Directed by My Old Boss, Rouben Mamoulian: Marlene Dietrich Sings “Happy Birthday, Johnny” from The Song of Songs (Paramount, 1933) Just for My Bonny John Wilson, Conductor

25 May, 2019. This afternoon someone in Glyndebourne will be cutting my beloved John Wilson’s cake into tiny little slices, and so I wish them all well at the gathering.

The Song of Songs
La Dietrich inspires a handsome young English orchestra conductor to artistic heights with her transfiguring and deeply sexual love in this erotically frank Pre-Code movie from Paramount. If only you understood dirty German, my bonny…


The entire film The Song of Songs directed by Rouben Mamoulian is available on my YT channel here



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JB Priestley’s The Good Companions in 1933 with John Gielgud and Jessie Matthews; in 1974 with Judi Dench; in 2000 at the Eureka Theatre, SF; and in 2009 Conducted by John Wilson My Bonny

From MusicalCriticism.com, 2009: As part of the celebrations for Johnny Mercer’s centenary, the BBC Concert Orchestra mounted two semi-staged performances of his final stage musical, The Good Companions, at the Watford Colosseum in Hertfordshire. Conductor John Wilson—who led the phenomenally popular MGM Prom this August, as well as a fantastic concert performance of My Fair Lady in Gateshead in July—came together with an experienced cast that included Liz Robertson, Ian Talbot and Annalene Beechey to perform the show, which was first staged in London in 1974. The results could not have been more entertaining.

Above Inigo, Susie Dean and Miss Trant: Judi Dench, from the 1974 West End production, sings “Darkest Before Dawn”.


The Good Companions is based on JB Priestley’s most popular novel—indeed the work that solidified his reputation. It tells the tale of an upper-middle class woman who—quite against the advice of her relatives—decides to use her newfound wealth to fund a group of strolling players whose director has run off with all the money; escape is a strong theme of the show. One can see why the backstage musical flavour of the novel must have appealed to the book and song writers.

The libretto for the West End show was adapted by Ronald Harwood, Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Pianist. Composer Andre Previn, former Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, wrote the music for the Gene Kelly film It’s Always Fair Weather and conducted the films Gigi and My Fair Lady. Lyricist Mercer received nineteen Academy Award nominations and was the lyricist of dozens of American standards including “Moon River” and “The Days of Wine and Roses”.

In short, the piece is an underrated little gem (the original cast album starring Judi Dench, John Mills and Marti Webb was briefly available but is now a rarity), and in conductor John Wilson’s taut performance all the nuances came through. It seems the project has been a labour of love for him: the original full orchestral score was lost after being simplified for amateur productions, and although some of the original performing parts were eventually discovered by Caroline Underwood of the Warner/Chappell music publishers, Wilson has had to restore parts of the score for which no material survived. He has rendered the work of Angela Morley and Herb Spencer, the orchestrators of the original production, extremely sympathetically, and led the performance with verve.

With the Maida Vale Singers covering a range of smaller roles and raising the roof in the ensemble numbers, and the BBC Concert Orchestra playing at their exquisite best, this was a superb evening. One hopes the same team will explore more classic musicals in the future, but in the meantime the Radio 3 broadcast on 16 November at 7pm is not to be missed. ~Dominic McHugh


An excerpt from the musical film The Good Companions with Jessie Matthews and John Gielgud is available on my YT channel here



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Give a Girl a Break (MGM, 1952): The Movie That Clinches My 3-Degrees Connection to English Conductor John Wilson

From Simona Wing to Gerard Damiano to Helen Wood to Andre Previn to John Wilson—Cantara’s three degrees from her beloved conductor.

Julie Andrews, Jon Cypher in Cinderella 1957Give a Girl a Break (trailer here) is a US 1953 musical comedy film starring Debbie Reynolds and the dance team of Marge and Gower Champion. Helen Wood, Richard Anderson, Kurt Kaszner and a young Bob Fosse have featured roles. At only 88 minutes, Give a Girl a Break shows residual elements of the big project it started out to be, with a passable score by Burton Lane and Ira Gershwin, direction by Stanley Donen, and musical direction by Andre Previn.


Degree rule: You have to’ve personally worked with the person in the next degree. I worked with Damiano in his 1981 porn classic Beyond Your Wildest Dreams as Simona Wing; Damiano wrote and directed 1972’s Deep Throat, which Helen Wood (as Dolly Sharp) was in; Helen Wood co-starred in the musical Give a Girl a Break, on which the musical director was Andre Previn; Previn worked on the 2012 Proms My Fair Lady with my beloved John Wilson.

Above Marge, Debbie and Helen: The overture to the 2012 Proms My Fair Lady, with John conducting The John Wilson Orchestra in his own arrangement of Andre Previn’s orchestration of the film score.


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My First Music: How the English Do It—Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto in Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter—David Lean, director; Noel Coward, producer; Cineguild 1945.

Brief EncounterAbove: Rachmaninoff’s entire Piano Concerto No. 2, played by Australian pianist Eileen Joyce in the famous ending of Brief Encounter.

From Jeremy Paxman’s 1998 The English: A Portrait of a People:

Take David Lean’s 1945 tale of forbidden love, Brief Encounter. The couple meet in the tearoom of a railway station, where she is waiting for the steam train home after a day’s shopping. A speck of coal dirt gets caught in her eye and, without a word of introduction, the gallant local doctor steps forward and removes it. The following eighty minutes of this beautifully written movie depict their deepening love and guilt each feels about it. …

As Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto comes and goes in the background, their affair unfolds, measured out in cups of tea in the waiting room of Milford station. … Being English, Celia Johnson feels no animosity towards her husband, whom she considers “kindly and unemotional”. Trevor Howard, equally trapped in a dry marriage, also expresses no hostility towards his wife and children. But the two of them are in the force of a passion they can hardly control. “We must be sensible,” is the constant refrain. “If we control ourselves, there’s still time.” In the end, despite all the protestations of undying devotion, the romance remains unconsummated…

What does this most popular of English films tell us about the English?


The entire film Brief Encounter is available on my YT channel here


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