Gershwin’s Long-Lost Musical “La La Lucille” Rediscovered and Performed for the First Time

Experience La La Lucille, Gershwin's Long-Lost Musical

Sheet music from the early 20th century. (Photo: Wikimedia, Public Domain)

What's your favorite musical? Do you belt out “Defying Gravity” when you're alone? Do you still dance anytime “Seasons of Love” from Rent starts playing? Do you still dream of the incredible costumes from The Lion King? Chances are, if you're a Broadway enthusiast or music aficionado, you know George Gershwin's work. Born in 1898, the legendary composer produced classics throughout his short life before dying in 1937. He wrote the opera Porgy and Bess as well as the original Funny Face musical starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire.

Among his works, there was a gap—the musical known as La La Lucille had been missing, its words and music largely unknown for a century. While scholars had previously tried to recreate the lost work, this process took a sudden leap forward with the surprise discovery of the lost, original sheet music by a University of Michigan professor in the Amherst College Archives in Massachusetts.

La La Lucille premiered on Broadway in 1919. It was an important early work of Gershwin's composition, based on a book by Fred Jackson and paired with the lyrics of four authors. It is set on a wild night in New York when a married couple learns of a sudden inheritance, their acceptance of which is conditional on their divorce. The wife, a former showgirl named Lucille, and her husband plan a deception of comic proportions to keep both their love and the money. The music, composed entirely by a brilliant 20-year-old Gershwin, ushers the characters through the plot. However, the loss of sheet music for many songs has reduced these tunes to a few extant piano versions.

University of Michigan scholar Jacob Kerzner was perusing the Amherst College archives in summer 2023. In the Samuel French Collection, he discovered a surprising stack of about 800 pages full of scores. This complete orchestration includes music for flutes, cellos, and other accompanying instruments that had not been heard for almost a century. The musical's last recorded performance, while on the road, was in Massachusetts in 1926. This may be why the scores ended up in Amherst.

In February 2024, music students at the University of Michigan performed songs from the musical alongside this complete music. Junior Aquila Sol sang “Somehow It Seldom Comes True,” while junior Keyon Pickett performed “From Now On.” Professor Jayce Ogren conducted.

“We get to hear these fun flute lines that we hadn’t noticed,” Kerzner told M Live. “We get to warm up some of these ballads with strings, and we get to even see some of the changes in harmony that may not have been published in the piano-vocal, but that George Gershwin or Frank Saddler may have adjusted as they developed this show for Broadway.” A critical edition of the work is also said to be in the works.

The music and lyrics of La La Lucille, a lost Gershwin musical first performed in 1919, were rediscovered a century later by a scholar from the University of Michigan.

Experience La La Lucille, Gershwin's Long-Lost Musical

“La La Lucille” in its film adaption, 1920. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

The musical, discovered in Amherst College's archives, tells the story of a couple who receives a surprise inheritance.

Listen to some of the long-lost songs yourselves and enjoy the music.

h/t: [M Live]

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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