Let ‘Em Eat Cake
BBC Radio 3, 21 March 1994
Reviewed by Emma Shane
© Spring/Summer 2003
The broadcast opens with narrator Robert Cushman summarising the plot of Let ‘Em Eat Cake’s predecessor, Of Thee I Sing. Next he introduces the cast in order of appearance. After which it is time to get on with the show.
Our story opens nearly four years after the end of Of Thee I Sing’s story ended. It is election time again. There are two candidates, a newcomer John P. Tweedledee, whose emblem is a set of question marks, and the incumbent President John P. Wintergreen, who’s new emblem is a baby’s face, or two babies faces, one of either side of his. At this The Stephen Hill Singers launch into a song, from Of Thee I Sing, Wintergreen For President, only now, besides a portion of the original lyrics, there are some additional ones about Tweedledee. One can really hear the Gilbert & Sullivan influences in this number.
Although it is election night, their appear to be only two people in The White House, General Adam Snookfield, and a redhead named Miss Trixie Flynn, co-incidentally in this production the latter is actually played by a redhead, namely Miss Louise Gold. According to the narrator “Miss Flynn is in an evening gown that begins where other evening gowns leave off, or vice versa; and the General’s uniform cannot be seen for medals.” As this is on the radio, we have to use our imagination (though the photograph of a certain puppeteer “escaping the anonymity of her work” in a book about a latter day political satire, Spitting Image, might give us a clue). Miss Flynn is the first to speak, and it is immediately obvious that the character heralds from Brooklyn. And I was once told by linguist, that Louise Gold’s Brooklyn accent on this broadcast is “letter perfect”. A voice on the radio is talking about the election, but Trixie is more interested in trying to get a man for her friend Daisy, whom she has promised to find a sailor, but now wonders about getting The President.
Louis Lippman, played by Frank Lazarus enters, and on greeting the General, enquires “Is this Mrs Snookfield”, the General explains his wife couldn’t come “This is my accomplice, Miss Flynn”, whereupon Trixie gives a squeal that sounds like a cross between a Muppet pig (such as Annie Sue), and Spitting Image’s Queen (at least on that show’s ‘Trouping The Colour’ sketch). Various other cabinet members enter and start discussing the election. Then Mary enters, her mind is on her children, who will be starting kindergarten in the autumn, then she realises something’s happened, the returns. Wintergreen himself now enters, and says everything will be alright, but it isn’t. They’ve lost the election. However, Wintergreen has sent for the Supreme Court Judges, and he asks them to throw out the election. They refuse, and when he threatens to sack them, but they were appointed for life. Given the last US Presidential election, perhaps Wintergreen’s request isn’t quite as far fetched as it sounds. Trixie invites the Supreme Court round to Daisy’s, she summons the General to depart with them, by squealing, her nickname for him “Snookey” to him, in a rather muppet-like manner.
Left alone the administration ponder the wreckage. During this discussion it is noticeable that in this production Mary speaks with a slight Southern States accent, which is somewhat at odds with various comments made by Wintergreen in the show’s predecessor Of Thee I Sing (when he choose Mary over the Southern Beauty Queen Diana Deaveraux). However, none of these lines occur in Let ‘Em Eat Cake, and I’d rather hear Kim Criswell (The Broadway performer from Chattanooga Tennessee) speaking with a distinct hint of a Southern accent then not, simply because as accents are not her strong point she generally does not sound very convincing when using anything other than her own accent.
Throttlebottem enters, just as Wintergreen is remarking that after four years in The Whitehouse all he comes out with is his shirt, which Mary made. This however, inspires the boys that perhaps they should go into the shirt business, and to give the little woman credit they will call their shirt’s “The Mary Blue Shirt”. The only trouble is they need five thousand dollars to start up, but Throttie has just that.
They set up business Down On Union Square, which is home to a good many chorus girls. It is also home to a malcontent named Kreuger, who launches into his protest song Down With Everything That’s Up. This is one of the best numbers in show, and brilliantly sung by good old reliable Henry Goodman. It is just the end of upbeat satirical number he excels in singing. It’s also interesting to note the way he varied his accent for different parts of the song. His song ends when Police Officer Gilhooley approaches him and tells him it’s time to move on. The chorus reprise Down On Union Square.
The shirt business, however is doing badly; they are having difficulty selling the shirts, because people can’t afford to buy much, but they are not the only ones suffering, Fulton can’t sell his papers either. It is a crisis, and all President Tweedledee does is issue cheer up statements. Fulton says, in a throwaway remark that there will be a revolution. Kreuger picks up on this, and on being moved says “There’ll be a revolution”, Fulton, Wintergreen and co pick up on this, as though its a new idea, and realise that if the American people want a revolution then they are the people to give it to them as “You can’t have a revolution without shirts”. There have been Brown Shirts, and Black Shirts in other countries, so why not Blue Shirts for America. Mary protests, how are they going to get the people with them. The answer “Offer them a change”. They decide it’s a synch, but Mary insists on no bloodshed, so Wintergreen promises they’ll “take all the pins out of the shirt and have a bloodless revolution”. The chorus commence their sales tactics Shirts By The Millions. This leads into most of the company showing singing Come The Revolution, which has many good individual lines. I particularly noticed Throttlebottem’s one about hiding under his bed until it’s over. Meanwhile Wintergreen and Mary are singing about having heard the nation calling for them to save it. They then launch into a duet about how they’ve worked together, Mine. Denis Quilley sings passably, but the best thing about this number is Kim Criswell’s exquisitely sweet singing voice. She really is a beautiful vocalist. (well as long as you like her Tennessee accent, and fortunately I do).
Now the shirt business is doing well, they also have cash in hand from selling the movie rights to the revolution. Kreuger has also been enlisted to sell shirts, he is sure his success in this field is through his speeches. When asked what he’s going to do once the revolution is over, and he’ll have nothing to bellyache about, he vows that then he is going to get Wintergreen out. The only thing that will ever stick him, is if he gets in himself. The next matter is to decide when to have the revolution, Middle of June, or how about July. They decide on “July fourth. That’s the day we have all our revolutions.”
Now The General turns up, with Trixie in tow. The plotters ask The General if the young lady would mind leaving them for a minute. Trixie delightfully buts in “Oh that’s alright. He hasn’t any secrets from me. He talks in his sleep.” The General tries to shut her up, but she continues “I don’t mind, but it keeps poor Daisy awake.” The plotters now attempt to enlist The General’s help in getting up a revolution. He refuses. He appreciates their aims, but he has just been elected a member of The Union League Club and “The Union League Club and Revolutions do not mix socially. They are about as far apart as, as” “You and your wife” finishes in Trixie. It is surely one of the best lines in the show, and expertly delivered by an actress who possess both excellent comic timing and a winning way with delivering noticeable lines so that they will actually be noticeable.
The General and Trixe depart, with Trixie giving another of her Muppet-like squeals. The plotters now decide that their only hope is the get the Union League Club in on their side, but how. At this point Throttlebottem turns up, smartly dressed, he is going to have lunch with his Uncle at Union League Club, where his uncle is a waiter. So Wintergreen asks Throttlebottem to sell blue shirts to The Union League club and enrol them for the revolution.
At The Union League club, the members appear to be asleep, but wake up to sing the club song. It is rather dreary, but that is intentional on the Gershwins’s part. Throttlebottem tells the club present he has been ordered to put blue shirts on everyone, and is rebuffed, but eventually manages to persuade them by telling them that the revolution is against the British, and the blue shirts are their uniforms.
Now Wintergreen and his Army are marching along the road to Washington, On And On And On. The narrator tells us that Wintergreen and Mary are at the head, followed by the loyal committee men and their wives. The General asks Wintergreen to positively be there by nine o-clock, because he’s meeting Trixie at 9:30 for a little celebration, supposedly to mark his wife’s birthday. Then it is time for Christopher Benjeman to launch into I’ve Brushed My Teeth. He sings this very well, and I find myself wondering why this little gem of a song does not appear to be heard much, but perhaps it is one that wouldn’t work too well out of context, and it is rather short.
In Washington, President Tweedledee is making a Fourth Of July speech, and incidentally getting his history all jumbled up in the process, which is actually rather amusing, and possibly Nick Holder’s best moment in the show. Then The General departs, with the excuse that “Daisy’s giving a party”. And just as he’s gone who should enter but Wintergreen’s army, On And On And On. Wintergreen calls upon Tweedledee to surrender these United States, on the authority of the American people. Then he asks for The General. But Tweedledee has a surprise in store for him, The General’s Gone To A Party. Now what are they going to do, both Wintergreen and Tweedledee want each other arrested. They will leave it to The Army to decide. Mary appeals to The Army, Mother’s Of The Nation, telling them that their leader ought to be a man who is a husband, the father of two children, and not that other man who is a bachelor. Kim Criswell sings very sweetly and beautifully, her simple clarity is wonderful to hear. The chorus join in with her and pick up on the bachelor bit, to sing of Tweedledee that “He’s a bachelor, his father was a bachelor, his great great great grandfather was a bachelor” which seems reminiscent of the song The Illegitimate Daughter in Of Thee I Sing, and as this is that show’s successor perhaps it was meant to be. The Army are almost swayed, then Kreuger chips in. It seems that the army is somewhat in doubt and before the go ahead with the show they want to know what’s in it for them. Tweedledee offers them a dollar a day, which he may not pay. But Wintergreen offers them the war debts, if he can collect them. So Wintergreen wins the revolution and thanks Kreuger for his help. Kreuger is very pleased with himself and sings a triumphant but very brief reprise of Down With Everything That’s Up.
