This was the third show that Cole Porter had running on Broadway in 1944 after Something for the Boys and Seven Lively Arts and it is understandable that the springs were running low. The score is not especially memorable and even the big ballad I Love You – written as a bet – is essentially a modification of Night and Day. It was a real throwback to a 1920s style musical, with a number of opportunities for star turns eg Lolita’s numbers, energetically and enthusiastically (maybe alarmingly) rendered by Wendy Ferguson, or Lilian the wife who seems to appear in just one scene.
It was really a vehicle for a comedian called Bobby Clark who used to draw a pair of spectacles on his face. He was undoubtedly a draw at the time, in fact his Broadway career extended to the role of Mr Applegate in Damn Yankees in the mid 1950s, but like so many comic acts of the time (you think of Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, Fanny Brice etc) he probably takes a bit of an effort to stomach these days. In The New Yorkers, Michael Roberts stepped with panache into the shoes of Jimmy Durante. Here he did his best with the threadbare and not so subtle material given to Bobby Clark.
In view of the prominence of this role, it very hard to imagine how this show ran for 481 performances: the audience must really have adored him. What else did the show have in its favour apart from a lack-lustre comedian and an off-colour Porter score?
June Havoc was in the original show in the next most prominent role as Montana the bull-fighter. From Gypsy, you imagine that Baby June would have evolved into a demure, prissy adult performer but her chosen stage name gives the lie to that. In films, she was lively and energetic as, say, Betty Hutton and Mexican Hayride gave her rom to strut. There Must be Someone for Me is one of Porter’s catalogue songs – albeit that it shows signs of strain in lines such as “a boy moose for every girl moose”. Louise Gold, that stalwart of Lost Musicals, applied her large personality to the role and convinced us that it might have worked on stage. Abracadabra (and you’re in/out of love) was another number that worked simply because of her bounce and zest.
Jonathan Hansler had the real mill-stone of a part: the “comic” Mexican who manages Montana and who becomes Joe Buscom’s dupe. Boscom, Montana and Lombo have to carry the entire show. The American consul crops up every now and then to sing I Love You – like Allan Jones in a Marx Brothers’ film. There is a shady Russian lady who feels Buscom’s bumps and extracts money from a wealthy American tourist with a large bankroll and a precocious son. Stewart Permutt, as usual, does the filling-in – the rich American, the overweight female companion of another American tourist, the chief of police. That other stalwart, Myra Sands, appears in the other plus factor that the original show had in its favour. Mike Todd produced it and so he filled it with full of spectacle and scantily clad girls. The egregious Bobby Clark got a production number – Girls (to the left of me…). Myra Sands, looking more than ever like Beatrice Lillie, was one of the girls that this production could afford. She was a triumph.