Lost Musicals: Lerner & Loewe’s The Day Before Spring

The Day Before Spring
Musical comedy with music by Frederick Loewe to lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner from his book [UK premiere]

Katherine Townsend – Madeleine Worrall
Peter Townsend – Henry Luxemburg
Bill – Nathan Taylor
May – Michelle Moran
Alex Maitland – David Habbin
Eddie Warren – Matt Stevens
Joe McDonald – Stephen Reynolds
Josephine – Lisa Lynch
Nancy – Cristin Curtin
Gerald – Vlach Ashton
Christopher Randolph – Kaisa Hammarlund
Plato – Christopher Connah
Voltaire – Tim Thomas
Freud – Harry Landis

Chris Walker – Music Director & Pianist

Ian Marshall Fisher – Director

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 20 June, 2010
Venue: Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London

It is amazing how careless theatre people can be. You would think that all the material produced by the creators of “My Fair Lady”, arguably the best and most durable of the musical-theatre shows of the twentieth-century, would have been assembled and stored together in a library or archive. But the case is not so, for Frederick Loewe’s score for “The Day Before Spring” (1945), the second show that he and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner staged for Broadway, seemed to have completely disappeared. Following “What’s Up?” (their 1943 show) “The Day Before Spring” was a modest success that ran for just 167 performances, about five months. Still, it was the show that made both theatre people and the general public take notice. Here was a team that could really produce the goods. The rest of the story – namely “Brigadoon” (1947), “Paint Your Wagon” (1951), “My Fair Lady” (1956), “Gigi” (1958) and “Camelot” (1960) – is theatre and cinema history.

Despite the short run of “The Day Before Spring”, MGM took an option on the show but the film was not made, the score was never published and the songs were not recorded. Some of the latter appeared as sheet music and Loewe re-used bits of the music in future shows, while Lerner recycled at least one of the jokes for “Royal Wedding”. When the show was mooted for a New York revival in 1990 only the book was still intact. All that was left of the music were the seven songs as sheet music. MGM couldn’t find a score, so some of those involved in the 1945 production were asked to recall how the show had been pieced together. Where there were gaps, pastiche Lerner & Loewe music was substituted in order to have a more or less complete score.

Another US revival in 2007 found that the 1990 production was too vague a version of the original. However, in between the two productions the Library of Congress had acquired a number of documents from an auction of Frederick Loewe memorabilia which included songs and sketches for “The Day Before Spring”. After a good deal of further research and restoration, almost the complete original score was intact. Cut now to this year and Ian Marshall Fisher’s intention of including the show in his Lost Musicals season. A young British scholar, one Dominic McHugh, was studying in the States and located a score of “The Day Before Spring” via the internet and so the long-forgotten show by Lerner and Loewe finally receives its British premiere.

In the event it is a bit of a mixed bag, with its ‘rom-com’ plot and just a few moderately good songs that are reprised perhaps once too often. The book concerns a college reunion with Harvard lightly disguised as Harrison University, giving Lerner a chance to take a few pot-shots in a trip down memory lane. Sounding like a pre-echo of Sondheim’s “Follies”, the reunion opens up old wounds and old loves. Katherine Townsend and her husband Peter revisit the place where Katherine nearly eloped with another student, Alex Maitland, who has since written a book about their affair. A car breakdown gave Katherine pause for thought and she went on to marry Peter instead. This time, after ten years of marriage, she is ready to run away again with Alex and they almost make it, but… And then Peter in turn takes a shine to another old flame, a girl confusingly called Christopher.

Lerner’s cast of characters are mostly well-heeled upper-crusters even if one member declares “We were so poor, we couldn’t afford a mother”. There is smart talk as per usual for the times with settings including a library in a New York apartment, the University library, and the cellar of the Resident House at Harrison University. The show is peopled by hoorays of both sexes plus statues of Plato, Voltaire and Freud who ingeniously come to life to offer answers for the young lovers’ plights.

It’s a simple-enough situation, a sort of ‘rom-com sit-com’, a chamber musical that would probably suit a small fringe theatre like the Donmar Warehouse. The original, however, was quite splashy in 1945 with a large chorus and it had dances for each of the main characters with choreography by Antony Tudor which Ian Marshall Fisher has promised to recreate in the last performance of the current run. The title song is pleasant enough as are most of the numbers, although there is a very old-fashioned air about them, particularly ‘I Love You This Morning’, the Act Two duet for Alex and Katherine which sounds a touch like Ivor Novello.

The alumni chorus numbers are well-handled – ‘Friends to the End’ and ‘Where’s My Wife?’, the latter having the feeling of a “My Fair Lady” number in its spirited and earnest speediness. The comedy-number between Plato, Voltaire and Freud (with Christopher Connah, Tim Thomas and Harry Landis, respectively) is the most witty, with Plato recommending staying in a Platonic relationship (of course), the French philosopher going for an elopement, and the very Jewish psychoanalyst suggesting they keep the affair a secret.

Madeleine Worrall as Katherine has a powerful voice for her protestations of love. Henry Luxemburg is more laidback as her husband Peter. Nathan Taylor and Michelle Moran are fine as Bill and May, a rather jaded old-married couple, David Habbin as Alex, the writer who wants to rekindle the old spark, makes his character as charismatic as Katherine needs him to be. Kaisa Hammarlund as the good time girl Christopher has just the right mixture of seductive innocence in her number ‘A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread and Thou, Baby’, while Vlach Ashton seems to be a natural musical-comedy player capable of making his audience aware that what they are seeing really matters. It’s good to see a performer who at least appears to believe in the material.

This is prototype Lerner & Loewe because the best was yet to be, but “The Day Before Spring” is interesting because of its rarity value. Perhaps now it will be possible to treasure these lost scores, otherwise Lost Musicals will have nothing left to rediscover.

  • The Day Before Spring is at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London EC1 on Sundays, June 27 and July 4 at 4pm, and July 11 at 2 p.m.
  • The final show this season is Darling of the Day (1968) by Jule Styne, E. Y. Harburg and Nunnally Johnson on Sundays August 22 & 29 and September 5, 12 & 19 at 3 p.m. at the National Portrait Gallery, Charing Cross Road, London WC2
  • Tickets at £21.00 & £27.50
  • Sadler’s Wells Box Office: 0844 412 4300
  • Sadler’s Wells

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content