Wintergreen establishes a dictatorship of The Proletariat, at which point everyone is moved to wonder What’s The Proletariat. Kim leads them in this number, she is particularly mysterious and powerful with her good clear diction. Then Denis Quilley leads them into the first verse of title song Let ‘Em Eat Cake, which is quite amusing, though the second verse, lead by the ever reliable Kim Criswell comes across distinctly better.
We are told that The flag of the revolution, the blue shirt, is now flying above The Blue House, formerly The White House, which is filled with workers painting it Blue Blue Blue. Wintergreen enters, with a lot of saluting, and asks the chorus how they like various things. They all respond in uniform agreement and he leads them into a song, Who’s The Greatest. This is probably one of the funniest songs in the show, and Denis Quilley actually sings it rather well, doing justice to Ira Gerhswin’s witty lyrics. It is a great shame this song isn’t heard more often, I think it would fit very nicely into a revue (well if such Stephen Sondheim songs as Bring Me My Bride and There’s Something About A War from A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum can make it into revues then why not Gerhswin’s Who’s The Greatest?). Wintergreen decides to have no more saluting, and that from now on radio comedians have got to be funny. We also learn that Fulton’s newspaper is now doing well, since Wintergreen has rolled all the other newspapers into it. Wintergreen is asked to pardon some of the fellows who were against them, namely the Supreme Court. He is reluctant, but finally agrees on condition that they take up some respectable line of work. How about forming a base ball time? cue the Supreme Court’s music from Of Thee I Sing, with new lyrics to introduce The nine supreme ball players.
There is to be a meeting with The League Of Nations. But the dictator’s administration has a problem, it does not want Throttlebottem present. He had been sent to California to run a shirt factory, but didn’t like the climate. Throttlebottem is feeling lonesome, because they don’t seem to have meetings anymore. What can he do? Would he like to be ambassador to Russia? no he doesn’t like Russia, or pistachio ice cream. Would he like to be the base ball team’s umpire? Yes. he is sent out the back way.
Kreuger enters, to represent The Army at the meeting with The League Of Nations. Wintergreen asks Kreuger “What are you doing in the Army.” Kreuger replies “Well I met this girl Trixie at a party.” Wintergreen thinks that explains everything, but Kreuger then says he’s only in the army to get his share of the war debts. Now the interpreters, who are all good looking girls enter, followed by The League Of Nations. They are officially welcomed in song, sung very nicely by Kim Criswell, Denis Quilley and the chorus. Finland pays up at once, but that is only a dollar a soldier, and the other countries won’t pay up what they owe, No Comprenz, No Capish, No Versted. This song is sung by various principles, of whom Henry Goodman in particular stands out, and the chorus. The situation is degenerating, When Nations Get Together. Wintergreen suggests to Mary that perhaps they will respond if she sings, she does, starting off sweetly lyrical but ending with a spoken or rather shouted “What about the war debts” in her Tennessee segue. It’s no go, Why Speak of Money. Kreuger now makes it clear that the army demand The League Of Nations to pay and Wintergreen to collect, the money. It is a complete impasse, but wait a minute, there are nine nations, so why don’t they have a base ball game for the war debts, double or nothing. It’s a game. Wintergreen’s administration has done it (for the time being), Who’s The Greatest (Reprise).
The nine judges are now baseball plays, and we are told accordingly rakishly kitted out, though they still have their solemn beards. The words of their official cheer also reflects their former careers. Throttlebottem enters, with the rule book, but they tell him their rules and will threaten him if he forgets. Then The League of Nations, headed by France and backed up by Russia enter and do likewise. Throttlebottem is so agitated that when approached by an ice-cream seller he chooses pistachio.
The next scene takes place after the ball game, Citizen Alexander Throttlebottem is on trial charged with calling a foul ball in the ninth innings a fair one. It is further charged that he conspired with the enemy to render this decision, therefore costing the army of the revolution $780,264,340,006.03. Citizen Kreuger presents the case for the prosecution, That’s What He Did. Henry Goodman sounds wonderfully creepy singing this, with just the right mixture of wicked laughter and down right nastiness. I can only think of about two other British actors who can play creepy as effectively as that (namely Kim Wall and, Max Gold, judging by their respective portrayals of Matt Crawford in The Archers and Dougie Briggs in EastEnders). Having had the case for the prosecution, it’s time for the defence, I Know A Foul Ball. Joss Ackland sounds rather pathetic singing this, but that is in keeping with the character, especially at this point in the plot. Kreuger and the male chorus demand that the army is paid and Throttlebottem punished, Throttle Throttlebottem. Here good old reliable Henry Goodman proves that amongst his other numerous talents, he is excellent at singing fast tempo. It is declared that Throttlebottem is to be executed, but no ordinary execution, he is to be headed on the guillotine, like Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Wintergreen congratulates Kreuger and says that he hopes he’s satisfied now. Which of course the creep isn’t. He and the army are still demanding to be paid. Much of the speech at this point, in true operetta style is in fact sung through. The Army made Wintergreen and so the Army can break him, they are in A Hell Of A Hole. Wintergreen offers Kreuger and The Army 10% of the shirt business but they wouldn’t take 95% they’re going to take it all. Here at last Henry Goodman gets to do a proper reprise of one of his biggest numbers in the show, Down With Everything That’s Up. Needless to say he does brilliantly, with great aplomb. He then goes on to explain It Isn’t What You Did It’s What You Didn’t Do and Wintergreen just didn’t get them the money. All those of the company singing in this well so it’s difficult to pick out individuals here.
Kreuger sentences John P Wintergreen, Louis Lipman, Francis X Gilhooley and Matthew Arnold Fulton all to be beheaded. Mary tries to fly to the rescue with a reprise of her memorable Of Thee I Sing number I’m About To Be A Mother. But she can’t get away with that this time, it doesn’t go with the army. So she sings a brief reprise of Mine. Now Kreuger declares The Army is The Dictator, and he dictates to The Army.
Suddenly a familiar Muppet-pig-like squeal pipes up “Hello Kreugie.” It’s Trixie, with the whole Navy (well she promised Daisy a sailor). The realisation hits Kreuger “The Army and The Navy” between them they could run the country and be, First Lady And First Gent. This is surely the very best song in the entire show. It has a great chirpy tune by George Gershwin, and wonderful witty lyrics by Ira Gershwin. And best of all in this broadcast it is performed by two singing actors who really know how to do it full justice. It is perhaps especially delightful to have satirical TV puppet show Spitting Image’s own first lady of puppetry, Louise Gold (who coincidentally voiced Nancy Reagan on their very first single, Da Do Run Ron) to make this number all her own. She is a born political satirist, and few people can sing lyrics of this nature as magnificently as she can. With such fine performers the song becomes quite a competitive duet (it didn’t have to be, though it’s very effective as one). It’s also just as well it is so close to the show’s finale, for these two slightly minor-in-the-billing-order actors have practically stolen the show as much as their characters have stolen the plot.
It is the 5th of October nineteen hundred and umpty um, and the second day of the new government under Citizen Kreuger. This is to be celebrated in three parts. Part A being several beheadings. Part B there is no part B, and Part C a sale of autographed photographs of Citizen Kreuger, the proceeds of which will go to Citizen Kreuger. It is perhaps worth mentioning that back in the days of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show (portrayed in the 1946 musical Annie Get Your Gun) Lakota-Souix Chief Sitting Ball had it written into his contract with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show that he was to have sole right to sell his own photographs and autographs.
Now The Chorus inform us they are Hanging Throttebottem In The Morning. Hot on the heels of the superb First Lady And First Gent this song is rather boring, but it is appropriate to come down from a high with such a number before the principals come on. However, the first principals to speak are in fact our current first lady and first gent. Trixie is complaining about having this event in the morning. She had just been to a Turkish Bath, which was terrible “six Turks and one bath.” She also tells Kreuger that she is sick of wearing blue all the time, she wants some other colours. Kreuger warns her not to court treason, blue is the colour of the revolution. When she dismisses his revolution he asks “Are you challenging my authority?” she replies “Yes and what are you going to do about it.” Is Trixie about to turn on him?
The Guillotine has been imported from Frances at a cost of $60,000. The Executioner comes in, it is Snookfield, he was kicked out of the army. He decides Throttebottem will be first to be executed, he’s never executed anyone before.
