Irving Berlin was one of the towering figures of Tin Pan Alley and the musical theater with a career reaching back to 1911 with his first hit tune “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”.
Most of his famous songs date from the 20s and 30s when the songs in musicals often had very little to do with the plots (if any) of the shows, but with Annie Get Your Gun in 1946 he proved that he could write a score that was integrated into the plot of the show, and incidentally created one of the all time show stopping anthems with “There’s No Business Like Show Business”.
In 1962 at the age of 74 he was coaxed into coming back to Broadway after an absence of 11 years to write the score for a show called Mr. President.
It did not go well.
Although the cast included Broadway veteran Nanette Fabray, who made the most of sometimes second rate Berlin material, it also featured Robert Ryan, whose singing voice was essentially nonexistent.
Still, second rate Berlin is better than most composers’ top shelf work, and with a better book, perhaps the show might have had a chance, but it was old fashioned by 1960s standards and criticized as corny in a season dominated by hits like Oliver!, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Stop the World – I Want to Get Off.
A sub-plot of the show featured a Secret Service agent, played by Jack Haskell, falling in love with his charge, the president’s daughter, played by Anita Gillette, who considers the Secret Service agents to be merely obstacles to her having a good time.
Here’s a video of Anita Gillette singing what I think is probably the best song in the score in a cabaret in 2016, “The Secret Service”: