By Jeeves, originally Jeeves, is a musical with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and lyrics and book by Alan Ayckbourn. It is based on the series of novels and short stories by P. G. Wodehouse that centre around the character of Bertie Wooster and his loyal valet, Jeeves.
|Music||Andrew Lloyd Webber|
by P. G. Wodehouse
|Productions||1975 West End |
1996 West End revival
1996 Goodspeed Opera House
2007 UK tour
Premiering on April 22, 1975, at Her Majesty's Theatre in London, the show flopped initially, running for only a month. After rewrites, the show was produced in 1996 in both London and America, and premiered on Broadway in 2001.
Background and production
Tim Rice conceived the idea of turning P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves stories into a musical. Originally, he was to work with his then-partner, Andrew Lloyd Webber, but Rice backed out of the project. Eventually Lloyd Webber teamed up with famed British playwright Alan Ayckbourn, and the two of them began work with the personal blessing of Wodehouse. Ayckbourn utilised characters and plot lines from several Jeeves and Wooster stories, notably The Code of the Woosters. The action takes place at the East London Club for Unmanageable Boys, where Bertie Wooster is playing a banjo concert; his banjo keeps breaking down, so he is forced to tell stories to pass the time while Jeeves is sent off to fetch new strings. Bertie recounts how he managed to become engaged to three ladies simultaneously and how his valet Jeeves (through ingenious intervention) unravelled the complications.
Tryout performances were held at the Bristol Hippodrome between 20 March and 5 April 1975. According to the programme, the Bristol show was presented by David Land and Guy Bolton. Unfortunately, the loyalty to the Wodehouse material made for an epic length (four and three-quarter hours at the Bristol tryouts), and reducing the duration made for creative tensions. Rows broke out about the presence of an all-male singing sextet accompanying Bertie Wooster and the realization that the first woman did not appear on stage until thirty-five minutes had passed. Additional problems were caused by Ayckbourn's disinterest in musical theater as a genre: he was quoted at one point as saying, "I think musicals are pretty damn boring, but I hope this one is a bit different", and he ended up writing a book intended to stand on its own, even without songs.
Lloyd Webber wrote a period score that eschewed all traces of the pop inflections of his work on Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar. The sound of trumpets, banjos and saxophones for this score were written by a group of arrangers: Keith Amos, Don Walker, Lloyd Webber himself and his future orchestrator, David Cullen.
The show opened in London on 22 April 1975 at Her Majesty's Theatre, starring David Hemmings as Bertie Wooster and Michael Aldridge as Jeeves. The role of Madeleine Bassett was performed by T.V. actress Gabrielle Drake. Other cast members included Debbie Bowen, Gordon Clyde, Angela Easterling, John Turner, Bill Wallis and David Wood. Actress Betty Marsden was cast as Aunt Dahlia, but the role and the accomplished actress were released before opening night.
The director Eric Thompson (father of actress Emma Thompson) was fired just before the opening, so Ayckbourn himself stepped into the fray, aided by choreographer Christopher Bruce. The production received poor reviews and closed after little over a month and 38 performances, on 24 May. Several critics noted that the authors failed to develop the title character, Jeeves not even having a solo song.
The original cast album (MCA Cat. No. MCF 2726) was recorded and released, but it is extremely hard to find. Lloyd Webber, reportedly acting on the advice of American theatre director Harold Prince, withdrew the recording in order to be able to reuse some of the musical material in subsequent shows.
