Following the success and the amazing media coverage of Sheffield University’s concert of My Fair Lady with deleted songs and music earlier this year they are presenting a semi staged version of Irving Berlin’s Miss Liberty. This is another in a series that has previously brought to the UK Goldilocks, Subways are for Sleeping and Hazel Flagg which, like Miss Liberty, had their British premiers in Sheffield. As with My Fair Lady cut numbers will be performed.
Irving Berlin wrote Miss Liberty after his huge hit of Annie Get Your Gun(1946). That show had proved that he could move into new musical theatre world where the score was integrated into the story. Miss Liberty appeared to be a perfect fit. Berlin was known for his patriotic flair shown most vividly in his war-time show This is the Army and his writing of what many consider the American national anthem, ‘God Save America’.
This show was about one of the most recognisable monuments in the whole of the United States, the Statue of Liberty who, with her torch, welcomes immigrants and visitors to New York. The statue had been a gift from France. It was designed by Frederic Auguste Barthodi and dedicated in 1886. Made of copper, it was built by Gustave Eiffel who had erected another ionic construction, the Eiffel Tower, which still dominates Paris.
The idea for the musical was that of librettist Robert E Sherwood who had been struck by the statues’ power when he returned to the States by sea after the Second World War on the Queen Mary. He wrote a piece about a newspaper’s search for the girl who posed for the statue and her visit to the USA where a competitor discovered the real model. Sherwood had brought Irving Berlin on board and Berlin had suggested Moss Hart as director. This dream team was to be joined by Jerome Robbins as choreographer and Oliver Smith as set and costume designer.
Miss Liberty seemed destined to be a hit and had a huge advance. It sold out its pre Broadway tryout in Philadelphia even though it received rather negative reviews. The Broadway opening was on 15 July 1949 (it had been planned to open it on the 4 July) at the Imperial Theatre. Its advance helped but the flimsy book and continuing bad reviews brought a run of only 308 performances.
At the Tony Awards in 1950 only one was received, that of Joe Lynn as Best Stage Technician. It did well on disc for there was an original cast album and spin off recordings.
The cast, as well as it production team, had been strong. Headed by much loved Eddie Albert making a return to Broadway after a ten year absence aided by Allyn McLerie (Where’s Charley?), Mary McCarty (Small Wonder) and Ethel Griffies who had the only show-stopper, ‘Only for Americans’. The up and coming Tommy Rall was also in the cast. In the score, which is perhaps over looked and has some rather good Berlin tunes and lyrics, is the song ‘Give me your Tired, Your Poor’ which is basically a setting of the Emma Lazarus poem ‘The New Colossus’ that is inscribed at the base of the monument.
Miss Liberty had a short post Broadway tour that lost money and, other than a showing at the Goodspeed, has not had a major revival or a London production. The most common reaction from the reviewers was that of disappointment. It was a show that had every ingredient of a hit on paper but did not tell a good story. Perhaps the shot in the arm of a Sheffield presentation may bring new interest and, perhaps, a new look at the show.
Miss Liberty can be seen on Thursday 10 December at 19.30 at the Firth Hall, Sheffield University.
Rexton S Bunnett Illustrations from the Overtures Archive