[The quiz below was originally published in the March 2013 issue (volume 98, number 2) of Equity News, the monthly newsletter of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States. AEA will celebrate its 100th anniversary on 26 May.]
With George and Ira Gershwin’s Nice Work if You Can Get It enjoying a run on Broadway, and Porgy and Bess the recipient of the 2012 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival, this month’s Musical Quiz highlights the musical brothers. Questions come from The Musical Quiz Book by Laura Frankos, published by Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, and reprinted with permission.
1. George and Ira’s first big hit was 1924’s Lady, Be Good!, with book by Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson and starring Fred and Adele Astaire. Lady, Be Good!, with its jazz-influenced score, would run for over 300 performances, and is today seen as a landmark show for the era. Which song used a piece George had previously written that he called “Syncopated City”?
A. “Oh, Lady, Be Good”B. “The Half of It, Dearie, Blues”
C. “Hang On to Me”
D. “Fascinating Rhythm”
E. “Little Jazz Bird”
2. Tip-Toes (1926) reunited the creative team from Lady, Be Good! with the same producers, Alex Aarons and Vinton Freedley—the second of the seven Gershwin shows they would produce. This was a zippy, often satirical piece about a flapper and her uncles, and Ira gave full rein to his love of the vernacular in lyrics. Whose comic style did he hope to emulate in some of his lyrics for Tip-Toes?
A. Alexander WoollcottB. Lorenz Hart
C. Irving Berlin
D. W. S. Gilbert
E. P. G. Wodehouse
3. The brothers followed up Tip-Toes with another success in Oh, Kay! (1926), starring Gertrude Lawrence and Victor Moore. Howard Dietz helped with some lyrics when Ira had an emergency appendectomy. The plot (book by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse) was classic ‘20s fluff about rumrunners during Prohibition, but the score was studded with hits: “Clap Yo’ Hands,” “Do, Do, Do,” “Maybe,” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” What prop was Gertie Lawrence holding when she introduced “Someone to Watch Over Me”?
A. a teddy bearB. a stuffed lamb
C. a feather duster, since she was in disguise as a maid
D. a long, long scarf
E. a rag doll
4. Rosalie (1928) ended up a success because of its star, Marilyn Miller, not the score. George and Ira were working on two other shows at the time, but when producer Flo Ziegfeld talked, people listened. The brothers contributed about half the songs, using a lot of trunk material, as did the songwriter(s) responsible for the other half (working on three other shows at the time). Who was/were the other songwriter(s)?
A. Rudolf FrimlB. DeSylva, Brown and Henderson
C. Sigmund Romberg
D. Rodgers and Hart
E. Jerome Kern
5. Girl Crazy (1930) shows up on the radar of many Broadway buffs because it marked the sensational debut of Ethel Merman (though Ginger Rogers was the lead). The goofy story had a New York playboy heading to Arizona, leading to fun with cowpokes and chorines. The phenomenal score includes hits like “But Not for Me,” “I Got Rhythm,” “Sam and Delilah,” “Could You Use Me?” and “Embraceable You.” This jazzy songfest had a ton of heavy hitters playing in the pit. Who was not in the orchestra for Girl Crazy?
A. Gene KrupaB. Jimmy Dorsey
C. Benny Goodman
D. Glenn Miller
E. Bunny Berigan
6. Of Thee I Sing (1931) ran for 441 performances and became the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize, which was awarded to Ira for his lyrics and to Kaufman and Ryskind for their libretto, but not to George. (The Pulitzer committee has since then added George’s name, but he didn’t get any of the money.) This satire of politics introduced John Wintergreen, running for president on a ticket of love. He gets into trouble, however, when he prefers Mary Turner and her homemade muffins over the girl who won the contest, Diane Devereaux, to be his sweetheart. This turns into an international fracas when Diane’s French ancestry is revealed and the French ambassador files a protest. The honor guard accompanying the ambassador has a lovely bit of French nonsense penned by Ira to some trunk music George had left over from Girl Crazy. What typically “French” item listed below is not mentioned in Ira’s lyrics?
A. escargotB. crépes-suzette
C. Chevrolet coupé
E. Maurice Chevalier
7. The brothers followed this smash with two flops in 1933, Pardon My English and the ill-advised sequel to Of Thee I Sing, Let ‘Em Eat Cake. Their next effort was the classic Porgy and Bess, written in Porgy and Bess. What a treasure the musical world lost. Thankfully, Ira would live for many more years, and write more brilliant, idiosyncratic lyrics for Jerome Kern, Kurt Weill and Harold Arlen, among others. Which of the following is not true about Porgy and Bess?
A. the score was valued at a mere $250 when George’s estate was totaled in 1937B. the Danish so admired it they staged it despite Nazi opposition and used “It Ain’t Necessarily So” to block German broadcasts
C. Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern considered doing a musical Porgy based on Heyward’s play with Al Jolson playing the lead in blackface
D. The New York Times was so confused about whether it was an opera or a musical that they sent both their music critic and their theatre critic to the premiere
E. Porgy and Bess arose out of George’s one-act black opera, Blue Monday Blues, which played for one night during the George White’s Scandals of 1922 before being cut.
Answers to Musical Quiz
1. D. “Fascinating Rhythm” developed out of the earlier “Syncopated City.”
2. E. Ira used P.G. Wodehouse as his inspiration for the lyrics to Tip-Toes.
3. E. Gertie was holding a rag doll that George bought for her in a Philadelphia toy store while Oh, Kay! was on tryout.
4. C. Sigmund Romberg wrote the other half of Rosalie’s score, with most of the lyrics to his melodies by P. G. Wodehouse. There were two Gershwin songs and one Romberg number on which Ira and Wodehouse collaborated.
5. E. Bunny Berigan wasn’t in the pit for Girl Crazy.
6. A. Ira does not mention escargot among the Frenchified mishmash he created for the French honor guard.
7. E. Blue Monday Blues predates DuBose Heyward’s novel Porgy (1925) by three years. George wanted to do a musical version of the novel as soon as he read it during a bout of insomnia in 1926, even before Heyward had adapted it into a straight play.