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Apr
05

Goddard Lieberson

Ken is on vacation this week, but Erik shares some terrific thoughts on and insight about a man who would be turning 108 on April 5: Goddard Lieberson. If it's a name you don't know, he was a record producer behind some of our most cherished cast recordings, who ultimately became the president of Columbia Records and, in that capacity, ensured the company's ongoing commitment to preserving musicals on LP.

To complement Erik's column, I'd like to offer up the following two albums for your consideration: 

  • Girl Crazy - In 1951 Goddard Lieberson produced this studio cast recording with Mary Martin. It represented the first time that much of the Gershwins' glorious score had been available for listeners. There have been ones since, but this album still sparkles.
  • It's a Bird, It's a Plane...It's Superman  - This tuneful, somewhat goofy musical about the Man of Steel, I think, is a great example of Lieberson's eclectic tastes in musical theater. Yes, he could recognize the greatness of Blitzstein's or Bernstein's or Sondheim's music, and he could also see the value in the genuinely entertaining theater song, such as "You've Got Possibilities."

Remember, if you need to add any of the recordings mentioned here and in the guys' blogs to your collection, you can find links to them in the carousels on the BwayTunes.com homepage. 


Our tribute to Goddard Lieberson has resulted in one of the most classic Spotify playlists I've ever assembled. To spice things up I've tried to pick lesser-known tracks from the myriad albums he produced. Hoping you enjoy my choices!


Ghostlight Records extraordinary new album, The Jonathan Larson Project, contains a host of never-before recorded songs from the man who wrote Rent. We're delighted to have a track from it for you for this week's free song.


Take a look at the marvelously diverse array of new music that we've gotten for you, particularly:

  • Tina: The Tina Turner Musical - Adrienne Warren garnered raves for her performance in London as this rock-star powerhouse, and now the U.S release (in advance of the show's Broadway bow) allows us all to hear what audiences and critics were cheering.
  • The Jonathan Larson Project - Larson's gift for fusing pop sounds and musical theater ones is well known, thanks to Rent and tick...tick..BOOM! This new album showcases this talent with cut songs from those shows as well as ones from unproduced shows and specialty material.

In addition to these albums, you’ll want to check out these new releases, which can be found in the main carousel at the top of the home page and in the “New and Recommended” one at the bottom of the page.

  • Ain't Too Proud - I hear audiences have been cheering this musical that charts the fortunes of Motown's the Temptations. This cast recording has been released to coincide with the show's recent Broadway opening.
  • Three Points of Contact - Some of Broadway's finest, including Jenn Collela, Gavin Creel, and Lindsay Mendez, have lent their voices to this studio cast recording of a new musical by Ryan Scott Oliver. It's a pretty fantastic listen.
  • Heathers - After an acclaimed and often extended off-Broadway run, Kevin Murphy and Laurence O'Keefe's musical version of the 1989 movie of the same name is taking London by storm. That production's cast album is now available over here!
  • Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical - Also just out is the cast recording of this show that had audiences roaring in its off-Broadway run last season. This one uses a bevy of 90s hits, including "Colorblind," "I Want It That Way," and "Genie in a Bottle," as it transports the story of Les Liaisons Dangereuses to the world of Manhattan prep schools.
  • Mythic - Marcus Stevens and Oran Eldor have brought the Greek gods to marvelous, contemporary life in this new musical. That's delighted audiences in the U.K. and now can works its magic on all of us in the U.S. thanks to this original cast recording.
  • Bella: An American Tall Tale - The Playwrights Horizons cast that deftly delivered Kirsten Childs' comically revisionist look at the mythos of the Old West sounds fantastic on this album, where the music fuses contemporary sounds with traditional Broadway ones and Americana.
  • Company - This gender-swapped production of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's 1970 classic has been generating a lot of buzz both in the UK and here. It's promised for Broadway in the not-so-distant future. Take a listen to this new cast album to discover what the excitement's about!
  • Unbreakable - Soloists Britney Coleman, Marcus J. Paige, and Lisa Vroman, along with songwriter Andrew Lippa, join the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus for this exciting new cast album of a show that traverses more than a century of the gay experience in America.
  • Follies - Stephen Sondheim's ravishing score for this 1971 musical sounds pretty incredible on this new recording that preserves last year's highly acclaimed London revival cast (from the Royal National Theatre). It's a marvelous addition to the collection.
  • Songs for a New World - This Jason Robert Brown score gets showcased beautifully on a new album that features the cast that presented the show last summer as part of City's Center's Off-Center seriesWhat's great about this recording is that it comes on two CDs meaning it is longer than any previous release of this much-loved show.
  • Band Geeks: The Musical - You'll find some giddy merriment at work in this tuner that's finally come to disc. A romp through the world of high school marching bands, Band Geeks sets toes a-tappin' and mouths a-smilin' from start to finish.
  • The Dancing Years - A rare treat awaits listeners with this new, complete recording of Ivor Novello and Christopher Hassell's 1939 operetta about a man who's in love with two women. Swirling melodies and gorgeous vocals abound on this beautifully assembled studio cast album.
  • Brigadoon - Kelli O'Hara and Patrick Wilson are both in fine voice on this beautiful recording of Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner's classic musical. We're all very happy to have a recording of this Encores! presentation.
  • "Loser Geek Whatever" - In anticipation of the Broadway bow of Joe Iconis' Be More Chill, the producers have released this nifty EP featuring three different versions of one of the show's terrific tunes.
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Imogen Heap's Drama Desk Award winning score for the epic theatrical adventure featuring J.K. Rowling's renowned boy wizard has been marvelously transformed into four suites for this new recording. 
  • Will He Like Me? - Philip Chaffin lends his voice to over a dozen classic Broadway tunes and, in the process, creates a moving song cycle.

