Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fiorello! by Jerome Weidman, George Abbott, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (1960)

Summary:  The play follows the life and career of a New York City lawyer-turned-politician named Fiorello La Guardia over the course of ten years (beginning just before World War I).  The first scenes of the play depict Fiorello as a young mayor and savior to the common man, specifically immigrants and women who are striking at a dress factory for living wages.  Building on this popular appeal, Fiorello decides to run for United States Senate...and wins!  After signing a controversial draft bill, he enlists to fight in the first World War and eventually returns home with a war record and a large ego.

After returning home, he runs for mayor in 1929 and loses, largely due to his ego and refusal to listen to his advisers.  Shortly after hearing that he has lost this election and corrupt backers of his opponent were attempting to kill him, he receives word that his wife has died.  Relatively undaunted, Fiorello decides to marry his longtime secretary and begins campaigning for the next mayoral election immediately.  In 1933, he becomes the mayor of New York City once again.

Thoughts:  My New York City history perhaps isn't what it should be, because I had no idea that Fiorello La Guardia was an actual person who served three terms as mayor of New York City.  The name of the airport makes much more sense now.  Though the musical apparently takes some liberties with the details of his personal life, it is a somewhat exciting tribute to a very important person to the people of New York in the 20s and 30s.

Fiorello La Guardia.  Photo from Wikicommons.
There are few songs from this musical that are easily recognizable, though "Politics and Poker" and "Little Tin Box" are occasionally still played on Sirius XM Radio, especially because of the recent death of composer Jerry Bock. 

The lyrics assigned to women in the musical are a bit cringe-worthy, specifically Marie's "The Very Next Man" at the end of Act 2.  Desperate to be married, Marie sings, "No more daydreams for me/Find the finest of bridal suites/Chill the champagne and warm up the sheets/I'm gonna marry the very next man/And if he likes me/Who cares how frequently he strikes me/I'll fetch his slippers with my arm in a sling/Just for the privilege of wearing his ring" (134).  Marie's wishes come true a few pages later when Fiorello decides he will need a wife during the next campaign and states, "I think you can learn to love me" (146).

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