical comedy, a TV comedy and variety. The reviews were glowing: ‘It’s wonderful’ said Punch, ‘Immensely enjoyable’ chimed the Sunday Times, whilst the Times claimed it is, ‘cast in a rigidly artificial “showbiz” pattern, but taken sketch by sketch it brilliantly belies its intentions.’ Zwar and Melvile’s contribution was ‘Cosette’ or ‘Gentlemen Prefer Redheads’, a mock-Romberg musical-comedy with Bryan playing Cosette the Queen of Monmartre dressed in a red wig. The sketch had four musical numbers; ‘St Cyr’, ‘Mademoiselle Cosette’, ‘Not a Cloud in the Sky’, and ‘Cherish Your First Affair’.

In 1968 Zwar wrote the last of his four musicals, The Station Master’s Daughter, book and lyrics by Frank Harvey which played a four-week season out-of-town at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Gilford, 11 April 1968. It was a topical story about a stationmaster and his fight to keep his station open, despite a plan by the Transport Minister to close it down. Rose Hill played the Transport Minister, with Sally Smith, who had been Marigold in Zwar’s previous London musical, as the stationmaster’s daughter.

After the inauguration of the Phillip Street Revue in 1953, Australia continually plundered West End revues for material to bolster their programs. Many Zwar and Melville pieces were recycled in, Metropolitan Merry-Go-Round, Around the Loop and Out On a Limb. Is Australia Really Necessary? starred Miriam Karlin and revisited ‘Vienna Lingers On’ from Sweeter and Lower which was retitled ‘Old Vienna’ and sung by Darlene Johnson and Donald McDonald. Likewise Melbourne’s Union Repertory Theatre Company (forerunner of Melbourne Theatre Company) featured Zwar material in Tram Stop, Brisbane saw it in Let’s Go, Roll Yer Socks Up, and Look No Eyebrows, Adelaide in Festival Faces, whilst Perth aired it in Airs and Graces, and At Your Convenience.

Hermione Gingold was granted permission from Parliament in 1950 (as was the process at the time), to travel to the United States. She specifically wanted to start her career in America in a revue which she did in It’s About Time in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1951. It incorporated some of her London material. John Murray Anderson saw her in the revue and offered her a part in his next Broadway revue Almanac (229p). Directed by Cyril Ritchard, with choreography by Donald Sadler, and musical direction by Buster Davis, it opened at the Imperial Theatre, New York, 10 December 1953. Gingold was top starred alongside Billy De Wolfe, and the cast also included Harry Belafonte, Orson Bean, Polly Bergen, Alice Pearce and Carlton Carpenter. Material was by newcomers Richard Adler and Jerry Ross with Jean Kerr as one of the scriptwriters, but Gingold found room for Zwar and Melville’s ‘Which Witch?’ She received the Donaldson Award for the best musical comedy debut.

Sticks and Stones opened at the John Drew Theatre, East Hampton, Long Island, 30 June 1956. It starred Gingold as well as Marti Stevens, Keir Dullea, Jack Fletcher and Louise Hoff amongst others. Gingold again recycled ‘Which Witch?’ and gave ‘Cello Solo’ (Zwar/Leslie Julian Jones) (in this instance just called ‘The Cello’), another outing. Zwar working with Myles Rudge on lyrics wrote a bizarre piece for Gingold called ‘Robert the Robot’, about a woman who falls in love with a robot.

From A to Z (21p) opened at the Plymouth Theatre (now Gerald Schonfeld Theatre), New York, 20 April 1960 after an out-of-town tryout at the Shubert Theatre, New Haven, Connecticut, 26 March 1960. Directed by Christopher Hewett, it starred Hermione Gingold, Stuart Damon, Virginia Vestoff, Elliot Reed, Bob Dishy and others. Many writers contributed to the revue including Jerry Herman, Fred Ebb, Mary Rodgers, Jay Thompson, Herbert Farjeon and Woody Allen, with Zwar and Melville’s ‘What’s Next’ recycled from Sweetest and Lowest to close the show. It was Herman, Ebb and Allen’s Broadway debuts. A 22-year-old Jonathon Tunick was co-orchestrator. Billboard claimed, ‘Gingold displayed much keen sense of comedy, but one bright artist cannot make the production.’

