Notwithstanding the fact that the Broadway production of Let’s Face It! had succeeded chiefly on the strength of its star-making lead performance by Danny Kaye (his successor in the role, José Ferrer, only managed to keep the show open for an additional month to see out its total New York run of 547 performances on 20 March 1943) the Australasian performing rights to the musical were subsequently acquired from Vinton Freedley by E.J. Tait on behalf of J.C. Williamson’s and the production scheduled to open in Sydney in mid-1942.
The original play that had provided the basic plot for the musical, Cradle Snatchers by Norma Mitchell and Russell Medcraft, had been successfully produced in Australia by JCW in 1927–28 and although the prior number of Cole Porter musicals staged locally by The Firm amounted to just two (Gay Divorce in 1933–34 and Anything Goes in 1936) his songs were well known to Australian audiences of the period by virtue of his Hollywood film scores and in the realm of popular music, encompassing gramophone records, radio broadcasts and performances by local dance bands. Additionally, the American troops stationed in Australia would provide a ready-made audience (presumably) eager to see an up-to-date hit show from their homeland during their periods of ‘R & R’, especially one with a plot that dealt with the exploits of soldiers on leave.
However, not all was smooth sailing, as reported in The Wireless Weekly’s ‘At The Stage Door’ columns:
The Theatre Royal will revert to musical comedy on July 4.
JCW intended to produce the New York success Let’s Face It on that date, but owing to difficulty in obtaining the orchestral score, the season will begin with a revival of The Girl Friend.
The cast will include Don Nicol, as principal comedian, Marie Ryan, Lily Moore, Allan Christie, Fred Murray and Bobby Mack.
Don Nicol will also appear in Danny Kaye’s New York role in Let’s Face It, which is written around Cradle Snatchers, a farce presented by The Firm about ten years ago. Music is by Cole Porter. In support will be the other members of the Thumbs Up-Sally company, who have been playing in Adelaide.
Mr. E.J. Tait says that JCW is not anxious to stage revivals, but the public must understand the extraordinary difficulties, particularly in regard to dollar exchange, due to the war.
However, two possible productions he suggested for presentation either here [Sydney] or in Melbourne ‘in the near future’ were My Sister Eileen and Arsenic and Old Lace.
The Wireless Weekly (Sydney, NSW), Vol. 37, No. 25, 27 June 1942, p.14
Two months’ later, Jesse Collings was able to report in the same periodical’s ‘At The Stage Door’ columns:
Royal Prepares for Broadway Hit
Back from his trip to Brisbane, E.J. Tait is throwing himself into the work of getting the new American musical, Let’s Face It ready for presentation at the Theatre Royal.
This is ‘E. J’s’ answer to those who have been grumbling about revivals and demanding new shows.
It is a long time since we had a new musical at the Royal, and we are lucky to get this one, which has been a smash hit on Broadway.
‘It was only through my friendship in the right quarter that we have been able to do it,’ Mr. Tait said. ‘It has been agreed that the financial side of the deal shall stand over until the embargo on sending dollars out of the country has been lifted.’
Story of Let’s Face It is based on the comedy, The Cradle Snatchers, which had a successful run on stage and screen.
Three married women, not so young as they were and not very interested in their blasé husbands, think it would be a great idea to invite three attractive young men to spend a weekend with them in the country.
The mirth-provoking denouement to their ‘cradle-snatching’ adventure is not quite what they expected. Story has been brought up-to-date and the selected young men are now chosen from the US Army.
Music is by rhythm-master Cole Porter and there are 12 ‘hot’ numbers.
The new show will be put over by the company now appearing in The Girl Friend, with a few additions. Leading roles will be taken by Marie Ryan, Marie La Varre, Lily Moore, Joy Youlden and Don Nicol.
The Wireless Weekly (Sydney, NSW), Vol. 37, No. 33), 22 August 1942, p.14
Understandably the Sylvia Fine-Max Liebman specialty number ‘Melody in 4-F’ was omitted from the Australian production, as its gobbledygook lyrics made little sense without the accompanying pantomimed actions, as performed by Danny Kaye, and the uncredited song ‘Let’s Make Faces’ substituted as a solo for Don Nicol instead. Additionally the Act 2 opening ensemble number ‘I’ve Got Some Unfinished Business With You’ sung by the soldiers’ fiancées and the philandering husbands was replaced by the interpolated ‘Someone's Rocking My Dream Boat’ by Leon René, Otis René and Emerson Scott, as a solo for Marie Ryan. The song had already became a popular number in 1941 in recordings by the Ink Spots, Erskine Hawkins and Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson, amongst others, and was recorded by the big bands of Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, and Artie Shaw the following year.
To emphasise the comedy of the piece, the glamorous wives of the original Broadway production (in the persons of Eve Arden, Vivian Vance and Edith Meiser) were re-cast for the Australian production as distinctly more mature ladies with fuller-figures, as played by character actresses, Yvonne Banvard, Lily Moore and Marie La Varre.
With direction by Alan Chapman, ballets by Hazel Meldrum, musical direction by Andrew McCunn and ‘dialogue directed’ by Gerald Kirby Let’s Face It! finally made its Australian debut at the Theatre Royal, Sydney on the evening of Saturday, 12 September 1942 and the next day’s Sunday papers were the first to weigh in with their critical opinions:
“LET’S FACE IT”
The New York musical success, Let’s Face It, had a gala premiere at the Royal last night.
This is the first new American show to be staged in Sydney for three years, and a good house gave it a glad hand.
The play moves speedily throughout and there's not a dull moment. A well-connected story running through the piece holds interest, and the dialogue is witty and up to the minute.
Joy Youlden is youthfully attractive, and sings and dances snappily. She takes the part of Winnie, and her opposite number is Jerry (Don Nicol), and he's never been better.
Yvonne Banvard, Lily Moore and Marie La Varre are three highlights of the show, and prove themselves gifted comedians. They set out to teach their husbands a lesson, because, as Marie says, ‘they got off the fairway into the rough.’
They teach them a lesson—and how!
Marie Ryan sings superbly, specially the song, ‘Someone's Rocking My Dream Boat.’
Roger Barry, who is always delightful on the stage, gives grace and ease to his part of hubby, Julian Watson, and Fred Murray’s dancing is a joy.
Scenery and settings are of a super standard, and the freshness of the frocking deserves praise aplenty.
Cole Porter’s charming music ripples through the performance—the number, ‘Everything I Love,’ sung by Don Nicol and Joy Youlden, being a genuine gem.
Hearty Fun In ‘Let’s Face It’
New American musical, Let’s Face It, launched at Theatre Royal last night, was given a hearty welcome by enthusiastic audience.
Story concerns three middle aged wives who, bored by their golfing and philandering husbands, invite three young soldiers to their week-end cottage in the hope of finding new romance.
This is a farcical situation which is developed with plenty of broad humor. There are snappy lines and witty wisecracks, and enough genuine fun to make the introduction of certain vulgarities unnecessary and regrettable.
The dancing and choral numbers were delightful. Marie Ryan scored with her song on a blacked-out stage, with the spotlight playing on her; Marie La Varre solved the secret of eternal youth by turning a somersault and doing the splits; Lily Moore ran away with the comedy stuff.
Don Nicol, Ron Beck, and Fred Murray were amusing as the three soldiers, and Murray also did some good solo dancing—J.C.
"LET'S FACE IT"
JCW’s Let’s Face It is the funniest piece of entertainment seen at the Royal for many a year.
The Sunday Telegraph theatre critic, who went to the theatre last night expecting JCW’s usual musical comedy cup of tea, came away with the comfortable sensation of beer under the belt.
Let’s Face It is a new show—wisecracking, tune-rich, guffawing copy of an original now in its ninth Broadway month.
Cole Porter wrote the music for the Cradle Snatchers tale of three ripe ladies (Yvonne Banvard, Lily Moore, Marie La Varre), who filch three young 1942 soldiers from camp and girlfriends.
Irrepressible Don Nicol, Fred Murray (an easy, ingratiating comedian), and rotund Ron Beck share rib-aching slapstick with the siren trio—whose zest is enormous.
Joy Youlden, soubrette turned heroine, is a big reason—a vital, charming, streamlined reason—for the success of Let’s Face It. Joy has personality.
Standouts among those Cole Porter tunes—romantic ‘Everything I Love,’ swinging ‘Let's Face It,’ and comic ‘A Lady Needs a Rest.’
Standout bit of the evening—Ron Shand's ‘Rirrian’ routine.
Standout of the production—tangy pace, youthful chorus, crisp, clever costuming, and a trio of topnotch speciality dancers, McErlean, Kennedy, and Bazeley.
The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW), Sunday, 13 September 1942, p.7,
Monday’s review in the Morning Herald was no less effusive:
TUNEFUL SHOW AT THEATRE ROYAL
Cole Porter’s music has made the old farce, Cradle Snatchers, into a bright new musicale, Let’s Face It, which was given its Australian premiere at the Theatre Royal on Saturday night.
