The Ambassadeurs Show 1928

The third Ambassadeurs show presented by Edmund Sayag in the summer of 1928 was simply called ‘Vingt-huit’ and once again featured a largely American cast in what was called a ‘record monster programme.’

Fred Waring's Pennyslyvanians

Fred Waring’s Pennyslyvanians

Sayag spent sometime in New York during the spring of 1928 securing ‘the finest American troupe yet introduced into the French capital’ under the supervision of Connolly-Morrison and William Morris. The show described as ‘a combination of variety hall and cabaret, a series of turns by some of the most astonishing acrobatic dancers and comedians that have ever appeared on a Parisian stage’ was in fact staged by Bob Connolly and George Hale and the twenty-four song score was specially written by Cole Porter.

It was George Hale that persuaded Sayag to get Porter to write the score for the show. They had in fact all met the previous year when Porter allowed the English actress June to sing ‘Let’s Misbehave’. Porter attended the rehearsals and got involved in the intricacies of the staging and the monumental success of the show marked the end of Cole’s professional stagnation. Later in the run, Porter wrote a number specifically for Clifton Webb and Dorothy Dickson called ‘Looking at You’ which was an immediate success and was eventually used again in C.B. Cochran’s production of Wake up and Dream in London and New York.

Buster West

Buster West

The troupe of ‘Vingt-Huit’ numbered fifty and included Buster and John West (humorous dancers), Evelyn Hoey (singer), Florence Gerswin (singer), Morton Downey (singer), Myrio, Desha and Barte (acrobatic dancers), the Three Eddies (black dancers), the Nesbit brothers (comic singers and dancers), Bud and Jack Pearson (clever parodists and masters of rhythm), Joan Carter Waddell (dancer and beauty), Mary Leigh and Basil Howes (the only British act), Fred Waring‘s Pennsylvanians jazz orchestra and George Hale’s eighteen girls.

The true star of the troupe was recognised as Buster West partnered by his father John West – who provide what was called humorous dancing. Buster was regarded as a genius and a superlative comedian, full of original ideas and exquisitely funny.

Starting at 8.30 the show began with a skit on a touring car filled with tourists riding up the Champs Elysees with Eleanor Shaler as the uniformed guide and Jack Pearson the chief tourist surrounded by American sightseers. The same chorus girls appeared later as Highland soldiers in the Stuart tartan scene (finale of first part) with Buster West impersonating the Prince of Wales and Evelyn Hoey as solo vocalist and a band of real pipers in kilts. Francis Gershwin sang a number by her famous brother, Morton Downey sang Blue Hour, Joan Carter Wadell was a stunning beauty clothed in white feathers against a black velvet background and the British couple Mary Leigh and Basil Howes featured in the Old Fashioned Girl number.

Desha and Myrio

Desha and Myrio

Although the revue was all American, Variety observed that the costumes were to be designed and executed in Paris. Sayag said ‘French producers have not followed the American vogue of dressing the feminine assemble to conform with certain constabulary edicts.’ In other words costuming for the French music hall was far more minimal and less conservative that its American counterpart. However, Billboard reported that once again Dolly Tree of the Brooks Costume Company was designing the costumes and, since she had already designed for the French music hall and had worked on two previous editions of Sayag’s shows, she would have been well aware of the difference in approach. The programme mentions that costumes for the tableau Les Heures Bleus was designed by Louis Curti and executed by Gaston Zanel and that other costumes were by Max Weldy. One can only presume that Dolly Tree did design most of the costumes and simply did not get credit. The décor for the production was designed by Andre Boll except for Les Heures Bleues and Jardin du Maroc by Louis Curti and executed by Emile Bertin.

The 1928 Ambassadors show was launched on 10th May 1928 and the audience were charged the extraordinary amount of $70 entry fee (dinner and show but no champagne). Small wonder it was regarded so highly with such an entrance fee! There were two orchestras for general dancing before, between and after the show besides the star orchestra of Waring’s Pennsylvanians.

Ted Lewis and his orchestra

Ted Lewis and his orchestra

Once again it was smash hit and described as ‘one of the best this hall has hitherto shown and about the best in Paris.’ After a few weeks the show was broken into three segments and there were changes including the addition of the famous dancer Clifton Webb and Dorothy Dickson singing ‘Looking for You’.

However, all was not going to plan and by June there was dissatisfaction with Sayag from American performers when it was learned that many contracts would not be renewed. Sayag had issued eight-week contracts with additional four and eight week renewal options. He decided to retain Buster and John West, Joan Carter Waddell and Clifton Webb but did not extend the chorus of 18, the Pearson duo, the three Eddies, Evelyn Hoey and Waring’s Pennyslyvanians. The latter were replaced with Ted Lewis and his orchestra and Lewis himself was hailed as ‘an incomparable animator, singer, reciter, announcer, mimic and virtuoso of the clarinet and saxophone.’

Variety commented that there had been previous complaints that Sayag was too much of a stickler for contractual detail and that nothing not expressly provided for in writing is binding with him. ‘Sayag made promises in order to make the large display he did at the premiere of the show in Paris. When the show went over and big, he probably figured to cut down the overhead at the expense of the very Americans receiving his promises.’

All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent

 

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