PARDON MY ENGLISH will always be known as the show the Gershwins would have liked to forget. Written as a special favor for a friend of theirs, the show " . . . became a revolving door of book writers, directors, and performers . . ." so that by the time it finally reached Broadway, it was a total mess. Songs had been reassigned to new characters, plot changes created odd musical references, what once were main characters were now inconsequential to the plot. No wonder it became 1933's first flop.
Long forgotten until 1982 when a number of musical manuscripts were discovered at the Warner Brothers Music Warehouse in Secaucus, New Jersey, the score was finally performed in 1987 at the Library of Congress. Mrs. Ira Gershwin was so delighted that she suggested PARDON MY ENGLISH be among the first restored Gershwin scores recorded for the outstanding Roxbury/Nonesuch series.
Thankfully, the new performing edition corresponds most closely to the one used for the Philadelphia premiere; the closer the show got to its Broadway opening, the more confusing and confused it got. The setting is Dresden, 1933, and the plot involves an English nobleman (Michael Bramleigh) who, when knocked on the head, becomes Golo, a speakeasy proprietor. (The German government has outlawed all soft drinks; only beer and wine are legal.) Michael is engaged to Ilsa - daughter of the inept Commissioner Bauer - who is kidnapped by Golo, whom she mistakes for Michael, because he actually is Michael . . .
Oh, just forget the plot and enjoy the music.
Gershwin biographer Edward Jablonski writes: "[The Gershwins], acknowledged masters of musical theatre composition, revealed an even greater sophistication, a disregard for writing song hits, and a unique resourcefulness highlighted by the tongue-in-cheek co-mingling of the Viennese waltz and the American foxtrot." " . . . One of their most ingenious scores, PARDON MY ENGLISH. . . with its rich choral passages, contrapuntal waltzes and other complex musical-lyrical passages, despite its book, was a musical stepping-stone toward PORGY AND BESS." In addition to the standards "Isn't It a Pity?" and "My Cousin in Milwaukee," there's the comical "Freud and Jung and Adler" and "Dresden Northwest Mounted" with the continuously deteriorating refrain "We always get our man -- if we can." In fact, the entire score is delightful.
John Cullum (NORTHERN EXPOSURE's Holling Vincoeur) is absolutely wonderful as the bungling Commissioner, as is William Katt (Perry Mason's assistant in the 1980s series and real-life son of Barbara Hale/Della Street) in the dual roles of Michael and Golo. And a bit of trivia: listed in the cast as Golo's sidekick "Katz," is Peter Kevoian, who played both El Gallo and J. Pierpont Finch in my productions of THE FANTASTICKS and HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS at Norwalk (CA) High School.
Very highly recommended.