Premiered November 13, 1938, Chicago Civic Opera House. Music by Ferde Grofe (commissioned score). Costumes by Carl Shaffer.
In the 1930s and ’40s, “cafe society” described the mix of celebrities that patronized swanky Manhattan nightclubs such as the El Morocco and the Stork Club. On any given night, this mix might have included debutante Brenda Frazier, champion boxer Max Baer or the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Catherine’s ballet Cafe Society, set in the semi-fictional Club 2222!, introduces a parade of characters, many based on real-life nightclub fixtures. Into the mix wander naive Mr. and Mrs. Newlywed, there to catch a glimpse of a celebrity or two. A famous boxer, with his girlfriend and entourage in tow, makes an appearance to reenact his championship match for the crowd. When an actual fight ensues, the patrons quickly order drinks to cover their embarrassment and the ballet ends in a rowdy free-for-all. The acrobatic Rudy d’Alessandro, in the role of the intoxicated gentleman, was this ballet’s unequivocal star.