And it is here we come to one of the finest moments in the entire show (a moment I have long thought deserves singling out in a radio compilation show). Suddenly Mary starts singing, Fashion Show Intro “Before you go any further with this passion show I would like to introduce a fashion show” She’s got Trixie’s attention, at the rest of the girls at once. But what about the executions. Suddenly it’s Trixie who is moving to take centre stage in the plot (something that Louise Gold is extremely good at) she tells Kreuger he can have the executions later, the girls want to see the dresses. As the are looking at the very latest fashions (which Mary says came on the same boat that brought the Guillotine - we later learn they didn’t, she made them), Mary explains there is one for each of them, but that it won’t do them any good, because under the revolution they’ve got to wear the same colour all the time, blue “As long as he’s your dictator.” With a sparkling flash of Gold it’s Trixe to the rescue. “Then down with the dictator” she cries. Mary has won her over. She launches into a little reprise of Kreuger’s big solo Down With Everything That’s Up, only this time it’s “Down with Kreuger The Dictator.” Kreuger protests that he’s still got the army. But with suddenly displaying a very confident firm minded character. Trixie will see about that, she asks the boys if they are with her or Kreuger “And remember Daisy’s party” she adds meaningfully at the end. The Army decide they are with Trixie, and as Mary has won her over she’s done it again. “Well it was easier than having twins.”
Wintergreen has learnt his lesson, no more revolutions. He’ll go into the dress business. Kreuger wants to start a strike. As Dictator, Wintergreen now restores the republic, the ballplayers are judges again and Tweedledee is President, but can’t remember who his Vice-President is, so Wintergreen offers Throttlebottem as a replacement (it was a standing joke in Of Thee I Sing and no one ever remembers the Vice President). But Tweedledee must resign, he’s had an offer to be President of Cuba. That makes Throttlebottem President. What will he do for the American people? Wintergreen gave them cake and Kreuger gave them caviar. Throttlebottem will give them pistachio ice cream. And with that the show comes to an end with the finale number from it’s predecessor, Of Thee I Sing.
Overall it is a great production of a forgotten gem of a show. The depression era musicals came up with some fine political satires, and it is a great shame that many of these have been far far too overlooked, in the modern era of political satire. On the whole it is quite well performed, although some elements of the performance were decidedly better than others. The BBC Concert Orchestra was not exactly at its best. However, a number of the singers (in particular Kim Criswell, Henry Goodman and Louise Gold) managed to rise above that. The performances from the singers/actors was variable. Denis Quilley was in some places excellent and in others not so good. Joss Ackland succeeded in getting into his character and making something of it. Frank Lazarus and Vincent Marzello were for the most part entirely unremarkable, they good contributions to the performance as a whole, did not really stand out as individuals. Jonathan Kydd did manage to be a little more memorable, mainly for delivering a couple of lines about his newspaper’s circulation. Matt Zimmerman likewise managed to deliver is lines in a way that made him noticed, although his parts were very small. Bruce Ogston and Nick Holder were noticeable mainly because they had such distinct roles to play, and did them satisfactorily. Four singer-actors however really do stand out in this production they are Christopher Benjamin, Kim Criswell, Henry Goodman, and, Louise Gold. Firstly Christopher Benjamin sings well and delivers his lines well. He is particularly good in his solo song I’ve Brushed My Teeth, and handles his dialog scenes with Trixie well enough not to get too overshadowed. Kim Criswell is the only person playing one of the three principle characters who continually comes across as such. By and large she is nearly perfect casting, the only downside being whether it is convincing for such a character as Mary to have a Southern States accent. However, as it is Kim Criswell playing the part, she sings so beautifully and acts so convincingly that we can overlook this minor detail (after all it is better that a performer does an accent they can actually do, even if it’s a little incongruous, rather than make a bad attempt at one they couldn’t do). Henry Goodman is one of the finest actors on the British stage. Although Kreuger is not meant to be quite such a leading role he makes it into one. Another minor principle role that somehow turns into almost a leading one is that of Trixie Flynn. She is one of the first characters to enter, and for most of the show one might wonder if she is merely an interesting diversion. It is only towards the very end of the show that she suddenly comes to the fore and proves to be vitally important to the plot. Who better than the irrepressible Louise Gold to fulfil such a role? She does so magnificently. With her unique acting style, that even manages to come across on the radio, and her winning way with accents she is perfectly cast. She also features in two of the very best moments of the entire broadcast, the surprising finale, and that wonderful number First Lady And First Gent. They might be playing characters who in the original billing were minor principles, but in this production of Let ‘Em Eat Cake, Louise Gold and Henry Goodman really might be described as First Lady And First Gent, that suits their complement.