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Theatre / The Cat and the Fiddle

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The Cat and the Fiddle is "a musical love story" with book and lyrics by Otto Harbach and music by Jerome Kern. It was first produced on Broadway in 1931.

The story begins at a quay in Brussels on a summer night that, as the strolling street singer Pompineau vocalizes, is made for love. There a Romanian, musical and handsome composer named Victor Florescu meets a young American named Shirley Sheridan, who is supporting her brother Alexander and his wife and dancing partner Angie on royalties from her popular songs.

Victor and Shirley exchange love letters for a few weeks until they unexpectedly cease. Victor is left with nothing more than a pair of her gloves and feelings of heartbreak. These feelings inspire him to compose a musical Commedia dell'Arte, The Passionate Pilgrim, with his friend Biddlesby to write the French libretto and the violin-playing Odette to act the part of the hopeless lover Pierrot. Unbeknownst to Victor, Shirley has moved into an apartment across the courtyard from him, and her jazzy piano stylings he hears as trash or, at best, a travesty of Edvard Grieg. Moreover, his producer, Clement Daudet, seems to prefer the up-to-date sound of her music over his neoclassicism. Though Odette protects Victor's artistic integrity through her influence over the show's backer, Major Chatterly, Daudet remains convinced that Shirley's music, together with Alex and Angie's dancing, need to be interpolated into The Passionate Pilgrim in order to turn it into a commercial success. Victor's worries about artistic fidelity become entangled with those of Shirley's romantic fidelity to him.

A 1934 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film version, starring Ramon Novarro as Victor and Jeanette MacDonald as Shirley, is faithful to the original score but follows a different plot.

This musical contains examples of:

  • Beta Couple: Alexander and Angie Sheridan are the comically bickering and dancing second couple to the piano-vocal Victor and Shirley.
  • Crowd Song: Averted, due to the authors' avowed commitment to "eliminating Chorus Girls, production numbers and formal comedy routines." The only vocal ensemble is the offstage Ethereal Choir.
  • Diegetic Switch: The show has several instances of this:
    • As the scene of Shirley and Victor's piano duel fades out, the orchestral scene change music that follows (and repeats in the entr'acte) is based on snippets of Victor's fugue and Shirley's novelty piece.
    • In the second act, after Odette has convinced Victor more than ever that Shirley has been unfaithful to him, he hears Shirley playing one of her American pieces on the piano. The orchestra takes over this tune (which Alec and Angie danced to near the end of the first act) without interruption as the Dream Ballet ensues.
  • The Eleven O'Clock Number: Shirley jazzes up the final scene with "Hh! Cha Cha!" (sic), which reuses part of "Why Do I Love You" from Show Boat as a countermelody.
  • Foreign Cuss Word: Odette and Victor swear in French when in a rage.
  • Gratuitous French: The show has much spoken and sung French from major and minor characters. The final scene of the Show Within a Show is sung entirely in French, as is "The Night Was Made For Love" at the beginning of the show (the same character reprises it in English several times).
  • Medley Overture: The Entr'acte (the show has an Opening Ballet instead of an overture) begins with music from the first act's dueling pianists scene. This is followed by a slow transition to a lively foxtrot arrangement (led off by the three pianos) of "She Didn't Say Yes," whose tune is interleaved with various instrumental themes and "The Breeze Kissed Your Hair" (on top of which is piled the verse to another song, "Try to Forget").
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Victor spends most of the second act under the mistaken impression, furthered by Odette, that she has been sleeping with Daudet.
  • Musicalis Interruptus: "She Didn't Say 'Yes'" never makes it through a full verse, though it's a different verse each time. The one time it isn't interrupted before the end is when Shirley turns on a gramophone recording of it and starts singing the words from the fifth line of the third verse.
  • Opening Ballet: The show opens without an overture on a series of choreographic vignettes depicting the charming street life of Brussels, with vendors occasionally singing their cries.

Alternative Title(s): The Cat And The Fiddle