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Rediscovering La, La, Lucille

In this post, Associate Editor Jacob Kerzner describes discovering materials that had been thought lost from George Gershwin’s first full musical, La, La, Lucille (1919), and some of the challenges of preparing the new critical edition. For our recordings of the rediscovered materials, please see this post.

Original publication of “Tee-Oodle-Um-Bum-Bo” from La, La, Lucille (New York: T.B. Harms & Francis, Day & Hunter, 1919, plate 5780-4)

As the world celebrates the centennial of Rhapsody in Blue, many are marveling at the 25-year-old George Gershwin’s accomplished musicality. His rise to fame began four years earlier in April 1920 when Columbia Records released Al Jolson’s performance of his and Irving Caesar’s song “Swanee,” selling an estimated two million records.[1] But just months before this song premiered in the 1919 revue Demi-Tasse, at twenty years of age, George composed his first complete score to a book musical: La, La, Lucille. Eight piano/vocal selections were published,[2] and four orchestrations (all cut or reused) are preserved in the Library of Congress.[3] The remainder of the music, including the orchestration, was thought to be lost until recently: on behalf of the Gershwin Initiative, I am pleased to announce the rediscovery of this music, to be included in our forthcoming volume of The George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition.

Into the Archives

On August 28, 2023 I visited the Samuel French Company Theater Collection at Amherst College to collect various materials for our other musical theater projects, including a script for Of Thee I Sing and some sheet music from George White’s Scandals. With much help from Margaret Dakin and the rest of Amherst’s archival team, I browsed several boxes and found mostly duplicates of sources to which we already had access or versions from long after George’s death.[4] With my unexpected extra time I requested a box labelled “La la [sic] Lucille,”[5] expecting nothing more than what we had thought was extant, but as I sifted through almost 800 pages of music, many crumbling at the edges, I gradually confirmed that these materials were indeed from the supposedly “lost” show.

contents of Box 62, Amherst College, photo by Jacob Kerzner

On January 31, 2024, former Samuel French musicals editor/archivist Ron Spivak spoke with me about the history of this archive. Ron’s first job was at Samuel French, where he worked under company president M. Abbott Van Nostrand (1911–1995) for about five years. Before online catalogs, one of Ron’s responsibilities was to suggest titles to inquiring producers; later, after he heroically resolved conflicting versions of Kander and Ebb’s Woman of the Year (1981, book by Peter Stone), Ron was put in charge of the musicals. Ron told me that a “refrigerator within a room” had been installed to house a mainframe computer and, when the office moved in 1984 (serendipitously from 25 W 45th St. to 45 W 25th St.) and this air-conditioned cubicle was being dismantled, the staff discovered a 20-foot wall of shelves full of materials from the 1920s and ’30s, including Of Thee I Sing (leading to the 1987 Tilson-Thomas recording) and, likely, what we have uncovered as La, La, Lucille.

La, La, Lucille: “A Magnet for Fun Seekers”[6]

La, La, Lucille is a bedroom farce, which one critic described as “a riotous syncopation of negligees, racy lines and embarrassing situations.”[7] The book is by Fred Jackson (1886–1953), who was known for writing in this popular subgenre,[8] with lyrics primarily by Buddy DeSylva (1895–1950) and Arthur J. Jackson (1893–1922), Fred’s younger brother, for whom this was a first venture into musical comedy.[9] Additional songs included lyrics by Irving Caesar (1895–1996), and Lou Paley (1885–1952); the one contribution by Ira Gershwin, joining forces with DeSylva, was dropped. The production opened on Broadway on May 26, 1919,[10] and it was suspended on August 19 when Actor’s Equity Association called the first strike in American theatre history.[11] It reopened from September 8 to October 11 and began touring just days later,[12] playing throughout the Northeast until February 1920 and later California in September 1922. A silent film was also released in July 1920, but is regrettably assumed to be lost.[13]

Our Alfred and Jane Wolin Managing Editor, Dr. Andrew S. Kohler, synopsizes the plot as follows:

