So when, to avoid incoming boats, the impetuous Captain orders the steamboat Merry-Gold to back away from St. Louis abruptly,
there is a brief whistle followed by the churning of revved paddles and a jolt of the boat aftward,
impelling the newly-boarded passengers in the boat salon into furniture, each other and to the floor.
They barely regain some physical dignity when there is another order:
CAPTAIN: [Offstage, tubed, heard only by the audience]
[Impelled about again, all but one of the passengers recovers with vocal anger
that is interrupted by the one who speaks out beguilingly upbeat.]
ABNER: Friends-- Friends-- Friends-- We're stirring cider into vinegar!
A few bruises into a nasty stew.
Better to relax for being on a sturdy vessel and enjoy these smooth stretches.
[Turning to one of the women].
ABNER: Madam--a cheer?
GEORGIA:[At first affronted,
then savoring the chance to lead, and lifting a glassless hand.]
Well--ahem--Here's to a journey that's just begun!
ABNER: That could be the start of some fun.
GARY: [Inwardly ready to go upbeat]
Hey, I'm for that. Hurrah for the Merry-Gold!
How about -- let's give three cheers for the Merry Gold!
ABNER: That's it!--
[Music swells up. Singing.]
ABNER: Come fill your lungs, your arms unfold
And give three cheers for the Merry-Gold.
GARY: She's never been young, and still isn't old,
So give three cheers for the Merry-Gold ...
click for "merry gold opens" audio
After introducing himself as Abner Elm, "The Great Persuader", who makes his way solving the problems of others, he is approached for help by Jenny. She is a dancehall girl hoping to use the 5-day trip to New Orleans to convince Gary, a fellow passenger,
that she'd make him a better wife than the Louisiana belle he's traveling to marry.
click for "a dangerous pie" audio
Though Jenny can offer only her loving gratitude, Abner is enthralled, and despite his attraction to her, tries to carry her case to Gary.
Only to learn that Gary, who'd come to know Jenny while he was a manager at some upriver mines, is still thoroughly committed to his Sylvia Maria.
click for "sylvia maria" audio
At the same time, Jenny is being pursued by the bumbling Jared, whom she also met in the mine town dancehall.
He is planning to take advantage of being her only friend when she is left rejected and alone in an unfamiliar city.
But then their impetuous Captain comes to inspect his passengers, and they all learn that, while the Captain is aesthetically enthralled by the beauty of the river,
he also holds unromantically strict views of proper behavior.
And he will set ashore "on some lonely landing" anyone caught violating his very limiting Rules.
click for "my life is my merry gold" audio
Because the ship's Rule #5 states that "any unwed couple found sharing a couch will be put ashore
unless they agree to be wed immediately by the Captain's authority",
Jared immediately decides to act that night and tries to bribe Slater, the boat's young purser,
to help him be found with Jenny in such a position.
JARED: Slater, my friend, come now unbend from the duties you never are shirking.
And softly help me -- of course, for a fee -- in some very important night-working.
SLATER: I work at night, if it is right, and doing right is my main intention.
It's odd that you ask, about this one task, that other folks try-- not to mention.
JARED: You think I'm odd; a country clod; look you here what this pocket is growing.
That's a ten dollar bank note you're showing ...
SLATER: Yes, I can see, plain as can be, [Impressed.]
Then Jenny comes to Slater with a similar proposition regarding Gary. Slater balks here too, but as she makes her case,
steadily appealing to his youthful sense of adventure, Slater finds her harder to resist.
click for "there was a young squirrel" audio
So the two schemes, proceeding independently, collide, and the Captain views Jenny and Jared as his culprits and determines to either wed,
or set ashore together these very incompatible two. He then finds himself in a song and dance battle with his passengers
who will not let him be both accuser and judge. They assert their democratic right to determine the matter.
CAPTAIN: I tell you now immediately,
this bed-clothed woman that you see
This night has played very loose and free,
so set ashore she soon shall be!
GEORGIA: But, sir, upon what evidence?
MRS. MARKEY and CAROLINE: You must presume her innocence.
GARY: And allow for her defense ...
JENNY: [Anger reasserting.] Lonely prairie or forest dim
don't set me ashore with the likes of him.
Or right away I'll be concerned
to use every trick I've ever learned ..
[She glares at JARED.].. to tear him limb from limb from limb
I'll tear him limb from limb.
Abner then persuades the passengers and the Captain to set up an on-board trial,
and persuades two of the passengers, Georgia, the wife of a judge, and her sister, Caroline, to act as jurists.
And for his own purposes Abner joins in arguing for the Captain's view of it.
ABNER: Beyond that thin wall I awoke in my bed
and I heard two people conversing.
I could not hear clearly just what they said
but I could tell there was no coercing.
GEORGIA and CAROLINE: It's good when there is no coercing.
ABNER: Then very sudden outside of my door was a woman's scream!
.. a gentleman's roar!
I tripped in the dark on my bag on the floor.
GEORGIA and CAROLINE: It's bad to trip in the dark on the floor ...
In song and dance Georgia and Caroline undertake the judicial process,
believing that .. "there is wisdom and precision when we dance to a decision"
CAROLINE: Yes. We'll find wisdom and precision, when we dance to a decision,
It does wonders for your clarity of thought.
GEORGIA: Now a ring around our information--
[The music becomes moderate and light, an English country dance,
and they dance hand in hand in an open circle.]
CAROLINE: [After a few bars:] Now a march--for concentration--
[Then music changes to a danceable march, and they parade to it through a few bars ...]
[ .. a tango, a minuet, and a waltz later: ]
CAROLINE: By the sparkle there in both your eyes,
I can tell you see where justice lies,
And to me it's no surprise -- you see justice as I see it.
GEORGIA: Indeed, my dear, by your hint of a smile,
I can tell you can see where in this trial
Fair Justice has hidden all this while!
Fair justice as we see it!
This forces Gary to reveal that "Sylvia Maria" is really a clipper ship in the coffee trade,
offering him a chance to fulfill his dream of going to sea.
Gary then explains that starting as a third mate, he would not be allowed to have a female mate aboard.
So he had decided to take "fun as he found it" until he would get promoted, but now he realizes that in Jenny he'd be finding a better dream,
one he dares not leave behind. For Jenny, it's a dream come true -- though it takes Caroline in the end to get them to stop just being awed,
and declare it!
click for "the roll of the sea" audio
Jenny and Gary will provide the Captain his chance to perform a wedding. Abner reaps the third mate certificate,
having to change his name to Gary's as well while extending his chances for travel. Jared is forgiven his transgression,
and is assured his future will be improved by having learned to obey rules.
ABNER: Whoa, there. Where are you going?
JARED: [Despondently.] To pack my things to get off.
ABNER: Now, now, friend. No one here wants to dim this happy moment with grudges.
We all look ahead. And your future is bright.
Education is the key, and think of all you've learned.
ABNER: [He enumerates.] Always learn the details. Abide by the rules.
And by the time we reach New Orleans,
you'll know how to go five days without whisky.
That will put you ahead of most college men.
CAPTAIN: [In a good natured managerial way, in a speaking voice.]
Now attention all, and please take heed
we're burning lamps that we don't need.
By morning's light when we resume
we'll unite a bride and groom!
And all hurrah for the Merry-Gold .. that has "never been young and will never grow old .. "
ALL: She's never been young and she'll never grow old!
So give three cheers for the Merry Gold!
Three cheers for the Merry Gold!
She's never been bought and she'll never be sold!
She's never been young and she'll never grow old!
Three cheers for the Merry Gold!
Three cheers for the Merry Gold!
click for "merry gold closes" audio