While Sweet Yesterday by Kenneth Leslie-Smith was a popular show and would have run for a much longer time had Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler agreed to transfer to a new theatre in December of 1945, it was not a very happy experience for them. In fact, Anne nicknamed it Dreadful Yesterday and was only too happy when it came to an end. From the beginning, they were dissatisfied with the way the show was directed and annoyed that the actor, Hugh Morton, whom they considered to be excellent in his role, was peremptorily dismissed by producer, Lee Ephraim.
Possibly the best part of the run was when Germany surrendered and Webster, as the leading man, made this joyful announcement to their Glasgow audience and told them that a Bank Holiday had been declared for the following day.
They were invited to appear in the Victory Royal Command performance on their seventh wedding anniversary, 5 November 1945. It was usual for the theatre where they were performing to close on that occasion but Ephraim refused to close the Adelphi and expected them to do the first act before going on to the Coliseum for the Command performance. Naturally, they refused to do so.
On the last night of the production, 8 December 1945 there was a rowdy crowd in one of the boxes. Webster stopped the show and addressed the audience: ‘“Ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry, but we cannot continue until the occupants of that box have retired.”
‘I then sat on a table and, I fear, left Anne standing and looking terrified. I was very much upset.
‘Loud shouts came from all over the house: “Put them out!”… “Carry on!”… “Stop that noise there!”…
…’We finished the show in deathly silence from the box and amidst tremendous applause from the audience… I ordered that the curtain should not be raised as I had reason to believe that a demonstration was to be made by certain people.’ (Duet p. 174)
References to Sweet Yesterday in my book: A Scattered Garland. At the top of the tree. MY BOOKSTORE
26 January 1941 – BBC A new historical romance entitled Sweet Yesterday, by Philip Leaver, with music by Kenneth Leslie-Smith, will be produced in the Home Service programme on January 26. The threatened invasion of Britain by Napoleon inspires the theme of the play. The part of Napoleon will be taken by Philip Leaver. In 1945 this radio musical was turned into a musical play with Anne and Webster as its stars.
29 March 1945 – Scotsman. Edinburgh. Sweet Yesterday premiere: This romantic play of espionage in Napoleonic days is set in London, Calais, and Paris in June, 1805, with elaborate staging and magnificent costumes, the colourful splendour of which is sheer delight.
The plot concerns Louise Vareenes, her fiancé, Captain Edouard Labouchère, and Sir John Manders, an English diplomat, who had been sent from London to Paris on a secret mission in the guise of a Dutch diamond merchant. Louise recognises Sir John, whom she had known in London when she was living there as a refugee during the Revolution; but she does not give him away in a scene at a gay party in Sans-Gêne’s residence in Paris. Edouard, slightly tipsy, gives away information regarding a plan of Napoleon’s against England, and his indiscretion leads to his arrest. Sir John, who also loves Louise, plans for her sake Edouard’s escape from prison. After a great deal of plotting, court intrigue, and swordplay, he finally manages to get the young couple safely away from France, making Louise promise to deliver his message to the Prime Minister in London, revealing Napoleon’s plan. He himself does not manage to escape and is shot while waving to them from the window.
The music of the show is delightful, and the cast could not be better. Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler as Edouard and Louise, are the romantic couple, and their superb singing is a joy. They received a warm welcome on opening night. Solos and duets were heartily applauded and encored. Hugh Morton’s polished acting as Sir John Manders calls for special praise. Doris Hare’s supreme artistry as Sans-Gène makes her performance an outstanding triumph. Mark Daly as Cabouchon, a policeman, appears in many amusing disguises and sings several numbers with characteristic skill. Philip Leaver plays Monsieur de Vigny, prefect of police, cleverly.
A large chorus and attractive ballets are arranged by Frank Staff, with décor by Clifford Pember, and costumes designed by Alec Shanks. Esmé Church is to be congratulated on her production. The orchestra is under the direction of Herbert Lodge.
27 April 1945 Sweet Yesterday at Alhambra, Glasgow – To the Alhambra comes a new musical play, Sweet Yesterday. In Sweet Yesterday, which will run for a fortnight are those popular singers, Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, which alone would ensure any play’s success…
May 1945 – Sweet Yesterday. Lee Ephraim has arranged to present the musical play, Sweet Yesterday, by Phillip Leaver, with music by Kenneth Leslie Smith, and lyrics by James Dyrenforth, and Max Kester, at the Adelphi, on Thursday, June 21. This play, which is finishing a short tour, was originally produced at the Empire, Edinburgh on March 27. Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth will reappear as the romantic couple in the principal parts of Louise and Edouard. Other members of the cast are Doris Hare, Hugh Morton, Mark Daly, Gwen Lewis and Philip Leaver.
14 June 1945 – Sweet Yesterday. Next Thursday has now been decided on for the re-opening of the Adelphi with Lee Ephraim’s presenting of Sweet Yesterday, Phillip Leaver’s musical play of the days of Trafalgar, which has been on a very successful tour since its production at Edinburgh in March. Anne Ziegler plays the French heroine with Webster Booth as a captain who gives away Napoleon’s plan for the invasion of England. Reginald Tate, just returned to the stage from the RAF, is the British ambassador, who helps the young lovers to escape, at the cost of his own life. Hugh Miller is De Vigny; Doris Hare plays Madame Sans-Gêne of merry memory. It is at a party in her house that the trouble happens. Kenneth Leslie-Smith’s music is said to be delightful.
Thursday 21 June 1945 – Ego 8, James Agate, pp 139-140. Why are the moderns afraid of standing up to the ancients, since we are always being told that they are better? People get furious when I compare today’s writers of operettas with yesterday’s. Why do they funk reference to Offenbach, Strauss, and Sullivan, or even Planquette, Messagér, and German, since they hold the theatre of the present to be better than that of the past? I will tell them. Even they would recognise, say, as Sullivan and nobody except Sullivan, if they heard it thrummed on bazookas in the Fiji Islands.
But would they recognise as indubitable Leslie-Smith any extract from Sweet Yesterday, tonight’s affair at the Adelphi, if they heard it poured out by, say, Frankie Schubert’s Otiose Tahitians in some Tyneside Palais de Danse? I doubt it. I suggest they would vaguely attribute it to the school of composers which, between the two wars, supplied the pseudo-Viennese drama with its sound-equivalent. I note that the programme attributes the orchestration to a Mr Ben Frankel, who has certainly seen to it that the score is lush to saturation-point. What harps and tumbrels! What wild ecstasy!
And for the bored critic what struggles to escape! I suppose it would be naughty to ask our modern panegyrists who did the orchestration for Offenbach and those others? The essence of grand opera being to fill a void with teeming nonsense, I didn’t expect this grand operette – all about spying under Napoleon – to do more sensibly.
Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler in good, and oh so frequent voice, Reginald Tate and Hugh Miller exuding nobility and acumen. Doris Hare as a Sans-Gêne born within the sound of the Bow Bells. Wherefore in the Sunday Times on Sunday I shall suggest deletion of the line: “Does France move against England?” The answer could only be: “If it does, it will be civil war!” No, I shall invite these Mossoos and Madarms to toast each other at the boofy at Booloyne without insisting on their nationality.
22 June 1945 – Times: Adelphi Theatre, Sweet Yesterday, Book by Philip Leaver. Music by Kenneth Leslie-Smith. The costumes are gaily Napoleonic; the music, if derivative, is gaily derivative. and there is the pretty cape-and-sword romance of Sir John’s hazardous journey to France in search of a lady who is, unfortunately, betrothed to another. The final scene of the gallant Englishman helping the Royalist pair of lovers to escape while he himself stays to die may seem to contain an intolerable deal of noble behaviour, yet it is tempered perhaps by the willingness of the heroine, a Frenchwoman, to convey to Pitt the fateful tidings that Villeneuve has sailed from Cadiz and will shortly reach Trafalgar. She at first demurs; but the gratitude of a heroine is quickly found to outweigh dull patriotic scruples. These are trifling matters.
The French woman is Miss Anne Ziegler, and she sings delightfully; and her lover, though something of a romantic stick, is Mr. Webster Booth, who also sings delightfully. The dashing Sir John is Mr. Reginald Tate. and though he does not sing at all, he wears his cape and carries his sword with grace and dash. Neither does Mr. Hugh Miller sing, but he is a darkly handsome, well-mannered. and quickwitted policeman, oddly enough assisted in his spy hunting by the blandly amiable Mr. Mark Daly, who sings a number of songs in mellow traditional style. The entertainment seems in the beginning to be nothing in itself, but merely to reflect other things of the kind; yet it grows under the practiced guidance of Mr. Jack Hulbert in glitter and grace.
24 June 1945 – James Agate, Sunday Times: “Mr Webster Booth and Miss Anne Ziegler sing delightfully and very, very often.”
28 June 1945 – Stage. Sweet Yesterday, Adelphi: On Thursday of last week Lee Ephraim presented here the musical play by Phillip Leaver, with music by Kenneth Leslie-Smith, and lyrics by James Dyrenforth, Max Kestler and Phillip Leaver, entitled Sweet Yesterday. It is far too long, but it offers the attractions of good singing, good acting, and good dancing. Some of his more conventional melodies are very easy on the ear. There is a march-time song and chorus, entitled Morning Glory, with an irresistible lilt; and the theme song Sweet Yesterday, the love duet Tomorrow, and other numbers are sure to be widely popular. Click on the link below to listen:
On the whole, the music is far superior to the lyrics. Before considering individual performances it has to be said that Jack Hulbert’s production is masterly. On a not excessively big stage, he achieves some brilliant ensembles. Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler act with any amount of dash and zest as the French lovers, and their singing is always delightful. Yet it is a peculiarity of this production that the best parts are not those of the principals.
Reginald Tate as the self-sacrificing Englishman, and Hugh Miller as his policeman opponent, have nothing to sing but something to act, and they act very well. Doris Hare plays Sans-Gêne on broad – sometimes almost too broad – comedy lines, and Mark Daly brings to the part of a rather vaguely defined assistant police-chief a ripe sense of comedy, a remarkable clarity of enunciation as comic singer, and considerable agility as dancer.
The programme is not very helpful to those anxious to identify all the cast; but some of those who appear to deserve special praise are Marjorie Baker, Franklin Bennett, Rupert White, Paula Grey, and Sheila Reynolds. Frank Staff and Cleo Nordi must be praised for a singularly pretty ballet. The costumes and décor of Alec Shanks and Clifford Pember have been already praise; and Herbert Lodge conducts with judgement. (Stage)
29 June 1945 – Spectator Sweet Yesterday is the best musical play London has seen for a long time. It has an excellent plot and can boast of some real acting on the part of Doris Hare, Reginald Tate, Hugh Miller and of Webster Booth as the romantic hero. Its patriotic sentiment is genuinely moving, and the singing of both Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth is distinctly above the average. When I add that, in addition to these merits, the music by Kenneth Leslie-Smith has style and distinction and is well orchestrated by Ben Frankel, I hope my readers will understand that nobody with a taste for musical plays should miss this quite exceptional one. It is
July 1945 – Spectator Extracts from musical plays rarely survive isolation as gramophone recordings since they depend so much upon the visual glamour of their stage settings: Tomorrow and Life Begins Anew from Sweet Yesterday, sung by Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, are no exception; but in any case these make a bad choice, the number that deserved recording was Morning Glory, sung by Webster Booth and chorus. It is characteristic both of impresarios and recording companies that they rarely know when they have a good thing or the opposite.
31 July 1945 – Robbery. During the run of Sweet Yesterday on July 31 Anne and Webster had their home burgled. The following day details of the burglary appeared in the newspapers. This was not the first burglary at their home. They had been burgled in early 1944, and some time later Webster’s Talbot car was stolen from the garage and was later found abandoned and damaged.
3 August 1945 – Nottingham Evening Post Thieves broke into the home of Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, the musical comedy singers, at Barnet, and got away with jewellery valued at about £500.
September 1945 – Sweet Yesterday special matinee. A special matinee performance of Lee Ephraim’s musical play Sweet Yesterday, starring Webster Booth and Anne Ziegler, is to be given at the Adelphi Theatre on Tuesday, September 4, at 2.15pm to benefit the Institute of Journalists’ Pensions Fund, which provides pensions for journalists who through age and incapacity are no longer able to follow their profession. Tickets, which can be obtained from the usual agencies or the Adelphi Theatre, are the ordinary theatre prices.
Stage Door records have just released a double CD featuring two songs from Sweet Yesterday: LOST WEST END VINTAGE 2 – LONDON’S FORGOTTEN MUSICALS
Jean Collen 2 August 2018.