Roles and original cast
- Bertie Wooster – David Hemmings
- Jeeves – Michael Aldridge
- Harold "Stinker" Pinker – Gordon Clyde
- Gussie Fink-Nottle – Christopher Good
- Sir Watkyn Bassett – Bill Wallis
- Roderick Spode – John Turner
- Honoria Glossop – Angela Easterling
- Seppings – Graham Hamilton
- Ramsay, the parlourmaid – Elaine Louden
- Dawkins, the kitchenmaid – Jini Steel
- Madeline Bassett – Gabrielle Drake
- Stiffy Byng – Debbie Bowen
- Bingo Little – David Wood
- Aunt Dahlia – Betty Marsden*
- Sharkey, a gardener's boy – Peter Kosta
- Cropper, a gardener's boy – Brett Forrest
- The Drones Club – Derek Beard, Bill Boazman, John Dicks, David Cordwell, Sam Cox, and Terry Wood
The list includes Betty Marsden, who was cast as Aunt Dahlia. The role was included in some of the Bristol performances, and Marsden's name was featured prominently in promotional materials, but the role was cut before the London production.
Madeline Bassett's name is written as "Madeleine" in the programme. "My Sort Of Man" was added sometime after the opening at Bristol to replace dialogue between Honoria and Bertie. Fourteen songs were recorded as part of the original cast recording, including an "Overture" (without vocals) and an "Entr'acte" (with vocals). The songs "Food of Love", sung by Aunt Dahlia, and "Song of Spode", sung first by Spode and again in a reprise by Aunt Dahlia, were cut before the London production and not recorded. Another song that was not recorded was "Literary Men" sung by Bertie, Jeeves & Gussie, the melody of which was later reused in Song and Dance – first as the finale "When You Want to Fall in Love" and later as a new song in the first act "Unexpected Song".
In the song "Eulalie", Jeeves advises Bertie to use the word Eulalie to subdue the villainous Spode. Unlike in the novels, the reason that this word affects Spode is not explained in the musical, which ends with the curtain closing as Jeeves is apparently about to explain all. A song similar to "Female Of The Species", sung by Stiffy, was originally planned to be incorporated in the 1996 revival, but was eventually replaced with "Love's Maze".
Some of the songs from the score managed to find a life after the original production: "Half a Moment" was later recorded by Lloyd Webber's second wife, Sarah Brightman, on the album The Songs That Got Away and the track "Summer Day" was re-written and appeared in new chordal disguise as "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" in Evita. A small section of "Half a Moment" was cut from the song and reused in Sunset Boulevard as part of the song "As if We Never Said Goodbye".
The melody of "Female of the Species" appeared earlier than its Jeeves incarnation, with lyrics written and sung by Tim Rice as "The Ballad of Robert and Peter" in 1973 (for private recording purposes). "Travel Hopefully" is a melody originally written as "Love Is Here" for the first ever Lloyd Webber/Rice project, The Likes of Us.
1996: By Jeeves
In 1996, Lloyd Webber and Ayckbourn decided to revisit the show, jettisoning most of the score and the entire original book. Retitled By Jeeves (so as to dispel all previous associations with the original production), the character of Roderick Spode and his fascistic intentions were eliminated from the plot. The character list was whittled down from 22 to 10, and the original orchestrations also underwent a reduction to a little band. Only three songs from the original show remained lyrically intact: "Banjo Boy", "Half a Moment" and "Travel Hopefully". The other songs and musical interludes were mostly new or reworked compositions by Lloyd Webber.
By Jeeves re-opened on 1 May 1996 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre-in-the-round in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, an English seaside resort. Audience reaction was generally enthusiastic so the show moved on 2 July 1996 to London for a 12-week season at the fairly intimate Duke of York's Theatre. The show turned out to be more popular than first thought, and the run was extended to February 1997 with the show moved to The Lyric Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue.
Steven Pacey played Bertie Wooster and Malcolm Sinclair played his valet Jeeves. The Musical Director was Kate Young. The 1996 cast recording has an unusual format, taking a track between every song where Bertie and Jeeves humorously summarize the plot. Pacey was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical, and By Jeeves also received nominations for Outstanding New Production and Best Costume Designer. A radio version, performed by the original London cast, was broadcast on 14 December 1996 on BBC Radio 2.
