Charles Cochran and the Lost London Production of Shuffle Along


After the New York run of Shuffle Along ended and the lead company took to the road, the plan originally was to go to London in April 1923 under the auspices of British producer Charles Cochran.  Born in London, Cochran first established himself as an actor in American vaudeville in the 1890s, and then turned his sights to managing and promoting other acts.  Returning to London by the turn of the 20th century, he began producing Music Hall revues, taking on the management of London’s Oxford Music Hall in the mid-teens.   During the ‘20s, he partnered with Noel Coward in the production of his comedic plays and musicals, promoting stars like Beatrice Lillie and Gertrude Lawrence.  Like Ziegfeld in the US, his shows became famous for his chorus line of “Cochran Young Ladies,” who were said to represent the “ideal British girl” besides, of course, displaying just enough flesh to titillate his audience.

The British sheet music cover for “I’m Just Wild About Harry” announces Cochran’s production of the show that never occurred.

When Cochran saw Shuffle Along in 1922, he was bowled over by Florence Mill’s talents. Cochran wrote of his admiration for Mills, “Florence Mills was one of the greatest artists that ever walked on to a stage. But for her color she would have been internationally accepted as one of the half dozen leading theatrical personalities of this century, and worth all the money in the world.”  He signed a contract to bring Shuffle Along to London but when Mills exited the show, he lost interest in the property.  Recently a piece of sheet music for the show’s hit “I’m Just Wild About Harry” showed up that was published in London apparently in anticipation of Cochran’s production that never occurred.

Instead, working with Mills’ new manager Lew Leslie, Cochran brought Mills to London to star in the revue Dover Street to Dixie that opened in May of 1923 at the London Pavilion. The show made Mills an international star and was a major hit on the British stage.  Many other talents from Shuffle Along were employed, including conductor/music director Will Vodery.  The show also featured comedic actor Johnny Hudgins, who would soon star in Sissle and Blake’s next show, Chocolate Dandies.

British sheet music for “You Were Meant for Me”

When Sissle and Blake subsequently toured the UK in 1925, Cochran commissioned the duo to write the song “Tahiti” for his 1926 Revue, where it was sung by the show’s stars, Elizabeth Hines and Basil Howes.  Not to be out done, his rival in producing comedic productions on the London stage, Andre Charlot, commissioned Sissle and Blake to compose “You Were Meant for Me” for his 1923 production of London Calling!, starring Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward.  It was Coward’s first musical for which he provided the lyrics and music, and introduced the song “Parisian Pierrot,” among his first hits.  Sissle and Blake’s song was the only non-Coward number sung in the show.

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