Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Tonight I saw a staged reading of the 1955 Cole Porter/George S. Kaufman musical "Silk Stockings," part of the Lost Musicals series, where they do readings of forgotten old musicals by well-known writers. That link gives a synopsis of the show:

Synopsis: Special envoy Nina Yaschenko is dispatched from the Soviet Union to rescue three foolish commissars who have been seduced by the pleasures of Paris. She is romanced by theatrical agent Steven Canfield and eventually comes to recognize the viruses of capitalist indulgence. Other characters include Peter Boroff, Russia's greatest composer, who is being wooed by Janice Dayton, America's swimming sweetheart, to write the music for her first serious, non-swimming picture, War and Peace.

The musical was interesting in one respect as a look back at 1950s attitudes about capitalism and communism. A lot of the show was about the uber-rational, uber-serious anti-emotional communists coming to see that there are things about the world to be enjoyed, and only capitalism lets you enjoy them. Seeing it, from that perspective, was really neat. There was a song by the Russian lead about how love is just a chemical reaction, and jokes about her lack of a sense of humor, and how maybe if she stayed in Paris long enough, she might eventually figure out how to tell a joke. There was a scene where the two Communist henchmen (characters played completely for comedy) are trying to convince their boss that they should stay in the expensive hotel instead of the boarding house, and he's resisting because the hotel is everything that's wrong with capitalism, but eventually they convince him, and they sing about how it's "too bad" they have to stay in the elegant hotel.

There was another song that made the show interesting in another respect. Gender roles in the 1950s. The big love ballad had a line in the chorus that went like this:

"A woman, to a man, is just a woman. But a man, to a woman, is her life."

I think it's safe to say that a line like that wouldn't ever find itself in a contemporary musical unless it was making fun of something. But it's interesting to hear it, and to get that glimpse into how attitudes even just 50 years ago were very different from today in some respects.

There was also a song about how acting and writing doesn't matter in the movies, but it's all about "technicolor and stereophonic sound." Ha. I thought that was a pretty neat number.

The show's long, and since it's just a staged reading, it gets a little slow at times. So I can't go so far as to recommend it, but it does make you think about some of this stuff, and as a historical piece, it was pretty interesting.

Doing a Google search... It ran in London before coming to New York, and The Guardian seems to agree with my take (click the link for its entire review):

The show, which ran for 478 performances on Broadway and later became a film, is chiefly interesting as a reminder of the way musicals can be used as political propaganda. Lest we are in any doubt, there is an inappropriately comic account of the horrors of Siberian exile. But even late, inferior Porter has flashes of the old lyric wit: the hero, for instance, sings of "the urge to merge with the splurge of the spring".

... It's not a good musical, but, as an evocation of the political rigidity of the Eisenhower era, it has a certain grisly fascination.