Shows To Remember: ONE MO’ TIME

On July 14th 1981 a show opened in London which had travelled from New York but originated in New Orleans. ONE MO’ TIME grew from an idea supported by people donating their time into a hugely successful musical delight which toured the world for several years.

Being taken to the theatre by friends for a birthday treat is always memorable. And so it was for my 21st when, as hard-up art students, my dear friends Julia and Shirley scraped together the money to buy us the last three seats on the back row of the Upper Circle at London’s Phoenix Theatre to see the jazzy 1920s black musical revue ONE MO’ TIME. It is an evening- and a show- which I have never forgotten.

The show had a fascinating history, from its first creation in New Orleans, to audiences clamouring for further performances, developing into longer runs and bigger halls, growing in popularity – opening in New York, London and then touring globally.

ONE MO’ TIME is a musical revue conceived, written by and starring Vernel Bagneris. It recreates an evening of 1920s African-American vaudeville, set at the Lyric Theatre of New Orleans one sultry night in 1926 . Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey played the Lyric, as did Sweet Mama Stringbean, later better known as Ethel Waters. (Sadly the Lyric burned down in 1927).

The Lyric was on the black vaudeville circuit known as the Theatre Owners Booking Association (T.O.B.A.). To the circuit artists themselves, the acronym stood for “Tough On Black Asses”, for the hours were long, the pay was short and the bosses mercilessly exploited the workers- as people of colour found in so many industries.

The show centres around Big Bertha’s touring vaudeville song and dance show, with offstage dialogue scenes interlacing the numbers. The star of the show was undoubtedly the music, but the backstage gossiping, rivalry, hardships, intrigues and flirtations were all interwoven to add texture to the music and give a supporting story for the performers to work with.

Originating in New Orleans as a one nighter, the show’s wildly enthusiastic reception demanded further performances, from where the show’s popularity grew exponentially. The Off-Broadway production opened in New York at the Village Gate in October 1979, running for several years. At the 23rd Annual Grammy Awards in 1980 the recording of the show was nominated for the Best Original Cast Show Album (losing to that year’s big hitter, EVITA). The live recording (produced by legendary Jerry Wexler – who also co-produced the show in New York) captures perfectly the crackle of enthusiasm audiences had for this show, and the album was a substantial seller in the soundtracks category.

In 1981 the original New York cast were invited to bring the show to London, and the production opened at the 1200-seat Cambridge Theatre on July 14 to excellent reviews (as evidenced in the poster below); outlasting its predicted run, in November the show transferred to the 1000-seat Phoenix Theatre, where it ran until July 17th, 1982, achieving a total of 486 performances, along the way earning an Olivier Award nomination for Best New Musical.

The performances were – by the time of arrival in London – highly polished, and the cast’s professionalism perhaps threw a harsher light on the scripted segments between the numbers. The dialogue was always designed to feel somewhat improvised, which gave the show a feeling of rough-and-ready authenticity, although some disagreed that it made the show feel a little “scrappy”. Whatever your reactions to the script, when the songs appeared they stole the show, in soulful, humorous and engaging performances.

The show encompassed twenty songs, all well-chosen; from the heartfelt “He’s Funny That Way” to the defiant “After You’ve Gone”; from the upbeat dance numbers including “Wait Till You See My Baby Do The Charleston” to the hilariously suggestive “Kitchen Man” and “You’ve Got The Right Key But The Wrong Keyhole”, the songs were balanced perfectly to provide highs, lows and laughs in satisfying measure.

Audiences hugged it. British audiences loved the jazzy orchestrations, the sometimes sweet, sometimes raunchy songs and the vitality of dances including the Charleston, the black bottom and the cakewalk performed by a hugely talented cast who seemed to be enjoying it as much as we were – it all added up to happy audiences at curtain down. Even when I saw it, halfway through its run, audiences really took this show to its heart – they stood, stamped, clapped and cheered. As did we.