The central couple, John and Lucille Smith, are offered a way out of dire financial straits when a lawyer informs them that John’s Aunt Roberta has died and that he may inherit two million dollars from her (the equivalent of about $35 million in 2024). The catch is that he must promptly get divorced, due to the opprobrium of Lucille having worn satin pants on stage when she was in an act with her juggler father. Hijinks ensue as the couple concocts a sham infidelity to have sufficient grounds for the divorce, after ascertaining they may remarry.[14]

from the 1920 silent film,, last accessed February 9, 2024

Aside from a May 1926 regional production (featuring a young Busby Berkeley the year before his Broadway debut choregraphing A Connecticut Yankee),[15] there is no record of La, La, Lucille being produced again, which may not be surprising given that one review said it “takes you by storm […] but it’s a rough storm” and “the music is pleasing, or would be, if voiced well.”[16] In another, the production was described as “a decided hit,” but nevertheless it was deemed that “‘La, La, Lucille’ is not conventional—nay, nay, Pauline. And it has no plot to speak of.”[17] During Broadway tryouts, reviewer Earle Dorsey was harshly critical: “The cast, unfortunately, will need revision. It needs singers,” and “the drummer got lost somewhere between Thirty-fourth street, Manhattan and Thirteenth street, Washington.” But he also wrote that “[t]he music is possibl[y] the most commendable element of the production,” adding that George Gershwin, in “Tee-Oodle-Um-Bum-Bo” and “From Now On,” “has written at least two songs of promise.”[18]

Luckily, the show’s “promise” has not been completely lost since the 1920s, and several projects have involved the available materials from the show. In 2006, composer Douglas E. Wagner arranged Japanese from “The Love of a Wife,” a cut number from La, La, Lucille orchestrated by Frank Saddler (1864–1921).[19] Conductor Rick Benjamin recorded the published Selection with the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra on his November 2022 album “Deuces Wild” after finding copies of the parts in an Ithaca, New York barn.[20] To celebrate the show’s centennial, composer James Valcq mounted a production of La, La, Lucille at Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, where he was co-artistic director. Without the Samuel French materials, James studied “every possible piece of Gershwin music published between 1917 and 1922” and completed the orchestration in the style of the era.[21] To replace the missing openings and ensembles, he included other early Gershwin songs, even arranging accompaniment to an unpublished sketch of a melody labeled “Nov. 29, 1921.” James has been a helpful resource for our project, graciously sharing his copy of the script from the New York Public Library and working with us to identify the materials we have uncovered.


“Whist! Go the best plans”[22]: Our Editorial Challenges

Each of our volumes in the Gershwin Critical Edition presents its own distinct set of complications: the manuscript sources of Rhapsody in Blue are missing sections of solo piano, the final act of Primrose exists in various versions, and we are building Of Thee I Sing from instrumental parts with several layers of musicians’ markings. Given the state of the La, La, Lucille sources (likely sent in haste from 25 W 45th St.), this volume will be uniquely difficult.

Back in 1919, Broadway musical comedy was an emerging art form, one that the creators seem not to have considered important enough to be preserved. In the instrumental parts we now have, markings in several hands indicate changes to form, probably determined in rehearsals on the fly. Some songs appear in multiple keys, suggesting that the stars may have requested transpositions depending on their vocal health any given day. Some songs do not have parts for all the instruments, and it is difficult to know whether these were never made, are lost to history, or are lurking in another box awaiting discovery. Our goal is to publish performable editions, so these questions will be answered with our best judgement.

In addition to George Gershwin’s music, there are a number of songs by other writers included in the Amherst box that were interpolated into the show, as confirmed by newspaper reviews and pencil markings referencing the vaudeville act “Bronson and Baldwin.”[23] These songs include “Some Sunny Day” by Irving Berlin, “A Little Love, a Little Kiss” with lyrics by Adrian Ross written to a Lao Silesu melody, and apparently a burlesqued sextet from Gaetano Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor.[24] In order to accurately represent the nature of Broadway in the early 20th century, we believe these ought to be included in our publication.[25]

Ultimately, the discovery of La, La, Lucille opens as many questions as it answers. The song “Nobody But You”[26] sometimes appears with a different title, “It’s Different With You,” and we may never find these earlier lyrics. Without the show’s vocal score, we cannot know if the ensemble sang any of their sections in harmony. Notwithstanding these challenges, now that we have found these materials, we at the Gershwin Initiative are glad now to be able to publish a full volume of George’s first full musical and, to quote James Valcq before his 2019 production, we “hope we do George proud.”[27]

Jacob Kerzner serves as the Associate Editor for The George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition and Staff Pianist for the SMTD Department of Musical Theater. He holds an MA in Musical Theatre (Music Directing) from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, culminating in a season of shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and has worked on the development teams for the Tony Award-winning productions of Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma! and Hadestown. Recent projects include Tribute: Simon & Garfunkel (The Encore), The Secret Garden (Berkshire Theater Group), La bohème (Berkshire Opera Festival, University of Memphis), and The Falling and the Rising (Opera Memphis). For more information, visit


[1] Britannica Educational Publishing, The 100 Most Influential Musicians of All Time (The Rosen Publishing Group, 2009), 164.

[2] The publications may be accessed at the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection at Johns Hopkins University, The eight titles are “The Best of Everything,” “From Now On,” “The Love of a Wife,” “Nobody But You,” “Oo, how I Love to Be Loved by You,” “Somehow It Seldom Comes True,” “Tee-Oodle-Um-Bum-Bo,” and “There’s More to the Kiss Than the X.X.X.”

[3] Three by Frank Saddler (“Kitchenette,” “Love of a Wife,” and “Money”) and Maurice DePackh’s score for “The Ten Commandments of Love,” reused from the 1918 revue Half-Past Eight.

[4] The Samuel French Collection also contains the instrumental parts for Sweet Little Devil, which I collected in December 2022. These materials were used for the 2012 PS Classics Studio Cast Recording.

[5] The parts are in Box 62, which also contains miscellaneous materials, some of which I have since identified as portions of the 1922 musical Up She Goes, which has music by Harry Tierney (1890–1965).

[6] Thus described in “‘La La Lucille’ Draws Big Crowds,” San Francisco Examiner, August 19, 1922, page 11.

[7] “Last Night at the Theaters — Majestic,” The Buffalo Enquirer, October 14, 1919, page 7.

[8] Howard Pollack, George Gershwin: His Life and Work (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 234.

[9] “More of the Dramatic and New Musical Show,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, February 8, 1920, page 44.

[10] Tryout performances started as early as April 27; see “National—‘La, La, Lucille,’” The Evening Star, April 23, 1919, Page 14.

[11] “History,” Actors’ Equity webpage,, last accessed February 9, 2024.

[12] “Last Night at the Theaters,” The Buffalo Enquirer (this review references a performance from “last night”).

[13] “La La Lucille,”, last accessed February 8, 2024.

[14] Andrew S. Kohler, program notes for Gershwin Centennial Celebration, Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor, February 11, 2024,

[15] “Brockton Players in ‘La, La, Lucille’,” Billboard, May 22, 1926, page 30.

[16] “Sam B. Hardy Big Hit in ‘La, La, Lucille,” The Buffalo Evening News, October 14, 1919, page 20.

[17] “Theatres – La, La, Lucille Pleasing Comedy,” Modesto Morning Herald, September 28, 1922, page 3.

[18] Earle Dorsey, “National—‘La, La, Lucille’” (“Sunday Theater Openings”), The Washington Herald, April 28th, 1919, page 3.

[19] This title may be in reference to the show’s villain Oyama, a caricatured Japanese butler whose lines are crudely written in broken English, played by Jewish character actor Michael “Mike” W. (Israele) Rale (1877–1940), who was known for playing Asian characters onscreen. See “M. W. Rale,”, last accessed February 8, 2024.

[20] According to Benjamin, “the parts (all Ink-O-Graph process) bear a 1919 copyright notice, but neither the LoC [i.e., Library of Congress] or Copyright Office received a set” (correspondence, November 18, 2023).

[21] Third Avenue Playhouse press release, “Reclaiming a Lost Landmark: Gershwin’s First Broadway Musical Is Restored and Onstage,” July 2019,

[22] Lyric from the song “Somehow It Seldom Comes True” from Act III of La, La, Lucille.

[23] Both on Broadway and on tour, La, La, Lucille featured Winnie Baldwin (1894–1969) and her first husband, Percy Bronson ( Percy V. Raisbeck, 1881–1928), who had been recently “touring the Orpheum circuit in their popular futuristic sketch, ‘1971’” (“Theatres — La, La, Lucille Seat Sale Starts,” Modesto Morning Herald, September 26, 1922, page 3).

[24] “‘La, La, Lucille’ Sensational Success,” Santa Maria Daily Times, September 22, 1922, page 8.

[25] Our edition of Primrose (1924) presents a similar issue in how to handle the numerous interpolations in the instrumental parts we have acquired from Canberra, Australia.

[26] George Gershwin, Arthur J. Jackson, and Buddy DeSylva, “Nobody But You” (New York: T. B. Harms & Francis, Day & Hunter, 1919, plate 5838 4).

[27] Third Avenue Playhouse press release, “Reclaiming a Lost Landmark.”

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