Knickerbocker Holiday

Knickerbocker Holiday

by Walter HustonWalter Huston


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When Kurt Weill arrived in America in 1935, he turned initially to the equivalent communities that had supported his talent in Europe -- the political left and the Judaic theater in New York. While Weill was involved in several interesting productions in his first three years in New York, they didn't sell a lot of tickets, and Weill began to worry that he might not be able to assimilate to the climate of New York-based theater. That all changed when he scored his first Broadway hit in 1938, Knickerbocker Holiday, a politically charged and, by the standards of the time, rather right-leaning show co-written with Winterset playwright Maxwell Anderson. Neither had written a Broadway musical before, but despite that, the show was a hit, scoring 168 performances on the strength of Weill's evergreen "September Song" and a fabulous star turn by seasoned character actor Walter Huston. Knickerbocker Holiday was converted into an independently made movie in 1944, but the producers opted not to use Huston in the critical role of Pieter Stuyvesant and cast veteran actor Charles Coburn instead, an interesting, if odd, choice. Huston made a commercial 78 of "September Song" when the show was still in its first run, but if it weren't for this radio adaptation for the Theater Guild of the Air, originally broadcast December 30, 1945, Huston's definitive performance of this part would be lost to listeners. This AEI disc consists of that hourlong broadcast with the intro, outro, and commercial breaks snipped out, and it was first released on LP. This is one of AEI's better transfers, relatively limited in frequency response and not wholly free of the heterodyning common to vintage radio material, but with only a minimum of surface noise. It is certainly listenable and easy to understand, except for the finale at the end, where the chorus unwittingly makes a jumble of the words to "That's How You Tell an American." The notes provide plenty of background on the original 1938 show, but not much on this 1945 broadcast version. One would like to know, for example, why the role of Tina is played by original cast member Jeanne Madden in the first act and Theater Guild regular Jean Darling in the second -- Darling, it must be surmised, must not have been able to sing. It is a pity that Richard Kollmar, who originated the role of Brom Broeck on Broadway, could not have been imported into this radio production as well -- Kollmar was no stranger to radio, and in late 1945 had just begun his 18-year stint as co-host of Breakfast with Dorothy and Dick on WOR. Theater Guild regular David Brooks covers the part of Brom adequately, though, and as a whole, this broadcast is an essential primary document that provides a glimpse of what it was like to take in a Kurt Weill Broadway show in its first run. It is a highly entertaining show, too, with witty, literate political satire written by the usually dead serious Anderson and Walter Huston in peak form as Stuyvesant. "All Hail the Political Honeymoon," indeed!

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