Musical Theater Research Project

January, 2001

Home | Marilyn Miller | Film | Music


Opening Remarks by Ellwood Annaheim at the 2000 Musical Theater Research Project performance
Once upon a time, a businessman could relax after a hard day's work on Wall Street or Madison Avenue by taking in a Broadway musical comedy with his stay-at-home wife. Although good orchestra seats were top priced at a high $3.50 each, it was well worth the money to be entertained by the day's best performers and a bevy of scantily clad chorus girls. Jerome Kern's "Sally," as originally produced by Florenz Ziegfeld in 1920, was made to order for the tired businessman clientele.

Click here to view a larger image."Sally" opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York City on December 21, 1920, and, by the time it closed in 1924, it had become the longest running Broadway musical up to that time. By the end of the decade, "Sally" would prove to be among the top five moneymakers of the 1920s. The show was designed as the musical comedy debut of the 22-year old "Ziegfeld Follies" headliner Marilyn Miller (pictured at far left with Leon Errol in the original production). A talented protege of Ziegfeld, Miss Miller's debut with the "Follies" took place two years before in 1918. Although her rise to leading lady status appears meteoric, Marilyn Miller had been a part of the Broadway theater scene since her arrival in New York City in 1914. Primarily a dancer, Marilyn was also a gifted singer and actress. She would continue to reign on Broadway until her untimely death in 1936. Her three film appearances (including a 1929 full Technicolor and sound version of "Sally") were far less successful.

The story of the creation of "Sally" begins with the team of Jerome Kern, Guy Bolton, and P.G. Wodehouse (pictured below), three collaborators whose early musical comedies at the Princess Theatre were intended to scale down the opulence of the age of operetta. Having been asked by Broadway's most extravagant producer, Florenz Ziegfeld, to write a show for his star Marilyn Miller, the three men concocted a story which combined the innocence of their earlier musicals with the lavishness of the "Follies" formula. Eventually, Wodehouse would bow out and Guy Bolton would become ultimately responsible for the libretto. For his part, Kern seemed uninterested in the prospect of a Ziegfeld-produced musical comedy. Much of his score recycles material from previous shows, including "Look for the Silver Lining" and "Whip-poor-will" (with lyrics by Buddy De Sylva, from the flop "Zip Goes a Million"); "The Lorelei" (lyrics by Anne Caldwell); and "You Can't Keep a Good Girl Down" and "The Church 'Round the Comer" (lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse). Clifford Grey supplied the lyrics for the few new songs in the score. At the request of Ziegfeld, who believed Kern to be an inexperienced symphonic composer, Victor Herbert was engaged to write the music to "The Butterfly Ballet" in Act Three. Herbert also conducted the ballet on opening night.

PG Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Jerome KernThe Musical Theater Research Project's presentation of "Sally" tries to remain faithful to the original production Miss Miller's initial entrance in Act One was not the usual entrance that was afforded a star. She was actually "discovered" by the audience while cavorting with the chorus of orphans. Against everyone's wishes, Ziegfeld successfully cast a six-foot tall showgirl, known simply as "Delores," in the non-singing role of society matron Mrs. Ten Brock. The character inexplicably appears later in "The Butterfly Ballet." The role of Otis Hooper was originally intended for Leon Errol, but Errol had to turn it down when he couldn't get out of a previous commitment. The part was then offered to comedian Walter Catlett. When Errol's show proved to be a flop and he was once again available, Ziegfeld asked Bolton to rewrite the libretto to include a role for Errol. Eventually, the role of Connie, the Crown Duke of Czechogovinia, was added for the comedian.

Even though "Look for the Silver Lining" continues to be one of his most familiar songs, Kern's full score to "Sally" has not been published since 1922. But, fortunately library copies exist. Orchestrations, with the exception of a lone solo violin part, have not survived. Guy Bolton's libretto remains elusive. After a year of research, I was unable to come across a copy before we went into rehearsal. So, for this production, I have adapted the 1929 screenplay by Waldemar Young from the film of "Sally" and have included incidents from Bolton's original libretto where they were appropriate. I have supplied the dialog for scenes that do not exist in the film version. Our production is very modest in comparison to the obvious splendor of the Ziegfeld original. The expense of that production is unaffordable, by any means, today. But, I hope that through our staged concert performance, today's tired businessmen and businesswomen can capture some of the glory that was Broadway almost 80 years ago.

I am indebted to the following individuals for their research and support in bringing this production to fruition: Mark Horowitz of the Library of Congress, Dr. Henry Grossi and Maurice Saylor of the Rome School of Music Library at The Catholic University of America, and author Stephen Cole. 

Original Cast Members

Leon Errol

Marjorie Williams (in "Sally" costume)

Leon Errol (far right)

Leon Errol & Lupe Velez

Walter Catlett (standing with derby)

Guy Bolton, author (surrounded by the Gershwins)

© 2000 Ellwood Joseph Annaheim