In Summer 2001 a staging of ONE MO’ TIME at Williamstown Theatre Festival in USA got a very enthusiastic response and so the show was planned to open at Broadway’s Longacre Theatre in February 2002. Despite good notices, audiences didn’t materialise and sadly the show closed after a few months.

No one can say for certain why a revival succeeds or fails. All that I can tell you is that in my opinion the show is ready for another revival, perhaps in the UK. After the success of AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ I think that this could be a hit as a co-production between several smaller-scale theatres who could share its extended run to make it financially viable.

I would love to see it return. But thanks to the album, I can go back to the original any time I want to. And with the resources below, you can experience some of the atmosphere from this very special show. Enjoy!

Hear Vernel Bagneris talk about the genesis of the show in a New Orleans Public Radio interview from 2016 here

You can listen to the original cast recording of ONE MO’ TIME here

You can see the original cast perform the musical numbers from the show (very sadly the connecting dialogue scenes have been edited out of this recording adapted for German TV) here


For anyone interested, here is a track listing of the Musical Numbers:

  1. Down in Honky Tonk Town
  2. Kiss Me Sweet
  3. Miss Jenny’s Ball
  4. Cake Walkin’ Babies From Home
  5. I’ve Got What It Takes
  6. C.C. Rider
  7. The Graveyard
  8. He’s Funny That Way
  9. Kitchen Man
  10. Wait Till You See My Baby Do the Charleston
  11. Love
  12. Louise
  13. New Orleans Hop Scop Blues
  14. Everybody Loves My Baby
  15. You’ve Got the Right Key But the Wrong Keyhole
  16. After You’ve Gone
  17. My Man Blues
  18. Papa De Da Da
  19. Muddy Waters
  20. There’s Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight

Time to Remember: OKLAHOMA!, CAROUSEL, SOUTH PACIFIC and ANNIE GET YOUR GUN – their first UK productions

While the live theatre scene is paused, here is the next in a series which aims to fill the gap. It delves into the past to remind us of certain significant or memorable events. The musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Irving Berlin are rightly respected as high-water mark achievements of their times. Proof of their timeless appeal is that they are still performed around the world to this day.

In looking through the writings of my late colleague ANTHONY FIELD, I have come across several interesting stories relating to these shows’ First Nights in the UK, at all of which Anthony was present. Here’s a fascinating look back to the birth of some legendary shows and performances, compiled from his writings in 2010.

My programme from the first night of OKLAHOMA! At the Opera House, Manchester on Friday 18 April 1947 reminds me that it starred Harold Keel – who swiftly had to change his name to Howard Keel as British Equity already had a Harold Keel on their books.

Few theatregoers in Manchester then seemed to know what “The Theatre Guild presents OKLAHOMA!” was all about. It was due to commence at 6.30 – and by 6.50 the packed house was getting restive – “how like the Americans to be late!” I overheard. 

The curtains parted a little and a cowboy stepped forward to apologise for the delay because “our sets and costumes were on the Queen Elizabeth liner stranded on a sandbank off Southampton, but we are almost ready to begin.” He disappeared back through the curtains and a buzz went around the house, slowly subsiding. All of a sudden the orchestra struck up, Aunt Eller was churning the milk and the potent voice of Harold Keel enchanted us with “There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow…..”. The gleaming sunshine of the show lit up the auditorium- and the audience with it. OKLAHOMA! utterly thrilled the grey and gloomy British, still reeling from the War. From that moment on, there was no holding this powerhouse of a show, sweeping us off our feet and, two weeks later, Theatre Royal Drury Lane audiences for 1,543 performances. Further Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals followed it into Drury Lane – CAROUSEL, THE KING AND I and SOUTH PACIFIC. (see afterword)


poster for original Broadway production of South Pacific

Talking about SOUTH PACIFIC, in those days producers banned the songs in a new musical being played too early in the UK, in the fear that the public might tire of the scores before they ever reached the West End. I vividly remember coming back from New York in 1949 and “smuggling” 10-inch vinyl discs of SOUTH PACIFIC into the UK which made me very popular amongst musical aficionados in those days! The London production of SOUTH PACIFIC ran from November 1, 1951 for 802 performances at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Joshua Logan directed; Mary Martin and Wilbur Evans starred, and in a tiny chorus part was a very young Sean Connery!