You'll get our next newsletter just before the end of the 2018-2019. As it arrives there will still be two new musicals left to open: Tootsie and Beetlejuice.

Both of these shows are based on movies, and their pedigree will serve as the "prompt" for Erik and Ken's columns. They're going to be writing about the relationship between stage and screen. How they choose to approach it will be up to them.

I figure as a way of jump-starting them I'll throw out the original cast recording of a show based on a movie, the always-infectious 42nd Street.

 

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Apr
05

Putting the God in Goddard

Is it just a coincidence that Goddard Lieberson’s first name contains the appellation of a deity? He certainly was the Creator of the original cast recording, as opposed to the original cast album, because he was one of the two men who developed the 33 1/3 rpm long-playing LP format for Columbia Records. Prior to the LP, cast recordings were issued as a series of records, each of which could only contain about three-and-a-half minutes worth of music per side, packaged like a photo album with multiple pages, except here each disc had its own page, i.e., sleeve. Listening to the 1943 OBCR of Oklahoma! would have required the listener to get up 12 times, six to put a record on and six to flip it over. With the LP, that was reduced to a single interruption, allowing for a much stronger sense of dramatic continuity.

The first OBCR released as an LP was the Lieberson-produced Kiss Me, Kate, in 1949, featuring what is probably Cole Porter’s most popular score. The show was Porter’s first attempt to write in the Rodgers and Hammerstein integrated book musical structure, and that gamble paid off handsomely. Lieberson would go on across the next 26 years to oversee more classic OBCRs than any other record producer of his era, a list that includes such iconic titles as Kismet, The Pajama Game, My Fair Lady, Bells Are Ringing, West Side Story, Gypsy, Camelot, Bye Bye Birdie, Cabaret, Mame, Sweet Charity, A Little Night Music, and A Chorus Line. He was also finely attuned to translating the theatrical experience into recording terms, frequently making changes in how the score was presented in the theatre that helped to convey aurally what was missing visually.

That desire, however, to re-create the sensation of experiencing a musical in the theatre while telling the story clearly and compellingly, clashed with another desire: to have hit radio singles of the songs. In service of this purpose, Lieberson hated to include dialogue on a recording, and he was notorious for cutting it to a bare minimum. True, he let us hear Patricia Morison’s Lili Vanessi say, “Snowdrops, and pansies, and rosemary—my wedding bouquet. Oh, he didn’t forget” before launching into “So in Love,” but I still find it hard to forgive him for robbing us of the Third Cockney’s “Where are you bound for this spring, Eliza? Biarritz?” in “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and especially Julie Andrews’ Guenevere noting sarcastically, “And I suppose the autumn leaves fall into neat little piles” in the title song of Camelot. Instead, the underscoring just plays out while you wonder what’s happening.

But we are here to worship Goddard, not to blame him, and he indeed left the world an extraordinary legacy. I have chosen to focus on recordings with which I believe he saved an important score from vanishing into obscurity. He was not afraid to preserve flops when he thought the work merited it, usually scores of rather challenging material, and he also made a point of making a series of studio recordings of important scores that had gone undocumented prior to the popularization of cast recordings. Here are 10 Lieberson recordings to which I think the world owes considerable thanks.

