Broadway has lived through much more active theatrical weeks than the last, but it has been a long, long time since two such plays as “The Children’s Hour” and “Anything Goes” arrived in town within the space of one week. Despite the fact that I am inclined to be carping I cannot find it in my heart to say anything unkind about two such unusual and excellent productions.
About “The Children’s Hour” by Lillian. Hellman which I hope will run lustily and long at the Maxine Elliott, I have already had my say but this is to supplement my previous remarks. Whether Miss Hellman purposely set out to break the hearts of her audiences I don’t know, but she succeeds in arousing your emotions to a state bordering on mild hysteria. “The Children’s Hour” is a tense, cleanly written, beautifully acted, superbly directed and staged play that cannot fail to move the most flint-hearted of theatre patrons. It is a mature, sincere, completely absorbing dealing with a hitherto tabooed subject. Even if the general thesis is repugnant to you there is still the problem of the psychopathic child who lies. In creating this role Miss Hellman has shown such an amazing, clear insight into the minds of children that you cannot afford to miss it.
“The Children’s Hour” is stark tragedy, “Anything Goes” is complete comedy, filled with all those things that make people forget themselves. The eternally amusing Victor Moore, cast in the role of a gangster who to escape his enemies and the police disguises himself as a clergyman and goes aboard a trans-Atlantic liner, manages to be even funnier than you can imagine. The idea of a gangster-clergyman who can’t quite hide his real characteristics has in it the germ of great comedy and Guy Bolton, P. G. Wode-house, Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse who wrote the book and dialogue have squeezed from it the last possible drop of honest laughter.
True, Mr. Moore is the main prop in this musical play but there is also Ethel Merman as a night club singer on her way to Europe with a troupe of Broadway girls; William Gaxton as a “round-the-towner” pursuing his lady love, played by Bettina Hall, and a large talented cast of singers, and dancers.
Naturally, your first impulse is to compare “Anything Goes” with “Of Thee I Sing” because of Moore and Gaxton, but the two plays really having nothing in common. “Of Thee I Sing” was satire which made obvious digs at our stuffed-shirted politicians. The present piece is nothing more than pure, (I don’t mean this literally, because some of the lyrics and dialogue were never meant for a Sunday School picnic) unrestrained entertainment. You don’t have to think, all that is required is the easy and pleasant task of sitting back and allowing yourself to be amused.
Ethel Merman, last seen on the stage in Laurence Schwab’s “Take a Chance” and more recently in the picture “Kid Millions,” supplies the jazz touch to “Anything Goes.” Her singing of “You’re the Top,” easily the musical hit of the show, is just about “tops.” The other leading singer of the piece is Bettina Hall, who warbles delightfully throughout and especially when she does “All Through the Night.” Cole Porter wrote these numbers and also supplied the other tunes and lyrics, some of which you will soon be humming.
“Anything Goes” is a welcome addition to the surprising small musical comedy contingent which at this moment consists of only “Life Begins at 8:40″ and “Say When.” It will come as a boon to the tired and otherwise gentry who still feel that girls, lights, dancing, singing, and comedy are necessary for an enjoyable evening.
Paramount offers “College Rhythm” as feature this week. This is the musical film in which Joe Penner, Lanny Ross, Jack Oakie, Lyda Roberti, Helen Mack and Mary Brian all go to college with surprising results. . . .
“Menace” is the film now at the Rialto. It is a fast moving, thrilling mystery about an insane fellow whose brother has committed suicide because he has witnessed destruction of his sister’s home. It is well acted and above par for this sort of thing. At the Strand the Warner Brothers are presenting “Gentlemen Are Born.” Margaret Lindsay and Franchot Tone are the leading players. For a moment I thought that Warners, who have been flirting with a picture of sociological import had decided to go the whole hog, but I was soon disillusioned. The story concerns the plight of four young college graduates who are faced with the economic necessity of adjusting themselves to a world which is in a state of depression. They are resentful and blame the college for not fitting them properly to meet the situation. However, very little happens of any consequence and the film ends happily. It is a timid gesture but a gesture anyway and for that Warners deserve some credit.
Leon Garganoff’s picture “The Battle,” a French film with English titles, has been brought to the Criterion. Charles Boyer, John Loder, Merle Oberon, and Betty Stockfeld do the talking. The picture deals with the recent Naval Disarmament Conference.
Billy Rose’s “Music Hall,” which has become “Manhattan Music Hall” are playing a new show to take the place of “Small Time Cavalcade.” It is headed by Al Trahan and Lady Yukona Cameron. Lew Brown is the producer.