Comic Opera Guild revives two more early American musicals, including one by Jerome Kern
What’s that they say about everything old being new again?
Just ask members of Ann Arbor’s Comic Opera Guild, which is reviving two more forgotten American musicals. Performances of Gustav Luders’ “The Prince of Pilsen” and Jerome Kern’s “The Girl from Utah” will take place on alternating days Thursday-Sunday at the Vitosha Concert Hall, formerly the Universalist Church on Washtenaw Avenue.
“Nobody has recorded their works, and sometimes it is very difficult to find the materials, but we were able to find the materials for these two and so we’re going ahead and bringing a couple more to life,” said Comic Opera Guild Managing Director Tom Petiet.
As has become Comic Opera Guild practice, the shows will be recorded, not only for posterity but also to be made available for other groups wishing to perform the works.
“The whole idea is to not only perform for people in town, but the ultimate goal is to produce the first recording ever made of the shows and that is essentially what we will come up with, two recordings that will be unique in that respect,” he said.
Although Kern remains a familiar name, Luders has faded into obscurity, and that’s a shame, said Petiet.“Gustav Luders is not well known today, but then again there are a lot of composers who wrote for Broadway back in the early the part of the century who have kind of disappeared from knowledge,” Petiet said. “He was quite popular around the turn of the century and this was his biggest hit.”
The Kern show was written in 1913 by Paul Reubens and Sidney Jones and originally opened on the West End in London, explained Petiet. “It was brought to the United States two years later, but the promoters at that time decided they would like to have more American content, so they hired Jerome Kern to provide five new songs for the show. It’s a real mixed bag,” Petiet said, adding that one of Kern’s contributions, “They Didn’t Believe Me,” was the composer’s first big hit. Another well-known song from the score is “Ballin’ the Jack,” by Chris Smith.
Since the works date from the beginning of the 20th century, considerable research was required to find the scores and the scripts, which were never published. As it turned out, Petiet said, both scripts were discovered in The National Library of Australia.
In 1904’s “The Prince of Pilsen,” complications follow when a Cincinnati beer baron (considered the King of Pilsner), vacationing in France, is mistaken for a visiting noble (The Prince of Pilsen).
“The Girl from Utah” involves a girl running from Utah to England to escape being made one of the wives of a Mormon elder. This character never appears, but the panic of running from him brings the girl together with a young British actor.
Cast members come from Southeast Michigan and northern Ohio. The role of the Prince of Pilsen will be sung by Ed Pember, a baritone who has sung with Michigan Opera Theater and the Detroit Symphony. The “Girl from Utah” will feature David Andrews, well-known to fans of Gilbert and Sullivan for his portrayals with the University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society.
David Troiano will conduct, and the singers will be accompanied by the duo piano team of Patrick Johnson and Margaret Counihan.
Recording and selling the shows has turned into a profitable venture for the Comic Opera Guild.
“We actually are making much more money on our recordings these days than we are giving performances,” Petiet said. “We have about 40 shows, recordings of American operettas and musicals from the early part of the (last) century; that’s what we’ve been concentrating on the last eight years. We’ve commercially printed those and sell them. We also have recordings of our European operettas that we have done for many years.
“We’ve got a sort of a niche here,” he added. “No one else is doing this, surprisingly enough.”