If you do a Google search for Funny Face, you're not likely to find much about how it relates to Adele Astaire. But long before Fred and Audrey starred in the classic 1957 Oscar nominated film, Funny Face was a popular Broadway show starring Fred & Adele Astaire. The plot and the score were vastly different, but it was such a huge success that on this day in 1928, the Astaires took the show to England and debuted it at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool.
In the original Funny Face, Fred plays Jimmy Reeves, foster brother and guardian to Adele's character, Frankie Wynne. Jimmy has confiscated Frankie's diary and locked it up in a safe, so she is trying to get it back with the help of her love interest in the story. Meanwhile, two thieves are also trying to get into the safe to steal some valuable jewelry. In true musical comedy form, matching envelopes containing the diary and the jewels are mixed up, songs are sung, and romance ensues. It was so popular that they did over 500 shows between New York and London alone while they toured the Eastern United States and England from 1927-1929.
From a Funny Face Theatre Programme, 1928
The Astaires were already beloved in England when they arrived for Funny Face, having previously performed two of their other shows there in years before. They performed throughout England before their stint in London, and it was at the after party for their final performance as Frankie and Jimmy that Adele first met Lord Charles Cavendish, her future husband.
My book starts when Fred and Adele are on their way to England for their British Funny Face tour. But while a good portion of the book takes place while they are in the midst of doing the show, my story focuses more on what is happening in their day-to-day lives outside of the theater during this time period. I wanted to focus on Adele's story, not that of her characters, especially as the overarching conflict in my book is Adele's struggle to come to know herself independent of her roles on the stage and her career alongside her brother.
Fred & Adele sing "Funny Face"
Excerpt from the Book
“Just another big hit!” the advertisement in the paper read. “Felix Edwards presents Fred & Adele Astaire in gay and tuneful Funny Face.” And there they were, brother and sister, toe to toe on the bill that was posted all over town and in every local newspaper. It never ceased to catch Adele off guard when she walked past a newspaper stand and saw her own face looking back at her. She studied herself in the picture for a moment longer and then looking up, caught her reflection in a nearby shop window. She had heard plenty of critics in the states say how she had the perfect appearance and expression for the leading roll in a show with such a title. And while she wondered if that might be nothing short of a dig at her looks, for her part, she was choosing to take it as a compliment of her acting.
She liked this time of day, when the city streets were almost quiet except for the prelude sounds of flower merchants and paper boys and early morning street cleaners. And so she typically took her time on her way to the theater, arriving by foot and feeling the better for it. But it wouldn’t be England if the weather weren’t unpredictable, and a few warning rain drops quickly turned into a rapid downpour as if to hurry her along. She covered herself with her newspaper and laughed as she raced along the walkways toward the Empire, stopping short when she found herself face to face with the towering structure.
She was well familiar with the building, having performed “Lady, Be Good” there the last time they were in the UK. But she always felt a sense of awe and respect when she approached its grand columns and towering edifice. It was truly a sight to behold. The little girl in her still couldn’t believe that someone like her was set to open a show in a place like that, even after all this time. It was that part of her that still remembered climbing the bill with their vaudeville act or losing out on a dressing room to a team of performing seals. And for a moment she forgot the rain, letting it all soak in, until her senses returned and she imagined what a simpleton she must look. She smiled again to herself, ditched the drenched paper in the closest bin, and scurried across the street and into the theater through the front doors.
What else do you want to know about Funny Face?