Irving Berlin’s Miss Liberty, getting its UK concert premiere at Firth Hall next week, had impeccable pre-premiere credentials in 1949.
Berlin with Annie Get Your Gun just under his belt, wrote the music and lyrics, triple Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Sherwood the book, Moss Hart was the director and, when show opened on Broadway after a four-week run in Philadelphia, Jerome Robbins the choreographer.
As most people will never have heard of the show, it is pointless to say it never caught on. The New York critics generally hammered it, as had those in Philadelphia where, in actual fact, every performance was a sell-out.
Many of its songs became popular hits at the time and it seems 98 singles were released along with three albums of the show’s tunes, one of them presumably being the original New York cast recording.
The show had been Sherwood’s idea after being moved by seeing what the Statue of Liberty meant to American GIs in World War Two and Berlin took to the idea when he approached him with it.
The playwright duly devised a scenario about the woman who had posed for the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France should you not know.
In a nutshell: a rookie reporter, Horace Miller, is sent to France to discover who the statue artist, Bartholdi’s model was. Entering Bartholdi’s studio, he sees Monique DuPont posing as the statue and naturally assumes it was she.
Taking her and her infamous grandmother, the ‘Countess’, to America, Monique is horrified to find out who she is supposed to be, but reluctantly goes along with the deception. Then the model is revealed as actually being Bartholdi’s mother . . .!
It was Sherwood’s first and last attempt to write for the musical stage. Moss Hart would have been aware of its shortcomings, but Sherwood continually refused to alter it, except once before the show opened in New York!
One of the things Hart may well have picked up on was one hero, Horace, and two girls, Monique and his American girlfriend Maisie whom he ditches at the end for no reason in favour of Monique.
All three are of equal importance dramatically and, musically, just about carry the show away from the ensembles, except for two notable exceptions, the Countess’s witty Only For Americans and the rather lovely Paris Wakes Up and Smiles sung by a lamplighter.
There are delightful songs in it – hence, 98 singles recorded! Horace’s A Little Fish in a Big Pond, his two duets with Monique, Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk and Just One Way to Say I Love You, and Maisie’s ragtime-inflected The Policeman’s Ball, all bear mention.
A clever duet for the two girls, You Can Have Him, is worth noting and then there is Berlin’s unabashed patriotism at the end, his setting of the Emma Lazarus poem at the base of the statue “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor,” sung by Monique(!) and chorus.
But this was not the Berlin of Annie Get Your Gun or his subsequent Call Me Madam the year after Miss Liberty.
Jule Styne’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes put an end to the show on Broadway and such things as South Pacific and Kiss Me Kate were also contemporary with Berlin’s show, which must have seemed old-fashioned and in, all honesty, was if that is considered a failing.
Engaging music yes, but it never had a chance!