London Calling!

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London Calling! was a musical revue, produced by André Charlot with music and lyrics by Noël Coward, which opened at London's Duke of York's Theatre on 4 September 1923. It is famous for being Noël Coward's first publicly produced musical work and for the use of a 3-D stereoscopic shadowgraph as part of its opening act. The revue's song 'Parisian Pierrot', sung by Gertrude Lawrence, was Coward's first big hit and became one of his signature tunes.

Overview

The revue featured 25 sketches, skits, songs and dance routines, with choreographic assistance by Fred Astaire who was working in London's Shaftesbury Theatre with his sister Adele at the time. Astaire taught Coward tap-dancing at the nearby Guildhall School of Music.[1] West End's leading lady Gertrude Lawrence made her singing debut with Coward's musical works, an association that would continue throughout their careers. Lawrence had previously worked with him on the Liverpool production of Gerhart Hauptmann's play Hannele in 1913.[2]. The revue sketches made light of London society at the time, with one sketch called 'The Swiss Family Whittlebot' poking fun at the Sitwells, known for their avant-garde poetry and ideas.[3].

The basis of London Calling! began at the Swiss resort of Davos in Christmas 1922, when Coward presented a musical outline of a new project involving himself and Lawrence, to benefactor, Edward William Bootle Wilbraham, 3rd Earl of Lathom, who was also a friend of André Charlot.[4] The Earl had liked it and approached Charlot to produce it. Charlot's West End musical production Rats that premiered on February 21 1923, at the Vaudeville Theatre, also starred Lawrence. At first Charlot did not have Coward in mind for performing in London Calling!, but was persuaded by Coward's vetoing rights over the co-authorship copyright to the songs, and eventually paid him a wage of ₤40 a week with the success of the show.[5].

The revue ran for 367 performances. Charlot was developing a new production entitled Andre Charlot's London Revue of 1924 and had replaced Lawrence with singer Joyce Barbour in January 1924, at which point the production had was nearing its run for over 5 months. Coward's next project was the controversial play The Vortex (1924)

Shadowgraph usage

The opening act of London Calling! utilised Laurens Hammond's patented 3-D shadowgraph process, which required the patrons to wear special colour tinted glasses. American inventor Hammond had earlier developed a Teleview sequential viewing system, for use as part of the successful production of the Ziegfeld Follies (1907-1931).[6]. It's use influenced producer André Charlot, who was in the United States at the time of the Follies, to attempt something similar in Europe.[7] Because the patent did not have immediate effect in overseas countries, Hammond was unable to collect any royalties from the production of London Calling!. With the success of the show, Charlot became referred to as 'The British Ziegfeld', a title he loathed.[8]

Connection with radio

Apart from the influence between productions on the use of shadowgraph, the first song title mentioning the medium of radio was in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1922. The name of the song was 'Listening on Some Radio'. The Charlot production entitled London Calling! was also the call sign of BBC Radio in London (2LO), which began transmitting in 1922.

Original cast

  • Noël Coward
  • Gertrude Lawrence
  • Maisie Gay
  • Eileen Molyneux
  • Tubby Edlin (comedian)
  • Jessie Matthews (chorine)

Song list

  • 'Carrie (Was a Careful Girl)' (Coward) - sung by Gertrude Lawrence
  • 'Other Girls' (Coward) - sung by Noël Coward and chorus
  • 'Parisian Pierrot' (Coward) - sung by Gertrude Lawrence
  • 'Prenez Garde, Lisette' (Coward) - sung by Maisie Gay
  • 'Russian Blues' (Coward) - sung by Gertrude Lawrence and chorus
  • 'Sentiment' (Philip Braham and Coward) - sung by Noël Coward
  • 'A Spanish Grandee' (Coward) - sung by Noël Coward
  • 'Tamarisk Town' (Coward) - sung by Gertrude Lawrence
  • 'Temperamental Honeymoon' (Coward) - sung by Noël Coward and chorus
  • 'There's Life in the Old Girl Yet' (Coward) - sung by Maisie Gay and chorus
  • 'What Love Means to Girls Like Me' (Coward) - sung by Maisie Gay
  • 'When We Were Girls Together' (Coward) - sung by Maisie Gay and chorus
  • 'You Were Meant for Me' (Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle) - sung as the revue's finale duet between Coward and Lawrence

Notes

  1. New Theatre Quarterly 39:37 ISSN 0266-464X
  2. Day, Barry (ed.) The Letters of Noel Coward. (Page 34) Random House, 2007 ISBN 978-0-375-42303-1
  3. Morley, Sheridan. Coward. (Page 29) Haus, 2005 ISBN 1-904341-88-8
  4. The History of Latham [1]
  5. Morley, Sheridan. Coward. (Page 27) Haus, 2005 ISBN 1-904341-88-8
  6. Shadows on the Wall [2]
  7. A Brief History of Pop Music [3]
  8. History of the Musical Stage [4]