Face the Music, which opened a successful run of 165 performances at the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway on February 17, 1932, marked a return to musical comedy for songwriter Irving Berlin, following five years of lucrative mistreatment in Hollywood. Berlin teamed with book writer Moss Hart and the directing/producing team behind the Gershwins' 1931 political satire Of Thee I Sing, George S. Kaufman and Sam H. Harris. The idea was to come up with a present-day show that commented wittily on various aspects of contemporary life in New York including the Great Depression, police corruption, and the use of sex to sell theater tickets. One of Hart's ideas was to have a theatrical producer deliberately put on a money-losing show for nefarious financial reasons, a plot that predated Mel Brooks' The Producers by decades. Berlin's warm-hearted score, which did not match Hart's more farcical libretto, produced two hits, "Let's Have Another Cup of Coffee" and "Soft Lights and Sweet Music." (Later, "I Say It's Spinach (And the Hell with It)" enjoyed some popularity in nightclubs.) But after the show undertook a national tour and a brief return to New York, it was put away and forgotten, never to be revived. Seventy-five years passed, and then in the spring of 2007, Encores!, the New York theater organization devoted to mounting semi-staged concert versions of "lost" musicals, put it on, garnering enough critical notice for DRG Records to commission this, the first cast recording ever made. It is worth noting that the Encores! approach is one of restoration, which differs markedly from the kind of revivals usually seen of works by masters like Berlin on Broadway. The latter, sometimes referred to by critics as "revisicals," tend toward new musical arrangements, drastically rewritten scripts, and interpolations of hit songs from other musicals by the songwriter. While the Encores! concerts do alter the theatrical books of the shows to scale them down (the papier-mâché elephant that was a high point of the final scene of the original production of Face the Music had to go), painstaking effort is made to find and employ original orchestrations and a semblance of the style the show had the first time around. And so it is with Face the Music, which means that, on disc, one hears a bunch of Berlin songs that have gone largely unperformed in 75 years or more. (Four songs that were cut from the original production before its opening have been added back.) They are all sturdy efforts, though none is a lost gem. Critics have pointed out that the ever-timely Berlin had taken account of musical changes since his last show in 1927, and that his songs for Face the Music sound like the '30s, not throwbacks to his earlier styles. It is also notable that, while Berlin is thought of as not having written "book" songs expressing character and plot development until Annie Get Your Gun in 1946, in fact many of his songs for Face the Music do relate directly to the show, starting with the amusing choral number "Lunching at the Automat," which finds New York bluebloods forced to eat fast food in the wake of the Depression. Encores! has employed a talented ensemble cast including stage veteran Judy Kaye (who gets to belt out a gospel-style number, "If You Believe"), and they sound convincingly like 1930s performers. Face the Music is not a major Irving Berlin score, but it is an entertaining minor one, and it's great that it finally has a cast recording.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
|Face the Music, musical|