When ANNIE GET YOUR GUN opened at the London Coliseum on 7 June 1947 the young lead, Dolores Gray, became a star overnight. Together with Bill Johnson she reigned for 1304 performances, with Wendy Toye and Irving Davies dancing delightfully. As well as being there at the first night, I also well remember the last night when, after countless curtain calls, the audience simply refused to leave. The set was struck and the bare stage did not deter the applause until finally Dolores Gray and Bill Johnson returned in their street clothes, sat on a costume trunk and sang THEY SAY THAT FALLING IN LOVE IS WONDERFUL with just a piano accompaniment and finally, THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS to persuade the audience to go home. 


Recalling these marvellous musicals reminded me of another London first night- that of CAROUSEL which opened at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on June 7, 1950. The production was restaged by Jerome Whyte, with a cast that included Stephen Douglass (Billy), Iva Withers (Julie) and Margot Moser (Carrie), achieving 566 performances.

Being fortunate enough to have had a partner (Ted) as devoted to the stage as I am, we have a complete record of the events of the times through all the first night reviews. Some of you may be surprised to see how short some of the references are to the actual music in the show. But it underlines one of my bug-bears- that music in musicals should be taken more seriously by critics. And now, 60 years later, when CAROUSEL and its fellow works are considered theatrical milestones, the problem for newer musicals still exists to a significant extent.

Please bear in mind that the UK was still enduring great shortages- this included paper, and so newspapers had to be ever more concise in their reporting. Here, for your interest, is the press’s entire critical assessment of the music in CAROUSEL- some of them two words, others many more. It is still quite startling to read them all this time later. Also it should be borne in mind that the majority of the public read just one newspaper.

“Three tunes are charming – “If I Loved You, “You’re A Queer One” and “June is Bustin'” – for the rest I wouldn’t give tuppence” -Sunday Dispatch

“Fine numbers” – Sunday Pictorial

“Full of good numbers like ‘June is Bustin'” – Sunday Express

“I remember the rush of the June song, the most exhilarating thing in a generous score” – Observer

“The music is a genuine delight to the ear. The choruses and ballets are inventive” – Sunday Graphic

“The songs are not as catchy as those in OKLAHOMA!” – Reynolds News

“The music, if less hummable, has more of an operatic quality. The lyrics are cleverer” – Daily Mail

“Many pretty tunes by Richard Rogers though even these are not the best he can do” – News Chronicle

“There is a ‘Sonny Boy’ sort of song sequence that brings tears” – Daily Mirror

“There are fresh and eloquent songs and one of those lively and audacious choruses” – The Times

“There is a song “June is Bustin'” that seems at exploding-point with joy and enthusiasm and youth: and there is a masterly sailors’ hornpipe” – The Sunday Times

“Hammerstein’s taradiddle is offset to some extent by the boom-de-ay of Rodgers, who has written two certain hit tunes and a number of probables” – Sunday Chronicle

“The songs are a summer tonic and here are the three you will remember: ‘You’re a Queer One’, ‘If I Loved You’ and ‘June is Bustin”- the last most of all” – News of the World

“The music is delightful and really advances the drama and underlines it in a way a far grander opera from a British pen so much fails to do; it also reminds me of Stephen Foster type balladry of the States” – Time and Tide

“The music does not disdain the operatic method of underlining the drama, but it manages to preserve something of the homespun appeal of a ballad by Stephen Foster, and there are never long stretches which do not soon flower into some bouncing dance or jingling chorus song” – Manchester Guardian