The show is funny, topical, and tuneful. It went with a zest from the moment Marie La Varre turned a catherine wheel and sang the best comic song in the programme, ‘A Lady Needs a Rest.’ Yvonne Banvard and Lily Moore completed the trio of middle-aged women, who enticed three young men from a US Army camp to prove to their husbands that their attractions had not entirely departed.
Humorous ‘baby games’, played by the sextet were interrupted by the arrival of the husbands, complete with girl friends.
Yvonne Banvard's vitality never flags, but a little restraint would be an advantage. Lily Moore made the most of the best part she has had for some time.
Don Nicol, Ron Beck, and Fred Murray, who played the roles of the three soldiers, helped to keep the pace moving.
Joy Youlden was an appealing heroine, and with Don Nicol, she sang the romantic tune of the show, ‘Everything I Love.’
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Monday, 14 September 1942, p.7,
Sydney Royal, which in a series of revivals has been presenting what seemed to be the long death-agony of musicomedy, has come all alive and kicking with Let’s Face It. It’s fresh from America, it’s topical, it’s funny, there are no doldrums and everybody—Joy Youlden, Yvonne Banvard, Lily Moore, Marie La Varre, Don Nicol, the specialty dancers, the singers, the ballet—works as if they really meant it this time. Don Nicol hit on part of the reason for its success when he said at the end that the co. had been delighted to be given something new they could get their teeth into. But there's more than that to it: it’s Australian, as well as American. It’s about Uncle Sam’s army at home, but Uncle Sam's army is here, and for all time the US troops are part of the Australian tradition. And on top of that, they've worked in a fair sprinkling of local gags. So delighted was the house to hear something Australian that Ron Beck had only to mention Percy Spender to get a laugh that shook the roof.
The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), Vol. 63, No. 3267, 23 September 1942, p.2
In addition to Sydney photographer, Sam Hood’s series of stage photos of cast members taken during dress rehearsals for display in the theatre’s foyer, stage-hand, Les Thorp was also on hand at the Theatre Royal during the run with his trusty 8mm cine camera, which grants us a rare opportunity to glimpse a short selection of scenes from the original Australian production of Let’s Face It!, albeit from the vantage point of the prompt-side wings and the first-floor ‘flies’ gallery. These include Ron Shand’s telephone routine, which opens the action (alas!—viewed in ‘silence’) the three wives flirting and dancing with the trio of soldiers; specialty dancers, Gerald McErlean and Gwen Bazeley peforming ‘A Little Rhumba Number’; scenes of preparation for the troop concert at ‘The Service Club at Camp Roosevelt’, with the rotund Ron Beck seen in drag in a grass skirt and (former commercial artist) Don Nicol displaying his skill at ‘making faces’; the Act 1 opening scene set in ‘The Alicia Allen Milk Farm on Long Island’ with the female ensemble (which included among their ranks, a young Betty Pounder) and the wives arrival; chorus members seen in the wings following the Act 1 finale, and the stage crew setting up the scenery for Act 2, Scene 3—‘The Hollyhock Inn Gardens’.
Scenes from Let’s Face It! taken from the wings by Les Thorp, senior stage-hand with JCW, 1939-1956. Courtesy of Paul Worsnop.
Following a successful run of 11 weeks, Let’s Face It! wrapped up its season at the Theatre Royal on Saturday, 28 November, where it was followed by a revival of the German operetta White Horse Inn (in Harry Graham’s English adaptation) which commenced on Saturday, 5 December following a week of rehearsals with its big revolving stage. Let’s Face It! did not immediately tour, as many of the cast members, including Don Nicol, Marie Ryan, Fred Murray, Joy Youlden and Marie La Varre also had featured roles in White Horse Inn, which also saw the return of Strella Wilson in the lead role of inn proprietress, ‘Josepha’, which she had played for the show’s Australian premiere tour in 1934.
The nostalgic appeal of the (Czech) Ralph Benatzky and (Austrian) Robert Stolz scored operetta kept audiences flocking to Sydney’s Theatre Royal for the next 18 weeks (one week longer than its original Australian premiere season at the same theatre nine years earlier) and the production finally closed on the 14 April 1943. The company then headed south to open its season at His Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne on Saturday, 24 April. The lilting melodies and quaint humour of the old war-horse continued to fill the theatre for the next 17 weeks before its closing night on 19 August, to be followed by the revival of The Girl Friend (with Nicol, Ryan, Youlden, Murray, Mack, La Varre et al. again featured) from Saturday, 21 August to 19 November 1943 for a further 13 weeks. Melbourne audiences were finally given the opportunity to front up to Let’s Face It! when it opened at His Majesty’s on the evening of Saturday, 20 November 1943.