American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

SHORE LEAVE MUSICALS. A number of American musicals involve sailors on shore leave. The most famous of these is On the Town (1944), with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics and book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and choreography by Jerome Robbins. The original cast featured Comden and Green as Ozzie and Claire and Nancy Walker as Hildy.

Based on the ballet Fancy Free (1944) by Bernstein and Robbins, the musical traces the adventures of three sailors on a twenty-four-hour shore leave during World War II. Excitable Ozzie meets effervescent anthropologist Claire at the Museum of Natural History. Naive Chip meets the brassy cabdriver Hildy. Gabey searches for the elusive Miss Turnstiles, a beautiful woman whose picture he has seen on the subway. After an elaborate chase through several nightclubs and Coney Island, the three couples sadly part company at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. They are replaced narratively by three new sailors ready for a day of adventure during the song “New York, New York.” A 1949 movie adaptation featured Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Vera Allen, and Betty Garrett; the musical was staged on Broadway in 1999. In 1999 George Wolfe mounted a short-lived production of On the Town at the New York Shakespeare Festival.

Hit the Deck! (1927), with music by Vincent Youmans, lyrics by Clifford Grey and Leo Robin, and book by Herbert Fields, was based on Hubert Osborne’s successful 1922 “sea-goin’ comedy” Shore Leave, not to be confused with Kiss Them for Me (1945), a play by Luther Davis based on Frederic Wakeman’s novel Shore Leave (1944). It remained largely faithful to the original, although the heroine’s name was changed from Connie to Looloo. Looloo, a successful Newport, Rhode Island, coffee-shop owner, is so smitten with sailor Bilge Smith that she follows him to China and spends her inheritance to salvage a scow for him after his navy career is over. The popular hits from the score were “Sometimes I’m Happy” and “Hallelujah.” The musical had an elaborate Hollywood history. The 1930 RKO film Hit the Deck was unmemorable. It was revamped in 1936 as Follow the Fleet, a vehicle for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers that retained the basic plot but substituted a score by Irving Berlin. Finally, a 1955 remake of Hit the Deck featured Youmans’ original score and a reworked story line.

Dames at Sea (1968) is an affectionate spoof of early Hollywood musicals like The Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) and 42nd Street (1933). The music is by Jim Wise, with lyrics and book by George Haimsohn and Robin Miller. The six actors in the cast play a number of roles, including Broadway star Mona Kent; “Hard Luck” Hennessey, a down-on-his-luck producer; blond chorine Joan; Dick and Lucky, sailors on leave who happen to be an aspiring songwriter and a song-and-dance man; Ruby, an aspiring dancer just off the bus from Centerville, Utah. The characters are brought together through a series of happy coincidences, but their hopes for mounting their show “Dames at Sea” are dashed when their theatre is slated for demolition. They decide to produce the show on Dick and Lucky’s battleship: “Dames at Sea” at sea! Mona convinces the Captain, an old boyfriend, to go along with the plan but is forced to drop out of the show when she gets seasick. Ruby steps into the role and becomes an instant star; a similar fortune awaited Bernadette Peters in the Ruby Keeler role. The musical ends with a triple wedding. The score consists of lively spoofs of standard Hollywood and Broadway love songs and production numbers.

Ankles Aweigh (1955) featured music by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Dan Shapiro, and book by Guy Bolton and Eddie Davis. An old-fashioned revue, it featured a workable book that was long on gags and coincidence, a lovely tap-dancing chorus line, funny comedians, and some great songs. The thin plot describes the honeymoon of a Hollywood starlet and a navy pilot that is continually interrupted by the studio and navy top brass. The score included the jaunty “Walk like a Sailor.” [See also DRAMA OF THE SEA] FURTHER READING: Comden, Betty, and Adolph Green. The New York Musicals of Comden and Green. New York: Applause, 1997; Green, Stanley. Broadway Musicals; Show by Show. Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard, 1985; Leonard, William Torbert. Theatre: Stage to Screen to Television, Volume II: M-Z. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1981.

Brian T. Carney