The show had its United States premiere on 12 November 1996, at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut. U.S. actor John Scherer took the part of Bertie, and Richard Kline played Jeeves. Edward Keith Baker played Jeeves with Scherer as Bertie Wooster in the 1997 Geffen Playhouse production.
A pre-Broadway staging of the musical was presented at Pittsburgh Public Theater's O'Reilly Theatre in February 2001. It ran through 4 March 2001. John Scherer portrayed Bertie Wooster and British actor Martin Jarvis portrayed Jeeves.
By Jeeves had a brief run on Broadway at the Helen Hayes Theatre, from 28 October 2001 (in previews October 16) to 30 December 2001, for 73 performances. Directed by Ayckbourn, the cast featured Scherer (Bertie), James Kall (Gussie) and Martin Jarvis (Jeeves) (who received the Theatre World Award).
The musical was produced in 2017 at the Old Laundry Theatre, Bowness-on-Windermere (UK), with Alan Ayckbourn as the director. Nadim Naaman portrayed Bertie Wooster and Bill Champion portrayed Jeeves.
Roles and original cast
- Bertie Wooster – Steven Pacey
- Jeeves – Malcolm Sinclair
- Honoria Glossop – Lucy Tregear
- Bingo Little – Nicholas Haverson
- Gussie Fink-Nottle – Simon Day
- Sir Watkyn Bassett – Robert Austin
- Madeline Bassett – Diana Morrison
- Stiffy Byng – Cathy Sara
- Harold "Stinker" Pinker – Richard Long
- Cyrus Budge III Junior – Nicolas Collicos
There are thirteen songs. In the 1996 American premiere, the second song "The Code Of The Woosters" was replaced with "Wooster Will Entertain You", and the first performance of "Banjo Boy" (which Bertie does not finish) was retitled "A False Start". These changes were kept for the 1996 BBC radio production of the musical with the original London cast. The second version of the original London cast recording, released in March 1997, has "Wooster Will Entertain You" in place of "The Code Of The Woosters", which had been included in the first version released in July 1996.
The thirteenth song "Wizard Rainbow Banjo Mix" is a reprise of multiple songs in the musical. "The Hallo Song" is a reworked tune, released in 1972 as "What a Line to Go Out On" sung by Yvonne Elliman. The tune of "It's a Pig!" appeared with different lyrics as "Magdalena", an unsuccessful pop song for Tony Christie in 1977.
Awards and nominations
A film recording of the musical By Jeeves, featuring Martin Jarvis as Jeeves and John Scherer as Bertie Wooster, was released in October 2001. It was filmed in Toronto after the Pittsburgh production. It aired on Canadian television in March 2001 and was recorded for British and Canadian video release. The film was co-produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, Really Useful Films, and Tapestry Pictures. The directors were Alan Ayckbourn and Nick Morris.
The cast later reprised their roles for the 2001 Broadway production, except the role of Sir Watkyn Bassett would be played by Sam Tsoutsouvas on Broadway. F. Wade Russo was the musical director for the film and was also the pianist, who is referred to by characters on stage as Oswald "Ozzie" Nutledge. The choreographer was Sheila Carter and the editor was Nick Morris.
- Film cast
- Bertie Wooster – John Scherer
- Jeeves – Martin Jarvis
- Honoria Glossop – Donna Lynne Champlin
- Bingo Little – Don Stephenson
- Gussie Fink-Nottle – James Kall
- Sir Watkyn Bassett – Heath Lamberts
- Madeline Bassett – Becky Watson
- Stiffy Byng – Emily Loesser
- Harold "Stinker" Pinker – Ian Knauer
- Cyrus Budge III Junior – Steve Wilson
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- Brantley, Ben."Bertie Wooster, You Sing? You Dear Dizzy Boy, You",New York Times review of "By Jeeves" at Goodspeed, November 12, 1996
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- By Jeeves | IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information Internet Broadway Database listing, "By Jeeves"
- Hemming, Sarah (11 February 2011). "By Jeeves, Landor Theatre, London". Financial Times. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
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