/ Let's Face It

Let’s Face It! for Australia

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01 Curtain call

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 U.S. 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.

Saturday, 04 September 2021 / Last modified on Monday, 25 October 2021

Productions

Let's Face It

Broadway

The 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)…
Let's Face It

Sydney

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…
Let's Face It

Melbourne

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)…
Let's Face It

London

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…

Additional Information

Picture References

Additional picture references from the J.C. Williamson collection Broadway cast: https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-154726965/ (Act I Scene 1—The Alicia Allen Milk Farm on Long Island) https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-148755268/ (Act I Finale)…

Additional sources

Additional sources Stanley Green, The World of Musical Comedy, 4th Edition, Da Capo Press, New York, 1980 Robert Kimball (ed.), Cole, Holt, Reinhart & Winston, New York, 1971 Frank Van Straten, Hanky-Panky: The Theatrical Escapades of Ernest C. Rolls,…

Filmography

Filmography: Let’s Face It (1943)—Paramount Pictures—Directed by Sidney Lanfield; Screenplay by Harry Tugend; Songs by Cole Porter; additional songs by Jules Styne and Sammy Cahn. Cast included Bob Hope, Betty Hutton, Dona Drake, Cully Richards, Eve Arden, Zasu…

Discography

Discography Original Broadway cast recordings Let’s Not Talk About Love—Danny Kaye (with orchestra under the direction of Johnny Green)—(cat. no.) Columbia 36582 Farming—Danny Kaye (with Vocal Quartet and orchestra under the direction of Johnny…