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ClassicsOnline Home » COWARD, Noel: Mad About the Boy (1932-1943)
Volume 3: "Mad About The Boy" Original Recordings 1932-1943
A rare breed of thespian polymath, the multi-faceted Noël Coward was a kind of 20th century Renascence Man of the theatre variously playwright, singing-actor of stage and revue, film-actor, composer, writer, critic and general theatrical entrepreneur. Born Noël Peirce Coward in Teddington into a comfortable, middle-class family and raised in Surbiton, Surrey, he received no formal musical training, albeit several of his antecedents were practising musicians. From the first his inclination veered unerringly towards the theatre and, at Dalys and the Gaiety, he was nurtured on a diet of Edwardian musical comedy and the lighter drama classics until, in 1911, he made his own first stage appearance in The Goldfish, at the London Little Theatre.
From an early age, the self-taught Coward also dabbled in song-writing (his earliest surviving song dates from 1915) and, under the tutelage of Charles Hawtrey, he made a few other juvenile appearances as an actor prior to a brief stint in the British Army during WWI (in 1918). During that year he also made his first film appearance, in D.W. Griffiths Hearts Of The World (a British film, made on location in Worcestershire, starring Dorothy and Lillian Gish). In 1920 he starred in his first, unsuccessful, play Ill Leave It To You and, less than a year later and again unsuccessfully, made his New York stage début. Back in London, in February 1923, he made less impression in his next play The Young Idea than in the André Charlot revue London Calling. In this he danced with his co-star Gertrude Lawrence (1898-1952) and collaborated with writer Ronald Jeans. Of the shows twelve Coward numbers, the wistful Parisian Pierrot has endured best.
Cowards parallel career as a playwright blossomed simultaneously and his straight plays The Vortex (1923), Fallen Angels and Hay Fever (both 1925) won him some early recognition. However, it was in his contributions to revues, first for Charlot in 1924 and 1925, then, more significantly, for C.B. Cochran (1872-1951), that his greater talent for musical comedy first manifested itself. In 1925 the first of these, On With The Dance (a star-studded show for which Coward wrote all twelve numbers and in which the wistfully catchy Poor Little Rich Girl was premiered by Parisian singing actress Alice Delysia) made him his name in the genre, paving the way to the even bigger success, again for Cochran, in 1928, of This Year Of Grace. For this show (a virtual triumph with a 316-performance London run complemented by 157 in a concurrent Broadway production which netted him £1000 per week in royalties and established his American reputation), Coward wrote all lyrics and songs, many in the syncopated jazz idiom, notably "Dance, Little Lady" and "A Room With A View."
In 1929, inspired he claimed by Johann Strausss Die Fledermaus, Coward decided to try his hand at the Viennese-style with the operette Bitter-Sweet. His stars of the original London production (697 performances), the American soprano Peggy Wood and Rumanian high-baritone Georges Metaxa, regaled audiences with "Dear Little Café" and the immortal Ill See You Again. The show also ran for 159 performances on Broadway and was the first Coward musical to be filmed (in England, in 1933). In 1930, in London, in the "comedy with music" Private Lives, Coward next reaffirmed his stage partnership with Gertrude Lawrence (its Broadway production the following year was also a significant hit) and in another successful London revue, Cavalcade, for Cochran. This monumental paean to Edwardian life, two years later, would land its author a $1million contract for an Oscar-winning Fox films production.
Meanwhile, in London in 1932, Words And Music, an archetypally Cowardian mixture of world-weariness and froth, ran at the Adelphi for 164 performances. Produced for Cochran and featuring Ivy St. Helier, Effie Atherton and a very young John Mills, this contained eighteen Coward numbers, most notably "Mad Dogs And Englishmen" and Mad About The Boy. After the further successes of the non-musical Design For Living (1933) and the 1934 musical Conversation Piece, in 1936 Coward married his talent for satire and musical comedy in Tonight At 8.30, a series of nine one-acters of which three contained musical interludes. First presented at the Phoenix (157 performances) and co-starring Coward and Lawrence, these also ran on Broadway (118 performances). We Were Dancing was one of its most nostalgic highlights.
With a (His Majestys Theatre, London) run of only 113 showings and no Broadway follow-up, Operette (1938) was a comparative failure for its author, despite some very plaintive tunes in the best Coward tradition (Dearest Love and Where Are The Songs We Sung? and the monumental drollery of The Stately Homes Of England). It was to be his last British pre-war musical. The outbreak of the Second World War, however, found Coward making good use of his "talent to amuse", trying to do his bit for the war-effort. Indeed, during this time many of his finest miscellaneous songs made their first appearance, including Dont Lets Be Beastly To The Germans (wrongly interpreted as ambiguously pro-Nazi, this was for a time banned from BBC air-waves) and the sardonic Could You Please Oblige Us With A Bren Gun? (A sort of Cowardian sequel to "The Washing On The Siegfried Line") and morale-boosters, like There Have Been Songs In England and the rather more timeless London Pride, delivered in that same genuine, un-jingoistic spirit of patriotism which informs The Welcoming Land, a recitation written by Cowards friend Clemence Dane (aka playwright-novelist Winifred Ashton, 1888-1965).
Peter Dempsey, 2002
The Naxos Historical labels aim to make available the greatest recordings of the history of recorded music, in the best and truest sound that contemporary technology can provide. To achieve this aim, Naxos has engaged a number of respected restorers who have the dedication, skill and experience to produce restorations that have set new standards in the field of historical recordings.
As a producer of CD reissues, David Lennicks work in this field grew directly from his own needs as a broadcaster specializing in vintage material and the need to make it listenable while being transmitted through equalizers, compressors and the inherent limitations of A.M. radio. Equally at home in classical, pop, jazz and nostalgia, Lennick describes himself as exercising as much control as possible on the final product, in conjunction with CEDAR noise reduction applied by Graham Newton in Toronto. As both broadcaster and re-issue producer, he relies on his own extensive collection as well as those made available to him by private collectors, the University of Toronto, Syracuse University and others.
Transfers & Production: David Lennick
Digital Noise Reduction: Graham Newton
Special thanks to Alan Farley for Mad About The Boy
Just as Volume 2 of this series was being pressed, a note was received from San Francisco collector and broadcaster Alan Farley, offering Naxos the unissued 1932 recording of Mad About The Boy, which chronologically should have been included in that compilation. Better late than not at all, here it is, taken from one of the only known test pressings. Other rare Coward items were also made available, and these will be included in Volume 4.
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COWARD, Noel: Mad About the Boy (1932-1943)