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12. BITTER SWEET. An Operetta in three acts by Noel Coward, 1929
Collection Description & Creator Information
This collection makes possible the re-creation, in the mind and on the stage, of a great number of these classical musicals. Most of the 123 musical shows represented date from 1890 to 1940. Over half the works in this collection are more than 50 years old. Well known titles still commonly in the repertoire are the exception rather than the rule, although some of the greatest hits of the Edwardian and post-World War I eras are included: The Arcadians, An Artist's Model, The Belle of New York, A Chinese Honeymoon, The Chocolate Soldier, Chu Chin Chow, Floradora, A Gaiety Girl, The Lilac Domino, The Maid of the Mountains, The Quaker Girl, Rose Marie, and San Toy, to mention only a few. Frequently some of the greatest names in the history of the musical theatre are represented with early or obscure works, such as Arthur Sullivan's Ivanhoe and Haddon Hall; The Mountebanks (lyrics by W. S. Gilbert); Jerome Kern's The Beauty Prize and Blue Eyes; George Gershwin's Primrose; and other pieces boasting the talents of Friml, Romberg, Stolz, Youmans, P. G. Wodehouse, Noel Coward, and Ivor Novello. Here are also the Edwardian giants of musical comedy: Ivan Caryll, Lionel Monckton, Sidney Jones, Adrian Ross, Percy Greenbank, and Paul Rubens. Four works in the collection are manuscripts of original; unpublished musicals, three of them pantomimes. Taken as a whole, this collection presents remarkable opportunities for research into the first half-century of the English and American musical comedy tradition.
The library is equally rich in potential for the practical theatre student (actor or director) interested in acquiring a sound knowledge of traditional musical comedy production style. Full production promptbooks for twenty-eight of the shows are among the scores and libretti included. These were made and used by L. Ashton Sly, a much respected professional director of musical comedy revivals in southwest England and South Wales from just before World War II until the mid-1960s, who assembled this entire library. Fully conversant with orthodox musical comedy production style, Sly was engaged by various operatic and dramatic societies to produce and direct musical shows, often the major events in the theatrical life of the communities involved. He was not enlisted for his skill as a creative director, but rather for his ability to give provincial audiences precisely what they desired: a full reconstruction of original London West End productions. Inasmuch as settings and costumes copying the originals were usually hired, the task of reconstruction was subject almost solely to the vocal and histrionic limitations of the cast. Sly knew, however, the precise movements, business, choreography and tone required for each piece, and he knew how to match this to his local material without losing the essential magic of the work.
Wherever possible, Sly assiduously researched the background of his productions, and both the promptbooks and many of the study scores in this collection are extra-illustrated with the fruits of his research: newspaper and magazine cuttings concerning the work; transcripts from books by Hubert, Short, Citron, Macaque-Pope and others specifically documenting performances of each piece; issues of Play Pictorial and Theatre Worldwith extensive illustrated features on original productions; programs and souvenirs of West End performances, as well as provincial tours and revivals; and illustrated prospectuses from publishers and scene or costume rental firms. As he often was the only professional involved, Sly had wilder responsibilities than most directors. He had to supervise in complete detail all aspects of production: choreography, lighting, sound, properties, costumes, promotion, programs, and all stage management. These were wherever possible based on the precedents of the London productions, and to implement them, he had to be able to direct and train the local staff in every aspect.
As he often produced the same show several times for different societies, Sly wisely made elaborate promptbooks which are complete production kits recording every conceivable performance detail. Employing intricate systems of coloured inks and keys, Sly painstakingly created promptbooks which are a model of the stage manager's craft and any theatre historian's dream. From Sly's extraordinarily legible master copies, it is possible to determine not only the business and movement (including choreography) of every member of the cast and chorus at any given moment, but also the cues and calls for the stage manager, lighting technician, sound man, musical director, and man on curtain. Choreography is set down in explicit detail, frequently with diagrams. In the case of numbers where the music is repeated as many as five times, a system of coloured inks clearly indicated the dance patters for each refrain. Cuts and additions to the text are naturally also indicated, and it is not unusual for Sly to include a manuscript arrangement of an all new overture or an interpolated song or set of lyrics not printed in the published score. Appended to all of this are abstracted call sheets, lighting, sound and property plots; ground plans; costume plots, notes on each character and suggested audition material for each; notes on performing rights, costume and scene rentals, and other budgetary matters; and newscuttings, programs and occasionally original photographs recording Sly's productions. While one cannot claim that L. Ashton Sly's musical comedy productions were important in their own right, the detail with which he recorded every aspect of them in these promptbooks and the fact that in so doing he captured (as completely as it is possible to do so on paper) a style of production almost forgotten today makes these scores especially valuable to every student in this field.
The 137 volumes of this collection cover 123 musical shows. Most are vocal scores (the complete musical score with lyrics and piano accompaniment) with seven of the shows represented solely by libretti (complete lyrics and dramatic text; no music). Of the 116 vocal scores in the collection, over twenty-five are either interleaved with transcripts of the libretti; accompanied by libretti in separate volumes; or, being operatic in style, otherwise complete in themselves, lacking neither musical nor dramatic text. Musical comedy scores of this period were normally issued in wrappers with weak spines which rapidly deteriorated with constant flattening against the conductor's desk. All 137 volumes in this collection are strongly bound, most uniformly so, with nearly all the extra illustrations and additional material neatly mounted and bound in.
The promptbooks show reasonable signs of use. But all have survived intact and are in no immediate need of repair. In the catalogue of the collection, below, the term "fully annotated production promptbook: means that the volume corresponds to the general description of Sly's promptbooks stated above. Exceptions will be noted. In some cases, there are two promptbooks, one made from the vocal score, the other from the published libretto. These were intended by Sly to be used in tandem in the same production, and together will yield the same full production data as in other examples provided in one volume alone. Occasionally a second annotated volume of the score is included, being the musical director's score, again to be used in conjunction with other volumes. In the few cases where only the libretto is present (without the musical score) and is an annotated promptbook, the promptbook is necessarily less complete than titles represented by both score and libretto. All volumes in the list below are 4to in size, unless otherwise noted. Where the date of the original production is not the same as the publication date, the former is given prefixed by "P".
- Archival Appraisal Information:
No appraisal information is available.
Access & Use
- Access Restrictions:
Collection is open for research use.
- Conditions for Reproduction and Use:
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.
- Credit this material:
12. BITTER SWEET. An Operetta in three acts by Noel Coward; L. Ashton Sly Collection of Musical Scores, TC068, Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library
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