About a month ago press releases began to trickle out of the Shubert offices. At first they contained mere statements that a musical comedy titled, “Life Begins at 8:40” was in the throes of production. As time passed, these announcements became longer and more intense until they ended the other day with a blazing outburst warning playgoers that “Life” had finally arrived at the Winter Garden.
Being by nature an indolent fellow. I was nevertheless impressed by this continual shouting with the result that I had to go and see what was causing all the excitement. Imagine my surprise when I found that “Life Begins at 8:40” (incidentally “Life” was a bit delayed) was just another very typical Shubert musical comedy revue with all the virtues and vices expected from productions of this type. My general impression was that I had spent a fairly enjoyable evening. I have a more than slight suspicion that Mr. and Mrs. Public are going to care very much for the proceedings which will go on nightly at the now air-cooled Winter Garden.
Musically, “Life” has its weakest moments; where it excels is in its dance and comedy departments although it must be stated that many of the skits and blackouts go down pretty far for laughs. Bert Lahr whose raucous voice you no doubt remember from the radio and stage shows, is the leading laugh maker of the evening. There is nothing subtle about Mr. Lahr’s particular brand of humor. He is a comic of the slapstick school who relies entirely on exaggeration for his effects. His bit as an Englishman in a sketch called “Chin Up” gives him full swing, and his earnest desire to please and his almost pathetic attempt to be laughed at, finally earns for him the good-will of the audience. Sharing honors with Mr. Lahr is Mr. Ray Bolger who strives mightily in a multitude of roles. He sings, acts and dances. In the last named art he is at his best, especially when he is seen in the part of a “hayseed” hoofer who blames everything but his unwilling feet for his mistakes. The female contingent of performers is headed by Luella Gear and Frances Williams. Both of these ladies play, sing and dance with spirit, and confidence and do all they can with the lines written for them. In addition to these solo performers there are the Weidman Dancers; Robert Wildhack, snore expert; Jack Starr, cigarette swallower, and Wahl and Oldfield, a team of acrobats, all of which should give you some idea of the varied entertainment.
Harold Arlen wrote the music and the lyrics came from the minds of Ira Gershwin and E. V. Harburg. As I hinted before, the tunes are only fair, but some of the lyrics are in the best tradition of Broadway, being both ribald and pointed. John Murray Anderson devised and staged the entire production which includes trick and revolving stages, unusual lighting and costume effects and all the other tinsel that accompanies an expensively and expertly produced Broadway musical revue.
Last week at the Forrest Theatre a new revue opened. It is called “Keep Moving” and the moving spirit therein is that old favorite comedian Tom Howard. It holds promise of being very amusing but the material is much skimpy and Mr. Howard is found in a role that seems to have damned up his exuberant spirits. It is not recommended.
ROBINSON IN DUAL ROLE
It does seem as though a full fat role has been found at last for Edward G. Robinson, the Jewish actor who to me is one of the country’s outstanding cinema stars. According to an announcement from Columbia Pictures Mr. Robinson will appear in a film to be called “Jail Breaker.” It is an adaptation from a story by W. R. Burnett which ran in Collier’s under the title of “Jail Breaker.” As I remember the tale it concerned a timid civil service clerk who had a yen for writing. In his darkest moments a notorious criminal escapes from jail. The clerk looks so much like the escaped criminal that he is mistaken for him. This leads to many complications and finally results in changing the clerk’s idea of life. Mr. Robinson will play both roles, that of the timid clerk and the bold bad man.