- From "Oh, Kay!" by George Gerswhin (1927)
"Someone To Watch Over Me"
From André Charlot’s New York Revue (1925)
- "A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich and You"
- "Poor Little Rich Girl"
- "Russian Blues"
From "Private Lives" by Noel Coward (1930)
- Love Scene, Act 1 – Introduction
"Some Day I’ll Find You"
- Love Scene, Act 2 – Introduction
"I Never Realised"
"If You Were the Only Girl In The World"
"Some Day I’ll Find You"
- "Limehouse Blues" (1931)
- "Parisian Pierrot" (1931)
- "Mad About The Boy" (1932)
From "Nymph Errant" by Cole Porter (1933)
- "How Could We Be Wrong?"
- "It’s Bad For Me"
- "The Physician"
From "Tonight at 8.30" by Noel Coward (1936)
- "Shadow Play" – Scene and "Play Orchestra
- "Red Peppers" – "Has Anyone Seen Our Ship"
From "Lady In The Dark" by Kurt Weill
- "My Ship" (1941)
- "The Saga of Jenny" (1941)
- "A Guy Named Joe" (1944)
Not a great deal is known of Gertrude Lawrence’s life
before she became a child star, but it was a story of rags to riches.
We know that from an early age the little girl had romanticised about
one day becoming a famous actress. Perhaps from listening to her Mother’s
largely frustrated theatrical aspirations and seeing the struggles of
her Danish supporting artist Father. With encouragement from her mother
and grandmother she made her debut in "Babes in the Wood"
at Brixton in 1908. Then by 1911 was in the chorus of "The Miracle
at the Olympic". From then on she worked her way up from the chorus
line to understudying many famous names. Her tenacity paid off and subsequently
she joined the London touring company run by the impresario Basil Dean.
After the chorus in "Fifinella" in 1912 and then a 1913 revival
of Hauptmann’s "Hannele" she was brought into contact for
the first time with fellow Londoner Noel Coward. The story is that she
told Noel some dirty stories and he fell instantly in love with her
charm and personality. A whole generation has passed since Gertude Lawrence’s
early death in 1952 yet there are many who will remember her name in
connection with Coward’s especially after their appearance together
in his play "Private Lives". Noel and Gertie were a team.
When I received this disc of Gertie singing solo and
with some of her stage partners, I was really delighted. To listen again
to voices of long ago, experience original artists singing songs from
shows they created always carries a thrill. From 1926 and André
Charot’s New York Revue we have Gertie with Jack Buchanan singing "A
Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich and You" as well as "Poor little
Rich Girl" and "Russian Blues", the latter two written
by her beloved Noel. Gertie does full justice to all three songs, singing
with her customary clarity and real feeling. In "Russian Blues"
you can hear a little more of Robert Hood Bowers’s piano accompaniment
but this in no way distracts from Gertie’s singing.
Even greater success came on Broadway in November 1926
with Gershwin’s show "Oh, Kay!" Indeed I think this really
established Gertie’s name in America. Later "The Times" review
of the 1927 London production of the show was rapturous mentioning Gertie’s
looks, grace, humour, voice and many other accomplishments. With Tom
Waring at the piano she recorded "Do-Do-Do" and sings it with
such fervour as she does with the poignant "Maybe", a moving
duet with Harold French. This is one of the gems of the disc. From the
same show we also have the great "Someone To Watch Over Me"
in which Gertie takes great care to make the words really mean something
so you really do feel she needs someone to watch over her. The words
are clear and the melody perfect. I love this song, it has always been
a favourite of mine and I know many people.
In 1930 Noel Coward wrote his legendary success "Private
Lives". So much has been written about this play in which Gertie
and Noel played the starring roles (and in which Laurence Olivier was
a supporting player) but it’s still worth remembering that they set
the West End and Broadway on fire. The opening scene is sometimes said
to be the second most famous balcony scene after "Romeo and Juliet".
There is no doubt that the bittersweet love-scenes between Amanda and
Eliot will always be remembered as a theatre classic. The play tells
of two ex-lovers married to other people who meet again while honeymooning
at the same hotel. The balcony scene is where you see Amanda gazing
at the view and having a strong feeling of déjà vu.
She then starts to sing "Someday I’ll Find You" at which point
Eliot enters and, seeing her, joins in. In these recordings of extracts
we hear a certain amount of dialogue while at the same time Eliot tells
her how he has always loved and wanted her. Act 2 finds them again on
the balcony and Elliot is singing "I Never Realised". They
have a loving conversation as Amanda softly sings "If You Were
The Only Girl In The World" then drifts into "Someday I’ll
Find You" again. The only comment I would add on hearing all these
extracts from what is effectively the original production is whether,
after all these years, that unique voice of Noel Coward’s would be just
as popular now as it was then.
While on tour in André Charlot’s London’s Review
of 1924 Gertie introduced the Philip Braham hit "Limehouse Blues,"
originally a duet with Jack Buchanan. It would be 1931 before she recorded
it, though, accompanied here by the Chenil Orchestra. Not surprisingly
it’s a song about Chinatown and I’m sure many of you have heard it.
Gertie sings it as I think it should be song with a deeper pitch to
the voice, again proving what a versatile performer she was. That same
year she recorded Coward’s "Parisian Pierrot" from "London
Calling" again with The Chenil Orchestra who are quite brilliant
here. In fact I enjoyed listening to them play as much as I did Gertie
sing, perhaps rather more after nearly giving up trying to make out
the lyrics which are not all that clear. The following year Gertie recorded
Coward’s decadent "Mad About The Boy" from his "Words
and Music". Again the wonderful Chenil Orchestra are in attendance
together with the sound of Albert Harris’s guitar, Bert Amstell’s trumpet
and Claude Ivy’s piano who all come through loud and clear and how cleverly
they accompany her.
When in 1933 Cole Porter’s "Nymph Errant"
played at the Adelphi in London it appealed to the romantic and risqué
of the day with "How could we be wrong?" Sang here as only
Gertie can it is delightful but I really couldn’t now understand what
it was that was so wrong. The next number from the show recorded at
the same time was "Its Bad For Me". I liked this but I liked
"The Physician" even more. Here Gertie sings about various
parts of her anatomy being attended to by her Physician, describes her
ailments by name and the fact she is attracted to him, though not he
to her. A clever song clearly sung. The last number from the show on
this CD is "Experiment". A good number but not one that has
lasted well, I feel. Here I must pay tribute to the great Ray Noble
and his Orchestra who accompany with Harry Jacobson at the piano. Their
contribution is worth listening to in itself.
"Tonight At 8.30" was a series of nine one-act
plays by Noel Coward, all presented at Phoenix Theatre in London from
January 1936. Musically the best remembered is "Shadow Play"
which includes "Then Play, Orchestra, Play" and "You
Were There". Delightful songs sung here by both Coward and Lawrence,
merging both dialogue and song numbers and recorded during the run,
like so much else on this disc. And you certainly can hear a different
aspect to the Coward/Lawrence partnership in the Cockney parody "Has
anybody seen our Ship" from another of these plays "Red Peppers".
This is funny and clever and it illustrates that with Gertie and Noel
you had two very talented people who could do just about anything. They
were a perfect partnership. Marvellous souvenirs from a marvellous production.
There are two songs here from Kurt Weill’s "Lady
in the Dark". We have "My Ship" and "The Saga of
Jenny". The first is a melody that Gertie sings as it was surely
meant in a haunting and lingering way and the second much more cheerful
song. Both were recorded in New York in 1941 and are more gems.
In was in 1952 that Gertrude Lawrence made her final
appearance on Broadway. It was in Rogers and Hammerstein’s "The
King and I". The timeless story of the English Governess at the
court of the shrewd and charming Siamese King played by Yul Brynner.
Tragically she was taken ill during a performance and subsequently died
from undetected cancer. We remember this great show from the film version
where Deborah Kerr plays the part of Anna. But never let it be forgotten
that Getrude Lawrence created the part and, but for the death, maybe
she would have immortalised the part on film for us. Alas, nothing from
her appearance in that show was recorded leaving a real gap in her repertoire.
But let us be grateful for what there is of this great artiste who will
always be remembered while there are labels like Living Era who can
take songs and transfer them so accurately.
I do recommend this CD to all fans of both Gertie and
her era. It is a delight for the thrill of hearing the special voices
of both Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward too, as they were meant to
be all those years ago.