Lost Gershwin Musical La La Lucille Recovered | Playbill

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On the Rialto Lost Gershwin Musical La La Lucille Recovered

The piece, the composer's first full-length musical, premiered in 1919.

Good news theatre nerds! La, La, Lucille, George Gershwin's long-lost first full-length book musical, has been recovered.

The musical, which played Broadway in 1919, was written when Gershwin was just 21 years of age. Following its Broadway bow, the musical toured the Northeast in 1920, and California in 1922. A 1926 regional production featuring Busby Berkeley marked the musical's final "official" production, with much of the show's book and score disappearing from public view in the ensuing years. Wisconsin's Third Avenue Playhouse presented a reproduction based on then-extant materials in 2019.

While eight piano-vocal selections were published from the musical during Gershwin's lifetime, the show had been considered functionally lost for nearly a century, with the only examples of the show's original orchestration existing in interpolations that Gershwin had borrowed from himself for later works, which were eventually preserved by the Library of Congress.

This past August, University of Michigan researcher Jacob Kerzner discovered a large, worn box deep in the Samuel French Collection at Amherst College. Said Kerzner, "[I was] expecting nothing more than what we had thought was extant, but as I sifted through almost 800 pages of music, many crumbling at the edges, I gradually confirmed that these materials were indeed from the supposedly 'lost' show."

The box contained the totality of the show's original orchestration, including flute, cello, trumpet, trombone, percussion, violin, bass, and piano lines as written by Gershwin and orchestrated by Frank Saddler.

Former Samuel French musicals editor and archivist Ron Spivak shared with Kerzner that the mysterious box had been unearthed in 1984, when the air-conditioned space that had housed the organization's original mainframe computer was dismantled for a move. Behind the cubicle, the staff had discovered a 20-foot wall of shelves filled with materials from the 1920s and ’30s, including Of Thee I Sing, a discovery that led to the 1987 studio recording. La, La, Lucille was hidden on one of the shelves, but was not opened during transport, leading to the musical's continued reputation as lost for an additional 37 years.

Unfortunately the musical's piano-vocal score remains lost, meaning that the ensemble vocal parts remain lost as well.

The musical, which centers on a young married couple who are forced to divorce in order to inherit a millionaire'ss fortune, featured a book by Frederick Jackson, with lyrics primarily by Buddy DeSylva and Arthur J. Jackson. Additional songs included lyrics by Irving Caesar and Lou Paley. An intended contribution by George's brother, Ira Gershwin, was cut from the production before its Broadway bow.

Opening at Henry Miller's Theatre (now the Stephen Sondheim) May 26, 1919, the musical was suspended August 19 when Actor’s Equity Association called the first strike in American theatre history. It later reopened at the Criterion Theatre, where it ran from September 8 to October 11, prior to beginning its two tours. A silent film adaptation was released in July 1920, but it is considered lost media.

For more information on Kerzner's remarkable find and the efforts taken by the Gershwin Initiative to preserve the artistic contributions of the Gershwin brothers, visit SMTD.UMich.edu.

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