Julia Waldow | Design Editor
Composer Katharine “Kay” Swift first met composer and pianist George Gershwin at a birthday party she and her husband threw on April 17, 1925. Their mutual attraction grew, and as their decade-long affair blossomed, Swift channeled her conflicting feelings into her music for the show Fine and Dandy. By the time the show premiered in 1930, Swift’s husband had created the lyrics, and Swift had created history as the first woman to score a hit musical.
“Some couples have a baby to try to save a marriage,” Katharine Weber, Swift’s granddaughter and Kenyon’s Richard L. Thomas Visiting Professor of Creative Writing, said. “My grandparents had a Broadway show.”
Considered the most successful hit Broadway show that has never been revived, Fine and Dandy will premiere at Kenyon on April 18 at 7:30 p.m. in Rosse Hall. A satire set in a factory that features students from the Opera and Musical Theater Workshop and the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, the performance will be the first live show with a full cast and orchestra since its 255-week run 84 years ago.
“It’s thrilling, and it’s moving, hearing it come alive this way,” Weber said. “Hearing my grandparents’ intentions for the score fully performed makes me even more aware of their talent and complexity.”
Weber, who spoke about Fine and Dandy’s origins in her March 20 Common Hour presentation, proposed the idea for the production to Professor of Music Ted Buehrer last spring. Yet, the process for reviving the show began a decade prior, when Aaron Gandy, a Broadway specialist and the artistic adviser to the Kay Swift Trust, conducted a restoration recording of the musical’s songs.
“The show survived in tatters, at best. It was a matter of detective work to figure out what went where,” Gandy said at the Common Hour talk. “We had a program that told us things but was incomplete and named songs we don’t have. There’s a script that doesn’t match the program. We have piano vocals in Kay Swift’s hands, and that doesn’t match the script. Our approach was to emulate the original spirit of the production and make as much work with our group of actors, our singers, our orchestra, as we possibly could, and if not replicate the show, then at least give a good, honorable nod to what it must have been.”
Now equipped with the music for the production, Kenyon’s production of Fine and Dandy needed a revised script. Because the original show lacked a consistent plot and mostly focused on the antics of the main star, Joe Cook, Weber concocted fresh dialogue for the new show.
“You had a brilliant score and it was just hilariously funny, but you can’t bottle that and then add water and reconstitute it. It just doesn’t work,” Weber said to the Collegian. “[So] I have written the narrative script, which is a postmodern way of telling the audience what the show is and talking about the show and representing the show while not in the least attempting to put on the show. The audience is often addressed, and the show is often interrupted. If there are people talking, then someone is going to interrupt and say, ‘Wait, there’s too much talking. You’re supposed to fall in love with him, and he’s supposed to fall in love with you. Sing your song.’ It acknowledges that it’s a text and acknowledges its own textness.”
While challenging, the show’s music and plot revision process grants ample room for flexibility, change and creativity.
“It’s been an interesting process because most musicals are already set. The music is published, the script is exactly set, and if you do that show, you do it the way everyone does it,” Adjunct Instructor of Voice Jennifer Marcellana said. “It’s nice to have license to change a few things as needed, which you wouldn’t normally get to do with a [different] musical. And it’s also challenging because we have to come up with the right decisions as far as staging and music that will work best.”
Choreographed by Magic McBride, the show features multiple starring roles, giving Kenyon students ample opportunity to appear onstage and form a close-knit cast.
“I think it’s really great to see so many talented people get so many opportunities to showcase both their acting and singing prowess,” Grace Potter ‘17 said. “It also puts every cast member on equal footing; it truly feels like no one person is more important to the show than another. This has allowed us to bond more closely as a cast, and I’m really glad for it.”
Together, the cast, orchestra and directors look forward to putting on the production and presenting the musical’s resurrection to a new group of people.
“Having another generation discover the music is really beautiful,” Weber said.