Back in the 1920s and 30s, Maurice Yvain was the undisputed king of the boulevards, his catchy tunes whistled and hummed dans les rues.

In 1919, he had a hit with Dansez-vous le foxtrot?, sung by his former army pal Maurice Chevalier. The following year saw the first of many collaborations with the redoubtable actress and singer Mistinguett: Mon Homme was another winner, going on to be sung by Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl.

It was Chevalier who introduced him to Albert Willemetz, a gifted writer of situational farce, whose witty libretti graced a string of popular operettas with one foot in comic opera and one in musicals. Yes!, based on Totte et sa chance (Totte and her luck), a bestselling novel by Pierre Soulaine and René Pujol, opened at the tiny Théâtre des Capucines on 26 January 1928. It was an immediate hit, rapidly transferring to larger theatres before playing all over France and even as far as Hungary. 

The plot is frivolous, funny and typically French. With its emphasis on marriage, morals and mistresses it is also entirely of its time. Parisian playboy Maxime Gavard lives off his tyrannical father, a wealthy pasta manufacturer known to all as ‘the Noodle King’. When he’s ordered to marry Marquita, an exotic beauty from Valparaiso, his current amour, Madame de Saint-Églefin whose dim-witted husband happens to get on famously with Maxime, advises him to turn out to be married already.

Enter Totte, Maxime’s new manicurist, who agrees to a quickie wedding in London. Old man Gavard is duly furious. First, he decides to marry Marquita himself and then threatens to disinherit Maxime if he doesn’t divorce Totte on the spot. The ensuing web takes a deal of untangling, but after much huffing and puffing by Gavard Père all comes good in the end.

Given the paucity of performing materials – shows in those days were often throwaway affairs and rearranged for available forces – Les Frivolites Parisiennes has done a thoroughly convincing job. The 34-piece orchestra oozes Gallic charm and the score is delivered with all the fizz of a freshly opened bottle of Dom Perignon. 

The show itself is chockfull of good tunes, which the lively cast inhabit as to the manner born. There are some cracking earworms, like Maxime’s pattering Si vous connaissiez Papa (If you knew my father), Totte’s chipper Moi je cherche un emploi (I’m looking for a job), or Papa Gavard’s pompous Le Roi Du Vermicelle (the King of Vermicelli).

Other numbers display Yvain’s gifts for mood and melody. The trio Il faut chercher (You need to find) is a skilful construction owing simultaneous debts to Weill and Offenbach. Maxime and Totte’s perky duet À Londres! could almost be by Poulenc, while Marquita’s delicious song about life among the gauchos channels Gershwin. Once you hear the snappily argumentative Dites à mon fils (Tell my son), I guarantee you’ll be humming the tune.

Guillaume Durand’s flexible tenor makes light work of the insouciant Maxime, every word placed with character and care. He’s neatly paired with Sandrine Buendida whose sparkling soprano brings to life the resourceful Totte. Leovanie Raud and Aurélian Gasse have fun with the scheming Saint-Églefins, Irina de Baghy is a fruity Marquita and Philippe Brocard chews up the scenery as a fast and furious Gavard Père.

The text is only given in French, but the story is easy to follow from the detailed synopsis and the whole thing is recorded in first-rate sound. Ooh la la, as they say en Paris.

Listen on Apple Music

Composer: Maurice Yvain 
Work: Yes!
Performer: Les Frivolités Parisiennes
Label: Alpha ALPHA974 (2CD)

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