Although intimate revue had passed its use-by-date in the late sixties, the West End occasional found time to revisit the genre over the next few decades. Deja Revue, had a pre-London tryout at the Rex Theatre, Wilmslow, Cheshire, where it opened 9 December 1974 (6p). Devised by Olav Wyper and Alan Melville, directed by Victor Spinetti, it starred Sheila Hancock, George Cole, Anna Dawson and others. It transferred to the New London Theatre, London on 30 December 1974, and used a selection of items from revues of the 1930s to the 1960s. Four Zwar and Melville pieces were recycled including, ‘Restoration Piece’. Hancock was praised as being ‘brilliantly funny’, whilst the Stage said ‘Most of the items have lasted well; all were worth reviving.’

On the fiftieth anniversary of The Gate Revues Diana Morgan and Geoffrey Wright devised a compilation of material from the famous shows that virtually started the intimate revue genre, and cobbled it together as Meet Me at the Gate (40p). It opened at the King’s Head Theatre, Islington, 8 January 1985, with direction by Neil Lawford, choreography by Gillian Gregory, and musical direction by Courtney Kenny. Cast included Lynda Bellingham, Diana Martin, Robert Glenister, Graham Hoadly, Gaynor Sinclair and Billy Milton. The Times said ‘they are versatile performers exuberantly rehoning the edge on the material … a night to meet for unashamed nostalgia.’ Zwar and Oxford St John’s ‘Salome Wouldn’t Dance’ was one of the hits of the evening.

An earlier compilation of The Gate Revue material was called Swing Back the Gate and opened 21 May 1952 at the Irving Theatre, a small theatre near Leicester Square that was an Art Gallery by day and a theatre by night. It featured Michael Anthony who was an original member of the series, plus Maria Charles, Alec Grahame and Denis Martin, with different guest performances by original cast members each week. The opening week guest was Walter Crisham.

Zwar’s final credit was for Royal Shakespeare Company’s, The Shakespeare Revue which opened at the The Pit, Barbican Theatre, London, (4p) before transferring to the Vaudeville Theatre, 13 November 1995 (112p). Devised, directed and starring Christopher Luscombe and Malcolm McKee, with Janie Dee, Susie Blake and Martin O’Connor, it was a compilation of new and old songs and sketches with a Shakespeare connection. Zwar and Melville’s contribution was ‘Which Witch?’ sung by Blake.

Unfortunately Zwar did not live long enough to see his most-admired revue number amusing a new audience fifty-four years after it was written, having died aged 78 of emphysema at his home in Oxford 2 December 1989. Zwar met his second wife Diana Plunkett (1918-1992), a theatrical technician and manager at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, when he was musical director of Sandy Wilson’s The Buccaneer. They were married in 1955 and their union produced a daughter, Mary-Jane.

Through the sixties Zwar regularly contributed to television (mostly with Alan Melville), A-Z, Before the Fringe, Melvillainy, Merely Melville, and That Was the Week That Was. In 1964 Zwar wrote the song, ‘It Went Straight to Her Head’ for Repertory Revue, which played the Playhouse, Salisbury, 4-15 February 1964. It was performed by Melville and June Watson. The same year Zwar scored the documentary film Eight Hundred Mile Voyage.

Zwar’s name is indelibly linked to intimate revue. In his obituary in the Times they said ‘for thirty years he was one of the leading figures of the West End’s heyday of revue.’ His biography reads like a Who’s Who of West End revue royalty. During the height of the genres success it produced some of the most biting and satirical humor of the times—short sharp songs and sketches which lampooned the establishment, sacred cows, and theatrical activities. Zwar was not only a contributor but one of its masters.

Publications

‘Bet Your Life’ (Chappell & Co)

‘I Want a Great Big Hunk of Male,’ ‘(I Love) Being in Love’, ‘Piano Selection’

‘Marigold’ (Chappell & Co)

‘Always Ask Your Heart’, ‘Love Can’t Be Learned’, ‘Princes Street’, ‘Wonderful View’, ‘Piano Selection’

Sweetest and Lowest (Samuel French)

‘What Next?’, ‘Amo Amas’, ‘Swing Bridge’, ‘Self Portrait’, ‘Film Foursome’, ‘Days of Dalys’, ‘Why Does a Cow Go Moo?’

A La Carte (Samuel French)

‘Dawn in Covent Garden’, ‘Ladies in Waiting’, ‘Self Analysis’, ‘Restoration Piece’, ‘Pale Hands I Hate’, ‘Wherefore Art thou Romany’, ‘And the Buffs’, ‘Lament’, ‘Old Girls’, ‘Romanos’

One, Two, Three (Samuel French)

‘The Orator’ (published under the title of ‘Mixed Foursome’)

Six of One (Chappell & Co)

‘Not a Cloud in the Sky’

Recordings

Blue Mountain Melody

  • ‘Blue Mountain Melody’ / (B) ‘I Can See a Picture’—John Warren (Vocal) with Jim Davidson & his Orchestra (Regal Zonophone RZ: G-22179 78rpm 11/9/1934)

Bet Your Life

‘I Want a Great Big Hunk of Male’—Julie Wilson (Vocal) (Columbia DX 1825 78rpm 1952)

‘What Care I?’—Sally Ann Howes / ‘(I Love) Being in Love’—Brian Reece (Columbia DB 3048 78rpm 1952)

Bet Your Life Orchestral Selection George Melanchrino Orchestra (HMV C4170 12” 78rpm 1952)

Marigold—Original London Cast (HMV CLP1275/Reissue Must Close Saturday Records MCSR 3042 CD)

‘Marigold Piano Selection’ William Raynor (Piano) on the album I Wanted to See the World—Songs and Music from 1950’s British Musicals (Must Close Saturday Records MCSR 3005 CD)

John Murray Anderson’s Almanac—and other Broadway and London revues sung by Hermoine Gingold and Cyril Ritchard (DRG 19009) (1999)

Some of Zwar’s revue material can be found on the following:

Melvillainy—Alan Melville (Decca LK4394/reissue Must Close Saturday Records MCSR 3042 CD)

La Gingold—Hermoine Gingold (Dolphin 7)

The Shakespeare Revue (TER CDTEM2 1237 1995)

Newspapers and magazines

The Age (Melbourne), The Argus (Melbourne), The Catholic Weekly (Sydney), The Herald (Melbourne), Billboard (New York), Christian Science Monitor (London), Daily Mirror (London), Plays and Players (London), Punch (London), The Stage (London), The Sunday Times (London), The Times (London), Theatre World (London)

Books

Gerald Boardman & Richard Norton, American Musical Theatre: a chronicle, Oxford

Peter Pinne & Peter Wyllie Johnston, The Australian Musical: from the beginning, Allen & Unwin

Kurt Ganzl, British Musical Theatre, volume 2, 1915-1984, Macmillan

Robert Seeley & Rex Bunnett, London Musical Shows on Record 1889-1989, Gramophone

Steven Suskin, Show Tunes, Oxford

Websites

Australian Variety Archive—Charles Zwar www.ozvta.com.au

Judy Harris, www.bestweb.net/~foosie/index.htm

London Revues, www.overthefootlights.co.uk, www.overtures.org.uk

On Stage magazine—Blue Mountain Melody www.theatreheritage.com.au

Trove

Wikipedia

Published in Profiles
As PETER PINNE discovers, Charles Zwar began his career in intimate revue in Melbourne and mastered it in London. During the heyday of the genre in the forties and fifties Zwar’s material, mostly written with Alan Melville, appeared in over twenty West End revues including the hugely successful Sweeter and Lower and Sweetest and Lowest which both starred the brilliant eccentric comedienne Hermione Gingold.

zwar 400px

CHARLES ZWAR, THE YOUNGEST SON of Mr and Mrs Charles Zwar of Broadford, Victoria, Australia, was born on 10 April 1911. He was educated in the Melbourne suburb of Williamstown, where he attended North Williamstown State Primary and Williamstown High School. He got his nickname A.G. from his elder brother Adolphus Gordon, who with his older brother Richard, remained farmers on the family farm at Broadford, affectionately called ‘The Ranch’.

Zwar developed a passion for music and became a student of Mr G.W. McKeown where he studied piano and violin. After completing his education at Williamstown High he undertook a degree in Law and Arts at the University of Melbourne, becoming a resident at Trinity College from 1928 to 1932. During this period he began writing topical songs and mixing the latest jazz tunes with classical music. He also contributed to the student productions at the College and University both as a performer and musical director.

His first show credit was Stude Prunes (4p), a university revue that opened at the Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, 17 May 1933, which the Age thought was ‘Delightfully amusing’. The cast included Zwar who appeared on stage and also as musical director. His ‘crooning’ of his own song ‘You’re My One Wild Oat’ was claimed by the Herald as ‘the most appreciated item’.

In 1933 Zwar made his first appearance on radio being part of a 3AR program of dance music that was interspersed with singing by Ella Riddell and comedy by Johnny Marks. Zwar was billed as a ‘novelty entertainer’ and continued his radio gigs for the next few months. Later in the year he was called in as a show doctor writing the interpolated ‘They’re In Love’ for George Wallace (Dandy Dick) and Phyllis Baker (Sally) to sing in F.W. Thring’s commercial production of Varney Monk’s musical Collits’ Inn (122p Melbourne /71p Sydney) which opened at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, 23 December 1933.

The next year, 1934, saw Zwar back at the Comedy Theatre (18 April 1934) in another university revue, Swot Next (4p). Again he wrote music and lyrics and was musical director. This time the Argus called his music ‘sophisticated’ and his lyrics once again ‘amusing’. Sketches included a send-up of the recent spate of Efftee film productions in Melbourne called, ‘On the Lot at Enbeegee Film Productions’, and a one-act comic opera, ‘Il Tanto Eruptio’, which featured Paul Fiddian and John Clements. Fiddian later appeared in Gilbert and Sullivan for J.C. Williamson’s, whilst Clements opened a record shop which became a Melbourne institution.

The year 1934 also saw Zwar composing and writing the first of four musicals Blue Mountain Melody (48p Sydney /54p Melbourne). Collaborating with J.C. Bancks (creator of the comic strip Ginger Meggs), who devised the book, with direction by Frederick Blackman, choreography by Ruby Morris, and musical direction by Andrew McCunn, the musical starred two of Australia’s most beloved performers, Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard. It was the first Australian musical produced by J.C. Williamson’s who staged it with their considerable resources and used a revolving stage for the first time in one of their productions.

Bancks’ original story was a love-triangle between a young painter and pugilist Jimmy Brady (Frank Leighton), an Australian squatter Peter Harley (Cyril Ritchard), and the object of their affection, song-and-dance girl Judy Trent (Madge Elliott). Zwar’s score was contemporary and akin to what the Gershwins, Cole Porter and Vincent Youmans were writing for Broadway. As the two principals were first and foremost dancers, the score was heavy on rhythm. Critics liked Elliott’s ‘I Can See a Picture’ with its twin violin accompaniment, and called the boxing ballet (‘Hard Knocks’) and shadow dance, (‘Shadows’) original. Not all of the score was new. Zwar recycled ‘Let’s Relax’ from Swot Next.

The following year saw Zwar back at the Comedy Theatre in another university revue, Hot Swots (4p) which opened on 1 May 1935 during a week of festivities celebrating King George V’s Silver Jubilee in London. The Age called it ‘excellent entertainment’, whilst the Argus thought it ‘novel and fresh’. With a cast of 130 the barbs ranged far and wide: a Grand Opera Season in 20 minutes to the strains of Orpheus, Carmen, La Traviata, Il Trovatore and others performed by the 70-member University Opera Society, and a pantomime burlesque ‘Citronella’ which featured Zwar in drag as Mrs Hotbothom.

Zwar left Australia for Britain on the same ship as Australian children’s author Isobel Shead. They later married in Surrey, England, in 1938. They originally met while Shead was working for the ABC between 1933 and 1936. Both were determined to pursue careers in London and both succeeded, with Shead going on to work in a number of high-profile positions with the BBC and Zwar consolidating a career as a composer and musical director for musical theatre and revues which lasted more than three decades. Unfortunately the marriage didn’t last long with them separating in the early fifties.

Zwar’s first West End credit was playing one of the duo pianos (with Ruby Duncan) for Norman Marshall’s The Gate Revue (449p) which played the Gate Theatre Studio, 16A Villiers Street, underneath the arches close to Charing Cross Station. Seating less than 100, it was a ‘Club’ theatre which meant you had to join and become a member to see the show. The content of ‘Club’ theatres was not subjected to censorship by the Lord Chamberlain so subjects that were frequently risqué or taboo were allowed to be presented so long as it was for ‘Club’ members only.

The show starred Hermione Gingold, Michael Wilding, Joan Swinstead and Walter Crisham amongst others. It opened 19 December 1938 and three months later on the 9 March 1939 moved to the West End where it played the Ambassadors Theatre. Some of the sketches which the Censor had permitted for a ‘Club’ audience were ruled unsuitable for general public consumption and were replaced with numbers that had mostly been performed in earlier revues at the Gate. The Times (10 March 1939) said, ‘The tunes have life in them; the fooling is never dull buffoonery; the jokes are, if anything, over-rather than under-civilized, which is a fault on the right side; above all, the words can be heard and, as revue songs go, are worth hearing.’ Although the hit song of the show was the sentimental, ‘Transatlantic Lullaby’ (Geoffrey Wright/Diana Morgan/Robert MacDermot) sung by Gabrielle Brun, it was Gingold who scored the laugh honors with ‘Only a Medium Medium’, a send-up of clairvoyance written by her then husband Eric Maschwitz, Geoffrey Wright and Charles Hickman. It became one of the staples of her repertoire. Other skits included ‘The Power Of the Press’ (Gerald Bryant/Wright) a satire on modern journalism and gossip magazines like the Tatler. The Gate Revue was the first of six revues Zwar and Gingold worked on together.

The revue closed by Government Order on the outbreak of war, but resumed in a new edition on 19 October 1939 playing twice daily at 2.30pm and 8.30pm. The second edition found writer (and Joyce Grenfell’s cousin) Nicholas Phipps joining the onstage performers, with Derek Farr replacing Wilding. This time out Zwar wrote three numbers, his first for the London stage: one with Gingold, ‘The Sewing Bee’, and two with Phipps, ‘The Night Is Warm’ and ‘Miss Swinstead’s Morceau’, a send-up of a classical music performance performed by Swinstead. By the time it closed 4 May 1940 it had played 449p.

The Gate Revue’s successor Swinging the Gate (125p) opened at the Ambassadors Theatre, 22 May 1940, but was forced to close early because of German bombing raids. Hermione Gingold once again headlined the cast that also featured Peter Ustinov and the debut of Blue Mountain Melody star Madge Elliott in intimate revue. Charles Hickman directed, William Chappell arranged the dances, and Ruby Duncan and Zwar played twin pianos. The bulk of the score was by Zwar and Geoffrey Wright, with lyrics supplied by Diana Morgan, Robert MacDermot and Gerard Bryant. The Times said the ‘new Gate Revue is as gay and as decorative as were the earlier editions’, but also noted ‘ideas were no longer plentiful’. Gingold appeared as an indomitable aging ‘Queen of Song’ (Maschwitz/Jack Strachey), as a Bacchante on her way to an orgy on Streatham Common, and as a grande amoureuse recording the names of her last lovers in a leather-bound volume. ‘Miss Gingold is at the top of her form, and everyone knows how good that can be’ (Theatre World). Zwar’s ‘Salome Wouldn’t Dance’ written with Oxford St John, also scored well. His ‘La Grande Amoureuse’ had a lyric by novelist/playwright Patrick White, one of the rare instances of him writing for revue. The second to last item on the program was Robert Helpman (later Helpmann) who according to The Stage ‘brings down the house’ with his wicked impersonations of fellow performers, Olivier, Gielgud, Margaret Rawlings and Margaret Rutherford.

