The Perfect Song – The Way You Look Tonight

Welcome to The Great American Songbook and notes on the crème de la crème ballad, Academy Award winner for Best Song, The Way You Look Tonight by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields.


From the 1936 Hollywood film Swing Time, directed by George Stevens, with screenplay by Broadway luminary Howard Lindsay, starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Victor Moore, and Helen Broderick.-genuflects to Vaudeville for this cast.


Aside #8472:  Film director, George Stevens began his career as a cinematographer and later directed many classic Hollywood dramas including, Giant, A Place in the Sun, Diary of Anne Frank, and Shane. In filmed reminiscences both Astaire and Rogers, share their esteem for director Stevens and the dramatic weight and artistic freedom he brought to the creative process. Can you recall another musical film where after the big romantic dance number the female lead walks off leaving the leading man standing dead in his tracks? While no departing hand gestures are used, the intent is clear!


The Dean of the Great American Songbook, Jerome Kern, born in 1885, who after composing songs for a High School minstrel show and then formal music study, began writing for the Broadway stage in 1904! The Princess Theatre musicals (1915-1918) for the intimate, 299 seat Princess Theatre set a new standard for low budget intimate musicals with integrated scores and naturalistic acting. Unfortunately, the majority of Kern’s musicals remain rarely revived. The one exception is 1927’s Showboat, a pinnacle of American musical theatre with its integrated score combined with contemporary drama, albeit in a historic setting, set the standard for everyone since. His songs remain the backbone of The Great American Songbook, with stylistic examples ranging from 1920’s, Look For the Silver Lining to All the Things You Are from his final Broadway show, Very Warm For May, in 1939.


Dorothy Fields, born in 1904, daughter of Vaudeville great turned producer Lew Fields, from the popular comedy team, Weber and Fields, sister and frequent collaborator with writer Herbert Fields, found her first success in reviews, Blackbirds of 1928, and at the Cotton Club. Examples of her major Broadway work includes the book with brother Herb to 1946’s Annie Get Your Gun, lyrics and book, again with Herb, to the 1959 Tony Award winner for Best Musical Redhead, and the lyrics to both Sweet Charity and Seesaw.


1978 Tony Award recipient and fellow lyricist Richard Maltby Jr., said it best…

“What is it that makes Dorothy Fields so admired by her peers? I can tell you what I love about her work. A Fields lyric is always meticulously crafted yet retains the easy fresh natural flow of colloquial speech. Her language is precisely the language a person would use expressing a feeling, even if it weren’t sung or rhymed – yet the rhyme schemes are scrupulous and the structures impeccable. Concealing the art may be the highest skill in the craft of lyric-writing. Dorothy Fields is a master.
Now add exuberance, wit and the joy of expressing simple deep emotions…and…utter simplicity…
Someday when I’m awfully low, when the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you, and the way you look tonight.

It is hard not to fall in love – with the author.”


The Way You Look Tonight by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields IS the perfect song!!!