On October 29, 1936, the Broadway musical “Red, Hot and Blue” made its highly anticipated debut at the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon Theatre) in New York City. The production was the brainchild of legendary composer Cole Porter, whose witty lyrics and infectious melodies had already made him a titan of the American musical theater.

The musical’s plot centered around Nails O’Reilly Duquesne, a newly wealthy young widow who was formerly a manicurist. Loud and brassy, Nails organizes a nationwide benefit for her favorite cause – the rehabilitation of ex-convicts. Together with her sidekick, Policy Pinkle (an “ex-con” himself), and her boyfriend, lawyer Bob Hale, Nails embarks on a search for Bob’s old girlfriend, which is revealed to be the real reason for the enterprise. The national lottery that Nails starts to fund the benefit gets the attention of the Finance Committee, leading to a complicated situation in Washington D.C. where the Supreme Court ultimately declares the lottery unconstitutional.

The musical’s star-studded cast was led by the renowned Ethel Merman as Nails O’Reilly Duquesne, with comedian Jimmy Durante as Policy Pinkle and Bob Hope as Bob Hale. While the book was criticized as “fairly elementary,” Porter’s songs, including the popular “It’s De-Lovely,” were well-received by critics. The production’s “dazzling choreography” also earned praise.

However, the musical’s success was short-lived. “Red, Hot and Blue” closed on April 10, 1937, after a run of 183 performances. According to theatre writer Stanley Green, the show was not a success, and the major problem was the book.”  Green noted that Porter’s songs were more “inspired,” with Merman’s performance of “Down in the Depths” being a particular highlight.

During the out-of-town tryouts, the libretto was deemed too long and did not blend well with Porter’s music. The producer, Vinton Freedley, made numerous suggestions for overhauling the show, which were accepted by all except Porter himself. Additional conflicts arose over the billing of the lead actors, which was ultimately resolved by having Merman and Durante’s names form an X-shaped cross on posters and marquees.

Despite its relatively brief time on Broadway, “Red, Hot, and Blue” has left a lasting legacy. The a cappella group “Redhot & Blue” at Yale University, Porter’s alma mater, takes its name from the musical and still performs the title song. While the production itself has largely faded from the public consciousness, it remains a testament to the enduring artistry of Cole Porter and the golden age of Broadway musicals.

Sources:
1 Cole Porter: A Biography by Charles Schwartz The World of Musical Comedy by Stanley Green Playbill.com – “Red, Hot and Blue! Opens at Goodspeed in CT, Nov. 3” Redhot & Blue of Yale University website The New York Times – “Stage: Cole Porter’s ‘Red, Hot And Blue!’ Revived”

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Written with ChatGPT and Perplexity

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