Noël Coward's 1931 play Cavalcade was a three-hour panorama with a cast numbering in the hundreds that pushed the technical limits of stagecraft for its time as it chronicled the first 30 years of the 20th century as experienced by an upper class British family and its servants. Beginning with the Boer War and continuing on to the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, and beyond, the story saw characters grow up, grow old, and, in some cases, die. For the Christmas season of 1936, CBS radio in the U.S. presented a one-hour adaptation that, necessarily, truncated the extravaganza into an aural drama with a handful of characters and sound effects. That version appears on this album. Film stars Herbert Marshall and Madeleine Carroll play the principal roles of Robert Marryot and his wife Jane, with David Niven as their doomed son Edward (who sails off on his honeymoon on the Titanic), and Una O'Connor, reprising her performance on the London stage, as Ellen Bridges, a maid who comes up (somewhat) in society. Coward, speaking from his Broadway dressing room (he was appearing in Tonight at 8:30, another of his plays, at the time), introduces the production, which also features some of his background music, along with World War I anthems, "God Save the Queen," and other appropriate period tunes. Of course, this is only the merest suggestion of what the extravagant stage version was like, but it does suggest Coward's themes of social upheaval and British patriotism.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann