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A madcap farce aboard a ship bound for England has Reno trying to help the stowaway Billy to find his true love, who is travelling aboard. Gangsters, molls, mistaken identity, and topical humor abound.
A story about this show that has been frequently repeated (including by Stanley Green) is that the original plot involved a shipwreck. As the story goes, a new book was required when the SS Morro Castle burned off the coast of New Jersey with great loss of life shortly before rehearsals were to begin. Clearly, a musical comedy about a shipwreck would not seem funny after such a tragedy. With the authors of the book, Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, not even in the United States, producer Vinton Freedley enlisted Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse to refashion the libretto into something less disturbing under the circumstances.
According to Miles Kreuger (in his booklet notes for the recording of the score conducted by John McGlinn), the original book did not involve a shipwreck. There was a subplot involving a fake bomb that terrified the passengers of the ship on which most of the action took place, but the bomb got thrown overboard in Act One. In Act Two, the passengers did remain fearful that other possible dangers might occur, which led the character then known as Jenny (the role being fashioned for Merman) to try to dispel the fear by singing a big gospel number.
Clearly, this could be a problem, but not such a big one as to require an entirely new book. According to some sources, the real problem was that no one had ever really been happy with the book, except perhaps Bolton and Wodehouse, who not only weren't in the U.S. but were living in separate countries — Bolton was in London, while Wodehouse was in France (where he'd moved to escape tax problems in England).
According to Kreuger, one thing that worried Freedley was that the book at that time featured a character named Elmer Purkis, "a veteran screenwriter who has walked out on his contract because he cannot bear to be a 'yesman' any longer. ... Freedley was fearful that the rather derisive attitude toward Hollywood might ruin chances of a film sale. and he was torn between rejecting it and having Lindsay attempt an heroic salvation."
Freedley had already hired Lindsay to direct with the additional understanding that Lindsay, a very successful playwright and director who'd already worked with both Freedley (helping out, uncredited, on a show titled Here's Howe! that was in trouble) and Porter (directing the original production of Gay Divorce), would rework the book as necessary.
The Morro Castle disaster occurred on Sept. 8, 1934. Rehearsals were to start on Sept. 10. Rehearsals were postponed, and it was agreed that Lindsay would need a collaborator on the book. They decided to ask Russell Crouse — who at the time was working as the press representative for the Theatre Guild — even though neither of them knew him. Crouse had formerly written a couple of humor columns for the New York Post. Despite the fact that Crouse's only previous theatrical ventures as a writer had been failures, Lindsay decided that he was the right person. Thus was formed a writing partnership that lasted almost 30 years. Or at least that is the story. But there is evidence that Crouse had actually been brought on board even before the Morro Castle disaster.
Close perusal of various stories that have been told over the years by those involved along with press reports at the time suggest that Crouse was helping to revise the book ever before the Morro Castle disaster.
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