Also in 1940 Zwar was credited with music and Gerard Bryant for lyrics for the 45 minute revue documentary Hullo Fame, one of British Films ‘Pathertone Parade’ series of religious and variety movies. It was directed by Andrew Buchanan, and featured the debut film performances of Peter Ustinov and Jean Carr (who later became Jean Kent). As well as Ustinov the film also featured another cast member from Swinging the Gate, Roberta Huby. It was thought that Ustinov performed skits he authored from Swinging the Gate.

In 1942 Zwar joined forces with Alan Melville for the first time and created his most famous revue number and one of Gingold’s favourites about an imperious grande-dame who, on being offered a small part in a touring production of Macbeth, inquires icily, ‘Which Witch?’ The show was Sky High (149p) produced by Tom Arnold and it starred both Hermiones, Gingold and Baddeley, plus Naunton Wayne, George Carden, Betty Hare, Elisabeth Welch and Walter Crisham who also directed. Harold Collins was musical director, with choreography by Lydia Sokolova. Playing a prostitute and a governess, The Times thought the two Hermione’s were at their best in ‘Park Meeting’ (Nina Warner Hooke) poignantly portraying ‘the inner sadness of a woman who has lived too gaily and a woman who has not lived gaily enough’. They also liked them as elderly ‘Mermaids’ on the look-out for naval prey calling it ‘the liveliest piece of fun’, and said ‘Elisabeth Welch succeeds brilliantly’ in ‘Broadway Slave’ which poked fun at pagan mythology.

During the Second World War Zwar served with the Royal Engineers, and later the Australian Imperial Force. In mid-1945 the AIF’s Army Cinema Section produced for the Directorate of Army Cinematography a half-hour documentary called The Australian Army at War, following the AIF’s campaigns in North Africa, Crete, Greece, Syria and New Guinea. Zwar wrote the documentary’s musical score.

On discharge from the Army he scored his first major success with Melville in Sweeter and Lower (870p), the second in a series that had begun with Sweet and Low in 1943. Produced by J.W. Pemberton and A.A. Dubens, it was directed by Charles Hickman and opened at the Ambassadors Theatre 17 February 1944 and ran for two years. Dances were arranged by George Carden and Clarry Ashton and Betty Robb were the pianists. Hermione Gingold starred alongside Henry Kendall, Christopher Hewett, Bonar Colleano, George Carden and Edna Wood. The subjects skewered according to the Times give a good cross-section of wartime London: ‘The prevalence of Spam in good restaurants, the startling disparity between the dinner and the bill, a ballet dancer’s Hamlet, the arrogance of hotel clerks, the American difficulty when confronted with the pantomime tradition, the educative experience of women omnibus conductors, and the expressiveness of Mr Lunt’s back.’ ‘Miss Gingold’s Advice to the Players’ (Zwar/Melville) sent up Robert Helpmann’s Hamlet, ‘Cello Solo’ (Zwar/Leslie Julian Jones) was Gingold playing a frustrated old cellist (‘a twang here-a twang there’) grateful for any instrument between her legs, ‘Low Down on Wittington’ (Melville) had Kendall in drag as a Duchess taking a U.S. soldier (Colleano) to his first pantomime, whilst ‘Vienna Lingers On’ (Zwar/Melville) was a parody of Ivor Novello’s The Dancing Years, with Gingold as Mitzi, the toast of Vienna. The Christian Science Monitor thought ‘Poison Ivy’ (Dennis Waldock) was ‘the best item in the show’, which saw Gingold and Kendall sitting at a table in London’s most talked of theatrical restaurant waspishly gossiping on all things theatrical. ‘Look,’ exclaims Mr Kendall, ‘there’s Florence Desmond doing her imitation of John Gielgud.’ Then he looks again and adds in surprised tones, ‘No, it is John Gielgud.’ The sketch had previously been seen in Sweet and Low. Also repeated from Sweet and Low was the Gingold classic ‘The Bogias are Having an Orgy’ (John Jowett/Robert Gordon) called in the program ‘Borgia Orgy’. Sweeter and Lower became the longest running intimate revue in London at the time of closing on 16 March 1946. Whilst it was still playing at the Ambassadors, George Lacy and Phyllis Monkman opened a touring version in Edinburgh in July 1945.

