Tom Lehrer comments on STRIKE UP THE BAND & OF THEE I SING
The 1927 musical satire STRIKE UP THE BAND, by George and Ira Gershwin and George S. Kaufman, will be presented until April 24, 2011 by San Francisco's 42nd Street Moon Theatre. A synopsis of the show can be found by selecting STRIKE UP THE BAND within the "show selector" at www.mtishows.com
. The website of 42nd St Moon is www.42ndstmoon.org
The paragraphs that follow are extracted from a letter that Tom Lehrer sent to me Dec 5, 1996. The context is that I had produced and directed the Southeastern US premiere production of STRIKE UP THE BAND in March-April 1995 in Williamsburg, VA. (The manuscripts had been lost for 50 years, and our production was only about the tenth production ever worldwide). After the show closed, some of the scripts were slow coming back to me and I had to pay for them. I then decided there was no better way to promote the show than to send a copy to the greatest satirist of the 1950's - 60s, as he was sure to be interested in this work of Ira Gershwin and George S. Kaufman. The script has never been published.
The full Ira Gershwin quatrain which Lehrer quoted in the letter is "We're in a bigger, better war / for your patriotic pasttime. / We don't know what we're fighting for, / but we didn't know the last time". Ira wrote an isolationist-leaning replacement for this circa 1937 and a patriotic replacement circa 1940.
"I apologize for taking so long to thank you for your letter and the STRIKE UP THE BAND book. (Don't take it personally -- I am an equal oppornutiy procrastinator.) I was delighted to receive the book, as I have long wondered what the script must have been like to warrant its being withdrawn and then rewritten, Naturally, I have the Nonesuch double CD, and I have long had the 1930 vocal score.
"I'm glad that MTI left in my favorite lines from the title song: "We're in a bigger better war/........./But we didn't know the last time." I deplore Ira's later vapid patriotic replacements.
"Congratulations on putting it on. I have never had a chance to see any actual production of either version. I am a devotee of OF THEE I SING -- who isn't? -- and have done it many times as a reading performance in my course on the American Musical at UC Santa Cruz. I might try an abridged STRIKE UP THE BAND in the same way someday. Last September I was fortunate enough to get a ticket to the Barbican Theatre's reading performance of OF THEE I SING in London (as you know, they do readings of old American musicals on certain Sunday afternoons). It was marvelous, uncut except for the dances, and best of all -- NO MIKES!!
"As you noted, most of the satire in STRIKE UP THE BAND works even today. I'm only sorry that they didn't satirize the love story to the same extent as they did the politics, the way they did later in OF THEE I SING."
"Anyway, thank you so much for the script. It is an invaluable addition to my musical theater library, and I shall cherish it."
(signed Tom Lehrer)