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Best Foot Forward (musical)

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Best Foot Forward is a 1941 musical with songs by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane and a book by John Cecil Holm. Produced by George Abbott, after an out-of-town tryout, the production opened on Broadway on October 1, 1941 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, where it ran for 326 performances. It was directed by Abbott, with choreography by Gene Kelly, and starred Rosemary Lane. The show was Nancy Walker’s Broadway debut and also launched June Allyson to stardom. Sets and lighting were by Jo Mielziner, and costumes were by Miles White.

The musical’s success led to a 1943 film adaptation starring Lucille Ball, Allyson and Walker, and a 1954 television adaptation. A 1963 Off-Broadway revival at Stage 73 ran for 224 performances. It was directed and choreographed by Danny Daniels and featured newcomer Liza Minnelli, who won a Theatre World Award, and Christopher Walken. Veronica Lake was a replacement as Gale. A recording of this revival is available on CD.

Before Best Foot Forward, George Abbott had hired Hugh Martin to write musical arrangements for several shows, including Rodgers and Hart shows. By 1941, Larry Hart was suffering from alcoholism, and Richard Rodgers was having difficulty working with him. Abbot chose Martin and his collaborator to write the songs for his new musical with a high school theme based on an unpublished play by John Cecil Holm, whom he engaged to write the book. Abbott knew that lighthearted and innocent student-themed musicals, including a few of his own, had proved popular in past Broadway shows. The prep-school theme also allowed Abbott to hire a cast of inexpensive unknown actors who were too young to be pulled away from the show by the draft.

The show’s lively direction and choreography, comical hijinks and catchy tunes led to a strong run for a pre-Oklahoma! show. Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times liked the „good humored“ show, especially praising the score, choreography, Walker and Allyson. Other critics mostly agreed, although some felt that the show’s youthful exuberance was carried too far.

Just for fun, prep school student Bud Hooper writes a fan letter asking his idol, Hollywood actress Gale Joy, to come to Philadelphia to be his partner at the junior prom. His school is Winsocki Military Academy. Jack Haggerty, the actress‘ manager in Hollywood, sees an opportunity for publicity and advises Gale to accept Bud’s invitation. The appearance of the famous star at Winsocki is greeted with excitement, and Bud abandons his own girl Helen Schlessinger to accompany Gale to the ball. Out of jealousy, Helen tears Gale’s sash while she is dancing, which causes a riot. Others begin to tear off pieces of Gale’s clothes as well, but only to gain souvenirs from the famous star.

The boys hide Gale in their dormitory, where farcical comings and goings ensue. The school regards the incident as a scandal, and Bud is now in danger of being expelled. Gale and Jack try to avoid furore and go back to Hollywood. After Bud and Helen settle their arguments and any other problems are solved, everything at Winsocki goes back to normal.

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