The last in the series Sweetest and Lowest (791p) opened at the Ambassadors Theatre, 9 May 1946. It was just as successful as the previous edition and consolidated the names of Zwar and Melville as the West End’s foremost revue writers. Everyone was back for another bite of the cherry with Pemberton and Dubens producing, Melville on scripts, Zwar composing music, Hickman directing, Carden arranging the dances, and Clarrie Ashton sharing the twin pianos with Winifred Taylor. On stage Gingold led the return which also included Kendall, Hewitt, and Wood. The Times thought Gingold was ‘still stinging like a nettle’. She appeared as Picasso might have painted her with extra limbs (‘Self-Portrait’ Zwar/Melville), told of the legendary war-time services, public and secret, of Noel Coward (‘Noel, Noel’ Zwar/Melville), and lectured authoritatively on ‘Mother India’ (Gingold) after only spending a weekend in Bombay. Kendall got to repeat his drag turn as the Duchess introducing a U.S. serviceman to the pantomime (‘Pantomime—Return Visit’). Melville was particularly pleased with the reception of ‘Noel, Noel’ which he wrote trying to emulate the rhyming pattern of Cowards ‘Nina’.

A selection of material from the Sweet and Low series called Sweetest and Lowest—A Revue in Time, was produced at the Minerva Theatre, Sydney, 5 December 1947, with Max Oldaker, Fifi Banvard, Minnie Love, Wee Georgie Wood, Dolly Harmer and Gordon Chater making his first appearance in revue. The Catholic Weekly was brutally dismissive of it ‘weary, flat, unprofitable and stale’. ‘Sweetest and Lowest has been running in London for seven years. The Sydney version is scarcely crawling after three days.’ But the audience reaction to the show was enough to convince Scotsman William (Bill) Orr and his partner Eric Duckworth that Sydney could sustain a permanent revue company which led to the creation of the Phillip Street Theatre in 1953.

The same year (1947) Zwar was called in as a ‘show-doctor’ once again on a revival of The Dubarry (55p), writing with Melville the song ‘When You’re a Star’. Opening on 8 August 1947, at Princes Theatre, London, the operetta was produced by Arthur Lane, directed by Hugh Hiller, choreographed by Beatrice Appleyard, with musical direction by Walford Hyden. The cast was headed by Irene Manning with Frank Leighton, Ada Reeve, John Le Mesurier and Jerry Verno. The plot (loosely based on fact) of a young eighteenth century Parisian milliner who becomes King Louis XV mistress had music by Carl Millocker, a libretto by Paul Knepler and J. Willeminsky, and had originally played London in 1932 amassing a highly successful run of 397 performances. The revival did not fare as well running a mere six weeks. The Times review said, ‘The first night audience appeared well pleased with it all, but such revivals compare sadly enough with the vigorous new musical pieces imported from America.’ The reference was to the recently opened Oklahoma! and Annie Get Your Gun.

