Composed to a book by Robert E. Sherwood, directed and coproduced by Moss Hart, Irving Berlin’s musical comedy Miss Liberty is a mostly fictitious account of the history behind the creation of the Statue of Liberty. The song Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor served as the final number in that 1949 production.
In a humorous, deliberately perpetuated farce of mistaken identity, a Frenchwoman, Monique DuPont, is falsely assumed to have been the statue's model (in fact, as is later revealed onstage, it was the mother of the statue's sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi). She goes along with the deception out of affection for its perpetrator—a newspaper publisher who, in this imagined scenario, seeks to gain an advantage over his supposed rival, Joseph Pulitzer, by publishing in his own paper his “discovery” of the identity of the statue’s undisclosed model. Eventually, after the ruse is uncovered, she renounces the pretension. Nonetheless, just before the final curtain she sings Berlin’s song to Emma Lazarus’s words—not at the unveiling, but at Castle Garden, the landing site and processing center of hundreds of thousands of immigrants of the type described by Lazarus (which preceded the construction of the Ellis Island facility). Rescued there by Pulitzer at the last minute, while awaiting imminent deportation for the deception, she breaks enthusiastically into “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor” when Bartholdi asks if she remembers the poem she once showed him in his Paris studio. In the original staging, the walls of the immigration hall dissolved while she sang, revealing the floodlit statue in the distance—its torch shining with increasing intensity as the curtain fell.
In the original Broadway production, the role of Monique was played and sung by Allyn McLerie. Only the music received uniformly favorable press reviews. Miss Liberty, overshadowed by two other Broadway musicals produced that year, Show Boat and Kiss Me Kate, did not live on to become a classic and is remembered now primarily among the circumscribed circles of Broadway buffs and historians. Some of the songs—“Just One Way to Say I Love You,” “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun,” and “You Can Have Him”—have enjoyed postproduction success. But none ever achieved the enduring fame of “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor,” whose perpetuation is due largely to its choral arrangement by Roy Ringwald for the Fred Waring choral series, for mixed SATB chorus and piano. Copyrighted in the same year as the original song (1949), that arrangement quickly became a staple in the repertoire of high school, college, and other amateur choruses as well as Waring’s own ensemble, Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, in the aftermath of the Second World War and during the chilling days of the Cold War, it was consistently programmed not only at concerts but also at school assemblies and patriotic civic ceremonies celebrating American liberty.
Sung in English
Poem: Emma Lazarus, from her sonnet "The New Colossus"
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Publisher: Irving Berlin Co (WIlliamson Music Co)
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