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8.110886 - ROMBERG: Romberg Conducts Romberg, Vol. 2 (1945-1950)
Sigmund Romberg (1887-1951)
My Maryland • The New Moon • Viennese Nights • May Wine • Sunny River
Up in Central Park
From the outset of his career a leading light in twentieth-century light operetta, the Hungarian (later naturalised American) Sigmund Romberg later won acclaim for several film-musicals. Born in Nagy-Kaniza on 29th July, 1887, he trained first in engineering at the University of Bucharest before studying music in Vienna with the composer-conductor Richard Heuberger (1850-1914). In 1909 he went to the United States to find work as an engineer, but unable to secure a suitable position turned again to music. After a brief spell as pianist-arranger with the salon orchestra of a Hungarian restaurant, in 1913 he settled permanently in New York where he became staff-composer to the Shuberts. In 1914 he scored their show Whirl Of The World which ran a healthy 161 performances at Broadway’s Winter Garden, kick-starting a career of more than fifty shows in operetta style, extending to the posthumously-premiered Girl In Pink Tights (1954).
During 1914 Romberg scored The Passing Show and contributed numbers to two more composite shows and the following year scored five more, of which The Blue Paradise, at 356 performances, ranked among the hit shows of the decade, although it is now remembered solely for the song Auf wiederseh’n. The next year he scored Robinson Crusoe Jr. and The Passing Show Of 1916 (he would also score the subsequent editions of 1917, 1918, 1919, 1923 and 1924) and in 1917, among others, followed My Lady’s Glove (in collaboration with Oscar Straus) and Maytime (at 492 Broadway performances, his biggest hit so far and an enduring landmark successfully reupholstered in the 1937 film-musical starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy). In 1918 Al Jolson’s Sinbad was only a qualified success for Romberg (insofar as the show’s most durable numbers Swanee, Rock-a-Bye Your Baby and Mammy were added, respectively, by George Gershwin, Jean Schwartz and Walter Donaldson).
In 1920, in collaboration with Richard Rodgers, Romberg again made only a moderate impact with Poor Little Ritz Girl but the following year wrote most of the music for Bombo (another popular early Jolson vehicle) and the whole score of Blossom Time (based loosely on the life and music of Franz Schubert, and running for 592 performances). Then in 1922 came Rose Of Stamboul (with Leo Fall), in 1923 The Dancing Girl (with George Gershwin) while 1924 brought various collaborations with, among others, Jean Schwartz, Herbert Stothart and J. Fred Coots, before The Student Prince, which emerged on Broadway only three months after Friml’s Rose Marie, its most serious contemporary rival. It ran for a record 608 performances and gave to the world Golden Days, Deep In My Heart, Dear, and the famous Serenade and Drinking Song. In 1954 MGM successfully resurrected it as a vehicle for Mario Lanza.
After two more flops (both in 1925) Romberg wrote The Desert Song, which had an initial run of 471 performances and by dint of three film-versions (1929, 1944 and 1953) and numerous stage revivals since remains probably the most durable of all Romberg scores. His next show My Maryland (1927) ran for 312 performances. With book and lyrics by Dorothy Donnelly and starring Evelyn Herbert and Nathaniel Wagner, it included the rousing title-song and Silver Moon, Mother and Boys In Grey. It was followed, in 1927, by two more failures (My Princess and The Love Call) and in 1928 Rosalie (with George Gershwin, 335 performances) and The New Moon. With a first run of 509 performances, and with book and lyrics by Lawrence Schwab, Frank Mandel and Oscar Hammerstein II and starring Evelyn Herbert and Robert Halliday this proved another Romberg blockbuster. Twice filmed (in 1930 with Lawrence Tibbett and Grace Moore and 1940 with Eddy and MacDonald), its score offers such enduring riches as Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise, Lover, Come Back To Me, the stirring call-to-arms Stout-Hearted Men and three poignant staples of the 1920s musical love-song Lover, Come Back To Me, One Kiss and Wanting You.
In the early 1930s Romberg continued to write for Broadway. Nina Rosa (1930, 137 performances), East Wind (1931, 23 performances) and Melody (1933, 79 performances), however, were again virtual losses, and as popular composers were now writing for Hollywood he followed suit, albeit sporadically, with Viennese Nights (1930; with Oscar Hammerstein II - principal numbers I Bring A Love Song and You Will Remember Vienna), Children Of Dreams (1931) and The Night Is Young (1935). This last, again with Hammerstein, for MGM, a choreographed, no-expense-spared Viennese-style offering starring Evelyn Laye and Ramon Novarro, contained only one tune of any significance, When I Grow Too Old To Dream.
Romberg’s more memorable efforts for the silver screen, The Girl Of The Golden West (1938) and Balalaika, Broadway Serenade and Let Freedom Ring (all 1939) were all still to come, but meanwhile he again focused his energies on the Golden Mile for May Wine (1935; with book by Frank Mandel, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and presented by a cast headed by Nancy McCord, Walter Slezak and Walter Woolf King, this ran for 213 performances, its eight main numbers including Dance, My Darlings, Just Once Around The Clock, Something New Is In My Heart). After a spell writing in Hollywood, his next Broadway musical Sunny River (1942), with book and lyrics again by Hammerstein and with a cast headed by Muriel Angelus, Helen Claire, Ethel Levey and Bob Lawrence proved a flop, lasting only 36 performances, despite fine numbers, including Call It A Dream, Making Conversation, the show’s title-song, and Lordy, What A Sweet World.
Up In Central Park (1945), Romberg’s penultimate show, with book and lyrics by Herbert and Dorothy Fields, and presented by a cast headed by Betty Bruce, Maureen Cannon, Charles Irwin, Wilbur Evans and Noah Beery Sr., had a much happier run of 504 showings, its numbers including Up From The Gutter, Carousel In The Park, Close As Pages In A Book, April Snow and The Big Back Yard. A less-than-successful film-version (starring Deanna Durbin, Vincent Price and Dick Haymes) was made by United Artists in 1948. His final Broadway offering, My Romance (1948) flopped after only 95 performances.
Sigmund Romberg died in New York on 9th November, 1951. His memory did not just fade away, however. Ripe for some Hollywood fictionalising, the story of his early rise was romantically commemorated in Deep In My Heart, a highly tuneful, if unashamedly exaggerated, MGM biopic of 1954. In this, Romberg (portrayed by José Ferrer) is implausibly cast as a struggling waiter-musician, with support from Merle Oberon, Paul Henried and Walter Pigeon, Gene Kelly, Rosemary Clooney, Jane Powell, Cyd Charisse, Howard Keel and Tony Martin.
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