Oklahoma! and Annie were mercilessly sent-up in the opening number of the Binnie and Sonny Hale revue One, Two, Three (205p), which opened at the Duke of York’s Theatre, 10 September 1947. Produced by Hale Plays, direction was by W. Hastings Mann, choreography by Philip and Betty Buchel, with Van Phillips as musical director. Although the program credited Mischa Spoliansky with music and lyrics, and Loftus Wigram with book and additional lyrics, Zwar and Melville wrote the title song, ‘One, Two, Three, Go!’ which attacked the Americanisation of British Theatre. There had been much speculation about brother and sister, Sonnie and Binnie Hale appearing together in revue for the first time, but the material was tailored to their respective talents. It included a satire on the BBC and a conversation between the statues of Nelson and Liberty, plus a selection of songs associated with their solo careers. The Times called it ‘pleasing entertainment but [with] no hint of originality’, whilst the Stage claimed ‘with the best will in the world one looks in vain throughout the show for signs of inspiration that lift a good, competent job out of the rut and makes it really notable.’ The cast also included Charles Heslop, Anthony Hayes, Gail Kendall, Jimmy Cameron, Michael Lindon and Marie Sellar.

Four, Five, Six (323p) was a second edition of One, Two, Three and was supposed to open 4 March 1948 but Sonnie Hale collapsed the night before opening and was taken to hospital for an emergency operation. The opening took place one week later (12 March 1948) with Bobby Howes replacing Hale. Binnie Hale was still top starred but she was joined by Joyce Grenfell, Hermione Gingold and Vida Hope. Music and Lyrics were credited to Mischa Spoliansky and Norman Hackforth and once again direction was by W. Hastings Mann, choreography by Philip and Betty Buchel, and musical direction by Van Phillips. It was produced by R. Marleigh-Ludlow for the British Musical Guild in association with Frederick Piffard and Patrick Ide. Howes scored in a sketch about a fiery orator at Hyde Park Corner returning to his hen-packed suburban home (‘The Orator’ Zwar/Melville), and as a tipsy butler in ‘Dinner For One’ (Lauri Wylie) with Hale as the grande dame. Hale also did a well-received impression of Mistinguett, and together with Howes played a couple of public convenience cleaners about to unionise in the classic ‘They Also Serve’ (Melville). The Times said, ‘the burlesques of Miss Joyce Grenfell and Miss Hermione Gingold are, if not new, as fresh as ever’, and ‘the chorus dances always exhilaratingly, and at least once with true romantic charm’.

Á La Carte (244p) opened 15 January 1949, at the Savoy Theatre. Produced by Firth Shephard and directed by Norman Marshall (The Gate Revue), with music by Zwar, book and lyrics by Melville, it had décor, dresses and dances by William Chappell, and musical direction by Peter Yorke. Hermione Badderley and Henry Kendall headed a cast that featured Michael Anthony, Gordon Bell, Irlin Hall, Dick Henderson Jr, Joy O’Neill amongst others who included French singer Marcel Le Bon and dancers Capella and Patricia. Badderley and Kendall were Hamlet and Gertrude in a funny Hamlet skit ‘The Play’s the Thing,’ a riot as Lady Wanton Malpractice and Sir Solemnity Sourpuss in one of Melville’s cleverest sketches ‘Restoration Piece’ which was played ‘as originally written in 18th century style’ (where all the ‘s’ letters appeared as ‘f’), and they also had fun in a send-up of the play Edward, My Son. Kendall sang ‘I Remember Romano’s’ one of Zwar’s ‘best numbers’ according to the Times, whilst Badderley’s ‘Old Girls’ was highly praised; ‘her solitary performance as the three old school girls having their annual tea-party is the best thing of the evening, satirical burlesque, warm, genial, and accomplished.’

 

To be concluded in the next issue

 

Newspapers and magazines

The Age (Melbourne), The Argus (Melbourne), The Catholic Weekly (Sydney), The Herald (Melbourne), Billboard (New York), Christian Science Monitor (London), Daily Mirror (London), Plays and Players (London), Punch (London), The Stage (London), The Sunday Times (London), The Times (London), Theatre World (London)

Books

Gerald Boardman & Richard Norton, American Musical Theatre: a chronicle, Oxford University Press, 4th edn, 2010

Peter Pinne & Peter Wyllie Johnston, The Australian Musical: from the beginning, Allen & Unwin, 2019

Kurt Ganzl, British Musical Theatre, volume 2, 1915-1984, Oxford University Press, 1987

Robert Seeley & Rex Bunnett, London Musical Shows on Record 1889-1989, Gramophone, 1989

 

Published in Profiles