“There is a great deal of music and although there are such magnificent tunes as “June is Bustin'” and “When I Marry Mr Snow” much of it is a finely orchestrated background to the action” – The Daily Telegraph

“Numbers, except for a brisk song about the arrival of June, are as unremarkable as they are pretentious” – The Daily Herald

“The music is not a s good as Richard Wagner’s but it may take the ear more easily” – The Evening News

“CAROUSEL is Dick Rodgers’ triumph. He looks like a businessman and writes like a modern Richard Strauss. No wonder modern American symphony orchestras play his works. There is never a moment that the music does not express the mood and point of the tale. The opening waltz is a superb, sardonic commentary on the sad gaiety of circus life. Rodgers is incapable of a cliche or a descent to the commonplace” – The Evening Standard

“The musical side contains three songs destined to make early appearances in the best-selling list – “June is Bustin'”, “What’s The Use of Wond’rin'”, and “If I Loved You”. Besides these there are half a dozen subsidiary songs and melodies which are unlikely to be heard much outside the show but which are fetching examples of the distinguished work turned out by this lyricist and composer. I particularly took to a thing called “You’re a Queer One, Julie Jordan” but I dare say you’ll find your own pet pieces in a score which delightfully and cunningly follows every mood an turn of the plot” – What’s On

Souvenir programme cover from London run of CAROUSEL, 1951
Broadway poster from original production of CAROUSEL

AFTERWORD Anyone interested in hearing more about the first productions of OKLAHOMA! will be interested to listen to this short (12 minute) programme from the BBC. You can access it here.


With thanks to the Estate of Anthony Field for permission to publish his writings


Time to Remember: Lena Horne at the Adelphi Theatre

Lena Horne, who died ten years ago this month, was one of the most sophisticated song stylists of her generation. In this appreciation ANTHONY FIELD recalls his association with her and her history, living as she did through times which were not as enlightened as our current society’s. But most of all, it celebrates her triumphs as an artist – no one was going to silence this lady and her music!

This tribute dates from May 2010

One of the first decisions I had to make when I took up the post as Finance Director at Theatre Projects was whether to extend the season of Lena Horne’s THE LADY AND HER MUSIC which we presented at the Adelphi Theatre in London in August 1984. Faced with the age-old show business dilemma I had to decide whether the first sell-out month should be extended for a second month. We had pioneered opening the show on Sundays and closing on Mondays which had proved successful but we still had to decide whether to extend the season (and risk losing an extra month of business) or to risk finding that would-be ticket buyers who had initially failed to obtain tickets would not come back. This was the dilemma I recorded in The Stage newspaper of 9 August 1984.

The show was an absolute sell-out and proved that Lena Horne was right to postpone her retirement planned for 1980. This last appearance of Lena in London is recalled by many of us who are sad to hear of her death this month (May 2010) at the age of 92.

I first saw her live at her London Palladium debut in August 1950 when she played to enraptured audiences for two sold-out weeks. Her husband, Lennie Hayton, MGM’s Musical Director, conducted his own exciting arrangements opening with “You Do Something To Me” which raised the roof. The variety bill supporting her included Bernard Miles and Billy Cotton and his band. I never asked her what she thought of them! (She returned for another successful season at the Palladium in June 1952).

Born in Brooklyn on 30 June 1917 she was the daughter of an actress and a hotel operator. Her early life was unsettled as her parents divorced when she was three and she spent her childhood living with various relatives. As a young girl she planned to be a teacher but the Depression came and she left the Brooklyn High School For Girls and went to a dancers’ audition at the Cotton Club. She was hired and spent three years learning all about show business from some of the greats including Billie Holliday, Cab Calloway, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

She married Louis Jones and had two children, Ted and Gail, but the marriage failed and Lena divorced him after four years. She then joined Charlie Barnett’s band as their singer and was spotted by MGM’s music supervisor Roger Edens, after which MGM producer Arthur Freed offered her a contract.

