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Early to Bed (1943)

Production still from Early to Bed, 1943

Thomas “Fats” Waller (Music)

17 June, 1943 – 13 May, 1944

          Early to Bed’s high-quality melodies have been under-acknowledged, to say the least. Moreover, the show marked the beginning of what would almost certainly have been a new direction in Waller’s creative output—toward musical theater, a development that in turn likely would have altered the history of Broadway, especially for blacks. Alas, Waller died early in the show’s run, and this history went unwritten, illustrating again the role that chance plays in events. (Source City Journal)
           The original idea was for Waller to perform in it as a comic character, not to write the music. Waller was, after all, as much a comedian as a musician. (Source: “The Fats Waller You’ve Never Heard” by John H. McWhorter,  City Journal)
          From a modern perspective, the plot of Early to Bed is more generously viewed as an extended sketch than as a story. After Oklahoma!, even light musical-comedy plots were expected to show a basic coherence and relatively sophisticated integration of music with narrative. Early to Bed was created just before that revolution in standards, and its script was more like what mid-twentieth-century television variety shows would do with their skits. (Source: “The Fats Waller You’ve Never Heard” by John H. McWhorter, City Journal)
          Plot: In brief: an aging bullfighter’s car breaks down in Martinique, where he, with his son and his black valet (the role that Waller was to have played), has traveled in hopes of making a comeback at the Pan-American Goodwill Games. The son gets hit by a car and is taken to convalesce at the Angry Pigeon brothel, run by Rowena, a former schoolteacher. The woman driving the car, a nightclub dancer on her way to a gig, convalesces alongside him, and the two fall in love. Meanwhile, the bullfighter, “El Magnifico,” and Rowena turn out to have had a fling in the past and consider rekindling it. With the exception of Eileen, a newly hired prostitute, all the newcomers—including the California State University track team, coming through for the games—assume (despite what one would regard as rather obvious signs to the contrary) that the Angry Pigeon is a finishing school. (Source: “The Fats Waller You’ve Never Heard” by John H. McWhorter, City Journal)

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