Yvonne: A musical comedy
Yvonne was an original musical comedy staged by George Edwardes at Dalys Theatre, London in mid 1926. It followed the huge success of Katja the Dancer, which had run for many months, and was a hard act to follow.
Like many musical comedies, Yvonne followed the usual set format of the time – boy meets girl with complications, music and dance. Theatre World thought the story, written by Percy Greenbank, was sufficient and mattered no more than any other musical comedy. Yvonne was the daughter of an old professor with a taste for riotous gaiety. She saved a rather badly contrived ‘situation’ by impersonating a music hall artist during her absence from the stage. At the same time a young man disguised himself as a servant in the professor’s house so he could be close to Yvonne. There are temperamental fireworks from the music hall star and other sundry plots and counter plots before love is allowed to run its course.
The three acts featured the Garden of Professor Savigny’s House outside Paris (1), the lounge of the Scala Music Hall (2) and the morning room at Professor Savigny’s house (3). The show was peppered with 21 light, tuneful and often witty musical numbers with lyrics by Percy Greenbank and music by Jean Gilbert and by a young Russian called Dukelsky (Vernon Duke.)
The cast was described as being a strong one. The attractive Ivy Tresmand was in the named part and thus the leading lady and by all accounts gave her best performance to date. The part perfectly suited her and she was a delightful surprise in the role. Previously her dancing and her unassuming charm had been her main assets and for this role she made her character a pretty appealing heroine. Mark Lester, an excellent comedian with a very fruity style ‘as ripe as a prime Stilton’, was professor Savigny. His engaging, almost confidential manner enabled him to extract a great deal of humour. The part of Lolotte, the music hall star was originally slated for Jeanne Aubert, the French actress but the part went to Maria Minetti who gave a conventionally flamboyant performance. Horace Percival originally played Yvonne’s ‘silly ass’ fiancée (Victor Dulac) but after a few weeks his place was taken by Gene Gerrard who had an easier, more natural manner and was an enormous asset. Arthur Pusey made an attractive ‘hero’ as Maurice de Fremond or Max, Yvonne’s servant-suitor, a young man who masquerades as a butler in the house of the girl he loves.
A novel experiment was the introduction of the American comic dancer Hal Sherman who had previously been a headliner in cabaret. He played the part of a comic waiter cum gardener giving full scope for his astonishingly funny footwork. His inclusion was soon called inspirational and his extraordinary legs were thought to be animated by an entirely separate volition.
The dances and musical numbers were staged by Fred A. Leslie and one number, Teach me to Dance, was lauded above all others. This was Gene Gerrard’s dancing duet with Hal Sherman that was thought to be ‘one of the most riotously comical things to be seen on the stage’. It was an amazingly funny burlesque of dance fads and fashions and Gerrard and Sherman’s new version of that perennial favourite the Apache dance was a sight to behold. Ivy Tresmand’s dancing was also greatly admired ‘one of the few remaining actresses who dance with a natural grace, which charms because it is natural and not the result of determined efforts to beat American ‘board beaters’ at their won game.’
Produced by Herbert Mason, who had been responsible for many of Andre Charlot’s revues, Yvonne met with considerable success during its provincial run before its debut in London in mid May 1926. Theatre World thought that it had a ‘considerably lighter texture than is usually found at Dalys – possible influenced by the modern trend of musical comedies to be like this. Jean Gilbert’s music is melodious and often witty but contains no sensational song hits. All is well played, well produced and staged with a lavishness unusual even for Daly’s.’
Part of this lavishness was due to the dressing of the show and all the gowns for the principals were designed by Reggie De Veuille, who had also dressed the previous Daly’s show Katja the Dancer. De Veuille had been at the centre of the infamous drug scandal and death of the musical comedy star Billie Carleton in November 1918. He had come out of the subsequent court case badly, became the main scapegoat, implicated as the main culprit and jailed. He had presumably just resurfaced and had certainly not lost his sparkle for designing exquisite gowns that had made him such a well known name 8 years previously. Of these gowns Miss Tresmand’s dresses in acts 1 and 2 were by Worth Ltd and act 3 by Elspeth Fox Pitt. Elspeth Fox Pitt made all other dresses for the production.
Despite the fact that Yvonne had been a success during its regional run, at Daly’s during the first few weeks it was thought that it had certain glaring faults and for some it was regarded as a bad failure. The reason appears to be that it was different ‘the outcome of one of those readjustments to the prevailing fashion in amusements’ and had a ‘slight indecision’ whatever that might mean. Changes were swiftly made and the flaws eradicated. The essentials for an excellent show were all there and it only took a little time for revision and improvement. It compared favourably with Katja the Dancer, its famous predecessor but in many ways was more in keeping with modern tastes and was funny with an abundance of humour. Katja was more of the romantic type while Yvonne was lighter, and altogether more akin to the irresponsible song and dance shows of the time.
Daly’s was regarded as an institution ‘it stands for something peculiarly British. It is also the living embodiment of the value of a tradition and a policy. With Daly’s you always know that you are safe. A certain clearly defined type of show, clean, healthy, full of fun, with a story that does not disdain a soupcon of romance with music that does not scorn melody, with an abiding air of cheerfulness that is as a tonic as a bottle of champagne.’ Yvonne made the grade and became another glittering success.
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
Programme and Theatre World
A number of costume designs by Reggie De Veuille for this production survive in the Emile Littler collection held by the V&A archive, London.
I wrote this piece partly because the show featured two people that fascinate me : Reggie de Veuille and Hal Sherman – I am sure that I will write about each in due course