Her first film was “Panama Hattie” and the studio created special make-up for her called “Light Egyptian”. Her next film was “Cabin in the Sky” when she played opposite Ethel Waters but MGM did not offer her another assignment, loaning her out to 20th Century-Fox for “Stormy Weather” where she played opposite Bill Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers. She then appeared in “As Thousands Cheer”, “Swing Fever”, “Broadway Rhythm”, “Two Girls and a Sailor”, “Ziegfeld Follies” and “Till the Clouds Roll By” but she was always limited to a guest spot number which could be cut out when the film was shown in southern US states’ theatres without affecting the plot. Her last film at MGM was “Duchess of Idaho” in 1950.

During World War Two Lena became the pin-up for hundreds of thousands of black GIs and was firm in her refusal to appear on any tours unless black soldiers were admitted as part of the audience.

In 1950, Lena announced her three-year secret marriage to Lennie Hayton. Their marriage of 24 years ended with his sudden death in 1971 which ended what was a real love match.

Being black in Hollywood’s white society was not easy and for a long time her only real friend there was Orson Welles. Living in a wealthy neighbourhood, the residents there were convinced that she “lowered the tone of the place”. But Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre constantly came to her defence.

Surprisingly, her only big success in a Broadway musical was “Jamaica” with music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Yip Harburg. It opened in October 1957 with a cast including Ricardo Montalban and Adelaide Hall and ran for 555 performances.

After Lennie Hayton’s death she lived a quiet life in Santa Barbara. Her son Ted also died in 1971 of a kidney ailment and her daughter Gail had married Sidney Lumet, giving Lena her beloved two grandsons and three granddaughters.

In 1980 she was persuaded to spend a year of planning, writing, honing and rehearsing “The Lady And Her Music” which opened at the Nederlander Theatre on 12 May 1981. The reviews were unanimously sensational and it became the hottest ticket in New York, receiving a special Tony Award, the Drama Desk Award and the New York Drama Critics’ Award. Its 14-month run made it the longest running one-woman show in Broadway history.

Lena finally brought the show to London when Michael Billington wrote that “her timing, phrasing and emotional voltage remain as powerful as ever. In “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” she takes a line like “I’m a real, ripe, juicy plum again” and delivers every syllable into your lap with onomatopoeic suggestiveness. And she can even take the ride in “Surrey With the Fringe On Top” and, through fierce, whispered enunciation of every particle of every word, turn it into something full of moonlit eroticism.”

Opening the evening with Rodgers and Hart’s “A Lady Must Live”, she ended the evening of 22 songs with “Stormy Weather”.

She told me at dinner after that first night that “After this Adelphi engagement I’m going to call it a day. It’s time to concentrate on my five grandchildren. Enough is enough!”

With thanks to the Estate of Anthony Field for permission to publish this article.

AFTERWORD An audio recording of the 1981 Broadway run was made and is available through a wide range of streaming outlets including Spotify and Amazon Music

ADDITION You will be pleased to hear that a recording of the entire Broadway show has turned up on my favourite archive, YouTube. You can find it here



Let’s go to the Theatre……in 1981

For the first in a series called The Time Travel Theatre Trip, we are all off to the Vaudeville Theatre in London, in the year 1981, to see a well-cast and entertaining Noel Coward comedy, PRESENT LAUGHTER.

As I remember, John Gale produced the show first at Greenwich Theatre, and then brought it in to the West End for a respectable run which did very good business. The casting is well-nigh perfect in my opinion. Donald Sinden is glorious in full bluster as Garry Essendine; Dinah Sheridan still beautiful and elegant, Gwen Watford always a most respected actress and solid support. And all, of course, happy to be working….

What is particularly eye-catching is that, uncredited on the external advertising, two of the lesser supporting players are omitted; Belinda Lang, still doing sterling work onstage today in 2019, and also one Julian Fellowes. I wonder what happened to him……? (NB He was a delight here as the annoying Roland Maule)

I saw this early in its Vaudeville Theatre run and soon after the BBC cameras came in and recorded it to show as a TV schedule highlight. Back in those days a West End show was occasionally a TV highlight; in the 1960s Brian Rix farces from the Whitehall were a regular Christmas TV event for some years, proving immensely popular with theatre and television audiences.

How did they shoot PRESENT LAUGHTER back then? With the limited technology of 1981, two or three consecutive performances were recorded with cameras sat in the stalls and a couple of side boxes. The best scenes from each performance were then selected to form the eventual broadcast whole.


Anyway, time to sit back, put your feet up, and enjoy going to the theatre in 1981.
Who’s got the popcorn?……..

Part One (runs 1 hour 7 mins)


INTERVAL TIME. Take 15 minutes off to pop to the loo, grab a drink or an ice cream, and get back to your seat in good time. When you are ready, it’s on to…..


Part Two (runs 1 hour 19 mins)


With acknowledgement and thanks to the show’s YouTube poster E.W.R. Many


Review: CAN I HELP YOU?

IN BRIEF Compassionate exploration of mental health is challenging but ultimately uplifting

Be Kind. To yourself and others. That’s the core message in Philip Osment’s final play, CAN I HELP YOU? It’s an intriguing puzzle of a play which gradually pulls together a picture of two very different people who have mental health issues. Both have blamed themselves for things not in their power to control, causing them lifelong guilt and self-punishment.

Just as Francis, an off-duty policeman, is about to throw himself off of Beachy Head, he encounters Fifi wandering along with a large shopping bag and a cat box.

Fifi has battled cruelty all her life, from being the only black child at her school, to her own child’s stillbirth, and to her husband’s lack of love and care. Relying on God, voices in her head and her cat (Kat), she has somehow forged her own way through life. Still guilt-ridden, she envisions what her son (Michael)’s life would have been like, and she yearns for him. She thinks she sees him in the people she meets.

Francis is racked with guilt about a time when as a young boy he left his chronically depressed mother alone so that he could get away from her and go on holiday – leaving her to commit suicide undetected.

However, the interspersed flashback scenes demonstrate that rather than being their fault, these events were out of their control, and not as their memories had chosen to recall them.

The guilt of the son and the guilt of the mother are delicately contrasted here and provide an eventual part-catharsis for both Francis and Fifi as they work through their troubled pasts through talking with each other.

Covering mental health from a view of both race and gender, Osment’s script highlights the human costs of the failures of social care systems and their impacts upon innocent people who try to carry on whilst absorbing the overwhelming mental damage this causes.

The script treats the characters with warmth, compassion and understanding, providing a reflective mood for characters and audience alike. As one of them says, “we get so caught up with things that don’t matter you forget the bigger picture”. And here, away from the rest of their lives, it feels that they can get a precious “bigger picture” view of their situation.

A symbolic ending seems gently uplifting in Osment’s signature way; a fitting way to sign off a life’s work.

Technically, the flashback scenes were effectively achieved by changes in lighting and swift physical and vocal character shifts, done with aplomb by the two actors. I did feel that Gabriel Vick’s Francis was rather underplayed at the start of the play, although he gains dramatic “weight” as he gets into the role. Perhaps this might have been a direction issue, although the rest of the play comes across well. Susan Aderin’s Fifi is a magnetic performance, rolling with all the drama and swell of the stormy sea that surrounds her. She gives a powerful performance of pain, loss and hope.

Max Pappenheim’s ebbing and flowing seascape sound design nicely captures the feel of place and the power of nature, the stormy weather echoing the internal mental turbulence the characters feel.

Like other of Osment’s plays, I found that it was rather overstuffed with themes and ideas; the strand about immigration needed more time to enjoy its own space rather than being quickly raised and dropped. But the central themes are well-expressed and the 75-minute running time flew by.

CAN I HELP YOU? Ran at the Omnibus Theatre, Clapham until March 15th after which it was closed early owing to the public health emergency.