Sally (1920) is not one of Jerome Kern's more frequently performed musicals, although it was a hit in its own time and ran for some 570 performances. The reputation of the work may have suffered because it's a patchwork: the book and lyrics had contributions from P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Anne Caldwell, Buddy de Sylva, and Clifford Grey. Kern himself recycled material from other works, and there is an interpolated waltz by Victor Herbert leading up to an extremely abrupt finale. None of it matters. Kern's audiences were right, and posterity has been wrong. The mixed-bag quality of the work is a strength, not a weakness, and Kern's ability to find a musical framework for it pointed the way, more than his other early works, to the masterworks to come. Sally is still an operetta, but just barely, and American vernacular materials -- not so much jazz yet, but it's there -- are poking out everywhere. The tale tells of Sally, a poor girl who gets a dishwashing job in a posh Greenwich Village inn and then impersonates a Russian ballerina and becomes entangled in romantic complications. Along the way are satirizations of Jane Addams-type social work, the rags-to-riches archetype (the ethnic hit song "Sally in Our Alley" is built up into a big soap bubble), Eastern European political instability, the classic waltz, and more, all with good humor. The opera's most enduring and endearing tune has been "Look for the Silver Lining," but sample also "The Schnitze-Kommiski," a laugh-out-loud, riverine waltz parody. Credit goes to the singers of the Light Opera of New York, whose nickname of LOONY shows that they approach the material with the requisite low degree of seriousness, yet also with the requisite suspension of disbelief, and to conductor Gerald Steichen for keeping things moving. The diction is such that the included libretto is largely superfluous. This is a great deal of fun and is really essential for those who love Jerome Kern.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by James Manheim