New England Light Opera has created a number of revue shows over its first 7 seasons, but Yes, Yes, Jeanette was our first attempt at creating a piece with a true book and narrative structure. Yes, Yes, Jeanette started out life as a straightforward revue—scenes and songs from their Jeanette and Nelson’s movies. However, as I delved ever further into the research, I found myself more and more entranced with these two iconic figures of American music and cinema. While I knew a lot of the music they sang (from the original operetta sources), I had never seen one of their movies until I began this project.
The show is built around a 1957 interview Jeanette and her husband Gene Raymond did with Ed Murrow on CBS’ Person to Person program. Additional material was drawn from Jeannette’s unpublished autobiography and quotes from Nelson and her friends. In short, very little of the script (other than some of the questions) was invented. This is Jeanette (and Gene) in their own words. This interview material is juxtaposed with material performed live from their movies. The attempt here was to give the flavor of the original without trying to literally re-create the screen moments. In many cases portions of several scenes have been edited together to make a longer section more useable in a dramatic context.
The music presented in the show is a combination of excerpts from the original operetta sources, as well as some pieces of arrangements from the movies. Even at the time they were filmed, the source operettas were considered “old fashioned” and in need of some “sprucing up.” Herbert Stothart took the original scores and created new arrangements of many of the songs for the films. Most of those arrangements were not published (many of the sheet music pieces with Jeanette and Nelson’s pictures on it are simply reprints of the songs from the operetta scores and are not the versions heard in the movies.) In order to honor the source music itself we have included the longer original versions of the songs in many cases, along with the duet parts provided by Stothart. There was also the extensive use of large choruses in the films, so adjustments had to be made in those cases as well.
One interesting discovery we made along the way was the intense debate surrounding Jeanette and Nelson—did they have a long time affair or didn’t they? It astounded me the amount of energy (and, quite frankly vitriol) that the adherents of one side or the other continue to put into this question. For myself, I don’t really care about their personal life—it’s their art and its place in our culture that is of importance. When Jeanette reminiscently sings Ah Sweet Mystery at the end with the screen version of Nelson and we hear the dialogue from Maytime you can make of it what you will—just like their story in real life.
We hope you enjoy this trip down the collective memory lane of our country. And if you get a chance, go watch one of their movies—most of them are well worth the investment and will leave you delighted, amused, and swept away with some utterly romantic and completely unapologetic sentimentality!
—-Mark Morgan, show creator and Artistic Director, New England Light Opera