Musical Theatre in America: Papers and Proceedings of the Conference on the Musical Theatre in America

By Glenn Loney | Go to book overview

Winning the Battle and Losing the War: The 1927 Strike Up the Band

JOAN PIRIE

In 1927 the drums rolled and the trumpets called, first in Long Branch, New Jersey, and later in Philadelphia; unfortunately, despite critical acclaim, the people did not shout out "Strike Up the Band." Strike Up the Band, with book by George S. Kaufman and music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, closed at the Shubert Theatre in Philadelphia two weeks after opening there on 5 September 1927. Despite this initial failure, a revamped Strike Up the Band succeeded as 1930's first musical show, with 191 performances, heralding a new, politically satirical format. Out of this format developed such landmark shows as Of Thee I Sing, I'd Rather Be Right, and Let 'Em Eat Cake. In a sense, these shows are all the stepchildren of the first Strike Up the Band.

Ira Gershwin once referred to Strike Up the Band as a satire on war. Strike Up the Band was, however, more than that; the ever-caustic Kaufman also got a lot of mileage out of lampooning big business, politics, international diplomacy, and the League of Nations. The musical opened in the showroom of the Horace J. Fletcher American Cheese Company in Hurray, Connecticut. The story rapidly developed Horace Fletcher's success in having the tariff on Swiss cheese raised 50 percent, the Swiss protest (sent with six cents postage due), and Fletcher's offer to subsidize a war with Switzerland--on one condition: since he would be footing all the bills and giving the government 25 percent of the profits, the war had to be named after him. In the second act, the Horace J. Fletcher Memorial War took everyone to Switzerland. Switzerland had been chosen over Yankee Stadium as the locale for the war because, after all, it was the tourist season over there, and Fletcher envisioned getting $5.50 a seat--not counting agency premiums--for good battles. Eventually the war was won in true comic-opera fashion by a young man who had been considered a traitor (he even wore a Swiss watch); all romantic entanglements came to the requisite happy end; a long-lost son was found (and found to be a Secret Service agent); and a foreign spy was exposed; all this to song, dance, and a healthy

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