George Gershwin slept in Greta Garbo's bed (without Garbo) on his first Hollywood visit. Ira Gershwin complained about the endless search for new variations on "Jack and Jill," "Goody Two Shoes" and "The Pied Piper." George and Ira once wrote a song that sounds like a direct steal from Gilbert and Sullivan.
These and similar revelations came tumbling out Saturday night in the Smithsonian's lively presentation entitled "The Gershwins, 1930 and Girl Crazy," the third in its American Musical Theater series. Film clips and narration were interspersed with live performances of George and Ira's music-all focusing on 1930, which began with the Broadway opening of "Strike Up the Band," included music for the film "Delicious," and ended with the hit musical "Girl Crazy."
The production was a happy blend of scholarship and show business. Both the narration (confined largely to quotes by, or about, the Gershwins) and the film clips were chosen to set up the ensuing music. For example, "Strike Up the Band" bagan softly; Ira was quoted on George's uncertainty about the tune; then the music burst forth and its inevitability seemed more glorious than ever.
The youthful seven-member company captured the Gershwin sophistication with style and verve. The emotional wallop of husky-voiced Susan Elizabeth Scott, the versatile energy of Maureen Brennan, and the engaging openness of Stephen James and Russ Beasley were notable pluses. Bill Gile's direction was crisp and inventive, providing just the right touch to underline a song's particular appeal.
In such classics as "Embraceable You" and "The Man I Love," the production had the good sense to recognize that the music needed nothing except itself. And by not trying to improve on the Gershwin genius, the show made us all the more aware of it.