By Peter Filichia —
Does the musical based on The Good Fairy have a “Good Fairy” on its side?
After all, almost 60 years after the premiere of Make a Wish at the Winter Garden, its original cast album is back in print. For a musical that had a three-month Broadway run, the theory that a “Good Fairy” has intervened is as plausible as any other.
(Well, Make a Wish DOES have a delightful Hugh Martin score, too.)
Ferenc Molnar’s The Good Fairy was originally a 1931-1932 Broadway hit. In 1935 screenwriter Preston Sturges turned it into a beloved film. Both versions told of a Budapest orphan named Luisa Gingelbuscher.
Luisa certainly doesn’t have Annie Warbucks’ luck; she’s spent her entire childhood and adolescence in the orphanage, and not until adulthood is she allowed to leave and seek her fortune (which could have easily resulted in her wallowing in poverty).
A young woman always attracts older men, and the one that pursues Luisa just won’t go away. So she tells him that she’s married.
That doesn’t make any difference to him. Luisa reasons that if she comes up with someone to play her husband, she’ll ward off the aging masher. Once she conscripts a willing young man to be part of her plan, you just know that he’ll soon be part of her life now and forever.
Another film version of The Good Fairy showed up in 1947. I’ll Be Yours had a slightly renamed Louise Gingelbusher (Deanna Durbin), who isn’t an orphan, but just a small-town girl. She comes to New York and encounters the same problems that her Budapest predecessor had. Still, she takes time out to sing a couple of songs.
As the 1940s came to an end, Sturges and composer-lyricist Hugh Martin must have been hoping that they could adapt Molnar’s The Good Fairy into a musical that would be just as memorable as the one Rodgers and Hammerstein had made of his Liliom – Carousel.
Martin and Sturges decided that neither “Luisa Ginglebuscher” nor “Louise Gingelbusher” was a name that sang, so they renamed the lass Janette. But they gave her no last name for once again, she was an orphan. As their setting, they instead opted for the city that has most inspired hundreds of songwriters throughout the years.
Paris, of course. Martin wasn’t above writing a song entitled “Tonight You Are in Paree,” not to mention one he baldly called “Paris, France.” (But surprise! The latter is a march with no accordion anywhere in earshot.)
Make a Wish starts in the Louvre, where Janette and her orphan sisters are on a field trip. Although the guide insists “The Tour Must Go On,” Janette feels that she must go on outside and take on the Big Bad World.
In true musical comedy fashion – especially because she’s played by the ever-endearing Nanette Fabray – Janette admits “I Want to Be Good ‘n’ Bad.” As one of Martin’s best lyrics says, “I want to stop being an orphan and start being a girl.”
Marius, the fifty-ish man she meets, would give her ample opportunity to be bad. (Don’t look for him on this recording; the austere British actor Melville Cooper who played him didn’t have much of a voice.) Janette acknowledges that he was “What I Was Warned About,” but that doesn’t send her home. She stays right on the Left Bank where she befriends Ricky, an American dancer, and Poupette, a French husband-hunter.
Those two fill the need for the secondary couple that musicals routinely had back then. But Make a Wish didn’t have second-class performers to play the roles; Harold Lang and Helen Gallagher, less than a year away from their Pal Joey triumphs, portrayed them.
Lang’s role in this show was hardly Joey-ish. In “Suits Me Fine” he displays no particular ambition, but proves that a happy person can find happiness anywhere (especially if he sings). Poupette is ready to accept him, given that she knows she has no chance with Montgomery Clift (about whom people then knew less than they do now).
Of great interest to Janette is Paul Dumont, who’s studying to be a lawyer. He does take time out, however, to sing the swirling waltz “Who Gives a Sou?” with his three compatriots. And while poverty is often seen as a surmountable problem in musicals, Paul is soon down in the dumps, and Janette must cheer him on with the show’s title song. Only one chorus is necessary for Paul to agree and echo what Janette just sang.
Poupette is having trouble with Ricky, who won’t give up his American ways. “I’ll Never Make a Frenchman out of You,” she says in a song that would have been popular in the Freedom Fries Era.
And yet, do you smell a happy ending for all? Yes for Ricky and Poupette, who’ll relocate to America. No for Paul and Janette, which is why she implores the couple to “Take Me Back to Texas with You.” Here Martin takes the word “watery” and semi-rhymes it with the name of a famous cowboy. Care to guess?
Or care to listen? Make a Wish is one of those rare musicals that received no negative reviews and yet had a short run. According to Steven Suskin’s Opening Nights on Broadway, the critics for the seven (!) New York newspapers bestowed five favorable reviews and two mixed ones. True, they wrote no raves, but not one offered a thumbs-down, let alone a pan. Not bad for a show that Sturges abandoned in Philadelphia and director John C. Wilson couldn’t finish because he fell terribly ill. Maybe a “Good Fairy” was responsible for bringing in ace show doctor Abe Burrows to rewrite and re-stage. She certainly did good work in having Gower Champion choreograph, and even though his ballets were not of course captured on the cast album, some of the nifty ballet music was.
That same “Good Fairy” may have assumed that the good reviews would propel the show, and that she was now free to fly off to perform mitzvahs for more needy souls (and shows). Alas, Make a Wish struggled and eventually succumbed after 102 performances. What a cruel irony, too, that a musical set in France should close on Bastille Day.
The original cast album was released by RCA Victor on long-playing vinyl – and even on 45 rpm records – a month after the April premiere. It was dropped from RCA’s catalog two-and-a-half years later.
Over the years LOC-1002 became quite the collectors’ item — enough that that “Good Fairy” must have taken notice. Make a Wish made a startling reappearance on LP in October 1976, along with some other vintage RCA Victor cast albums (such as Allegro and Hazel Flagg). Within two years, all these were out-of-print, too.
In 2001, Make a Wish got a reissue in England, for the British laws decree that any recording 50 years old passes into the public domain. But the sound on it wasn’t much better than one would get from two Dixie cups and a string. Our “Good Fairy” must have blushed and brought it back now in full fidelity.
One of the pleasures of a vintage cast album is that its orchestra features nary a synthesizer. Here are real instruments, and plenty of them. The overture has confident brass punctuating every melody. Soon, as Tulsa in Gypsy would say, “Strings come in.” There’s even a harp on hand – the ultimate expression of an orchestra’s largesse.
This new reissue offers a honey of a bonus track, too, featuring Tony®– and Oscar®-winner Judy Holliday. In 1958 she recorded Trouble Is a Man, an album that included famous songs — “I Got Lost in His Arms,” “Lonely Town” and “Am I Blue?” — but Holliday also made room for “What I Was Warned About” from Make a Wish.
Not bad for a show that had closed seven years earlier – and whose original cast album had already been out-of-print for five. Did a “Good Fairy” visit Holliday, too?
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at www.theatermania.com/peterfilichia