The piece was first produced in 1929 at Her Majesty's Theatre in London, running for a very successful 967 performances. There was a brief Broadway production the same year. Short on memorable Cowardian dialogue, Bitter Sweet nonetheless contains some of Coward's best music, and several recordings of the score are available on CD. The piece has been popular with amateur operatic societies, but there have been few major professional revivals. The operetta was filmed twice, in 1933 in black-and-white (in Britain, with Anna Neagle and Fernand Gravet in the leading roles) and in 1940 in Technicolor by MGM, starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. In both cases, the score was heavily cut. Coward disliked the much-rewritten 1940 film and vowed that no more of his plays would be filmed in Hollywood.
Although popular with amateur operatic societies, Bitter Sweet has had relatively few professional productions. The original production in 1929 at Her Majesty's Theatre in London starred Peggy Wood as Sarah, with Georges Metaxa as Carl. Ivy St. Helier played Manon, and the role of the aged Marquis of Shayne was played by the 26-year-old Alan Napier, later to gain fame as Batman's butler, Alfred, in the 1960s (both repeated their roles in the 1933 film). Evelyn Laye had been the first choice to play Sarah, but turned it down as she was annoyed with the producer, C. B. Cochran, who she felt had caused her marriage to actor Sonnie Hale to fail by putting him in a show opposite Jessie Matthews, with whom he had an affair. Laye soon played the part on Broadway, however, later in 1929, alongside Gerald Nodin as Carl and Desmond Jeans as Captain Lutte. This production lasted for 159 performances. A brief Broadway revival played in 1934, starring Evelyn Herbert and Allan Jones.
An abridged studio recording was made in 1961, featuring Adele Leigh, James Pease and Susan Hampshire. A revival at the Northcott Theatre, Exeter, in the early 1980s with Jan Hartley-Morris as Sarah led to a large-scale revival in London which also toured the provinces in 1988. This New Sadler's Wells Opera production by Ian Judge used a revised orchestration by Michael Reed, and was recorded complete (although without dialogue) by TER (That's Entertainment Records). On stage, Valerie Masterson and Ann Mackay alternated in the major leading part of Sarah, with Martin Smith as Carl and Rosemary Ashe as Manon. Valerie Masterson was chosen to record the role.
The St. Louis Municipal Opera ("the Muny") presented numerous productions of Bitter Sweet between 1933 and 1953 as well as one in 1974. The Long Beach Civic Light Opera in Southern California staged a celebrated production of Bitter Sweet in 1983 starring Shirley Jones as Sarah/Sari/Marchioness, and the Ohio Light Opera produced Bitter Sweet in 1993 and 1998.