Street Scene (1947)
This is the only recording on this list that Lieberson made prior to the advent of the LP. It’s telling that when I got my CD down from the shelf, I discovered that it was still in its shrink-wrap and carrying a Tower Records price tag of $12.99. As an LP I listened to it a lot, despite the muddy sound of the fake-stereo LP reissue I had and some consonant-corrupting operatic singing of a couple of the principals, because the Kurt Weill–Langston Hughes score, however truncated, was fascinating and haunting. But by the time it got to CD, I had supplanted it with several full-length recordings, the first being a bootleg audio of an excellent 1982 Equity Library Theatre production and then recordings of a 1989 English National Opera production and conductor John Mauceri’s 1991 complete studio recording (sadly out of print). Lieberson was only able to record 53 minutes worth of the nearly 150-minute show, but Weill thanked him personally in the original liner notes for his “comprehensive recording” that “allowed me to work out a sort of continuity so that, in listening to this recorded performance, we can follow the action and the emotional ups-and-downs of this play about life in a street of New York,” even though “important parts of the score…had to be omitted.” Listening to the CD for the first time, the poor sound has happily been rectified, and the performances spark like only those of an original cast that has performed the show on stage can. And would we have had any subsequent recordings without it? Even two well-received New York City Opera productions, from 1959 and 1979, failed to get waxed. Though the show got good notices in 1947, it was too serious and operatic for general audiences and expired after only four months. It’s Lieberson’s recording that kept Street Scene alive.

Out of This World (1950)
This much-anticipated Cole Porter musical, his follow-up to Kiss Me, Kate, also ran only four months, but it didn’t get the good reviews that Street Scene did. The Dwight Taylor–Reginald Lawrence book, based on the Amphitryon legend about the Greek god Jupiter coming to earth to seduce a mortal woman, was a mess, and the show was faulted for being too revue-like, an old-fashioned, pre-Oklahoma! musical comedy. However, some people, including the show’s co-producer, Saint Subber, who had also co-produced Kate, thought it Porter’s finest score. I discovered it in college when it was reissued on Columbia’s Special Products Series and was utterly delighted with it. Lieberson’s OBCR didn’t keep the show alive to prove a success later, but it did allow this fabulous Porter effort to live on until Encores! did a concert version during its second season in 1995. There’s a delightful recording of that as well, which includes two songs cut originally, the lovely “You Don’t Remind Me” and “From This Moment On,” which found its way into the film version of Kate and became a standard.

Pal Joey (1951)
Lieberson recorded this 1940 hit by John O’Hara (book), Lorenz Hart (lyrics), and Richard Rodgers (music) with a studio cast that included the hot new dancer Harold Lang and original star Vivienne Segal, re-creating her role as Chicago socialite Vera Simpson. Though the show had been a success at the box office, running just shy of a year and spawning a national tour, a number of the critics thought the story, about a low-life, thoroughly amoral hoofer named Joey Evans trying to sleep his way to success, was too distasteful for a musical. Lieberson’s dynamic LP showcased the brilliant Rodgers and Hart score and got people to reconsider the musical itself, inspiring a 1952 Broadway revival co-produced by composer Jule Styne that was a huge success, running 540 performances, a record at the time for a musical revival. Pal Joey went on to become a hit film starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth, and Kim Novak and be revived three more times on Broadway, most recently by the Roundabout Theatre Company in 2009. However, most versions have had a rewritten script, in which the adaptors attempt to redeem Joey before the final curtain. This is completely wrongheaded. The whole point of the show is that he learns absolutely nothing from his mistakes. If any rewrites need to be done at all, they should attempt to more successfully merge the gangster subplot, which is strictly old school musical comedy, with the adult main story, which is totally dramatically integrated, character-driven book musical material.

Porgy and Bess (1951)
This was the first “complete” recording of DuBose Heyward and George and Ira Gershwin’s 1935 folk opera, and it proved a revelation. (It is, alas, out of print on CD, though available from third parties on Amazon.com, and unreleased digitally.) The original production received mixed reviews and managed a Broadway run of only three-and-a-half months. It spawned a sort of cast recording in 1940, when members of the Broadway cast were reassembled to record highlights for Decca Records, though that contained choices such as Todd Duncan, the original Porgy, singing “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” which, of course, was Sportin’ Life’s song. In 1942, producer Cheryl Crawford made the show a Broadway hit by turning the recitative into spoken dialogue, turning it into a book musical rather than an opera. It was Lieberson and conductor Lehman Engel who rescued the piece, recording the version that originally opened on Broadway intact. However, that had nearly an hour’s worth of cuts from what had opened out of town. George Gershwin made those cuts, but he wasn’t necessarily happy about doing so. This recording was rereleased on Odyssey, a Columbia subsidiary, in 1968, and I bought it in the mid-1970s. However, I never got to know it too well, because in 1976 a complete recording of the uncut opera came out conducted by Lorin Maazel of the Cleveland Orchestra, so I listened to that instead. Then, that same year, the Houston Grand Opera staged a production of the uncut version, which was also recorded. I saw that sensational production on Broadway, and the OBCR has been my go-to version ever since. Listening to Lieberson’s recording now, I am struck by the sensitive and theatrical performances under Engel’s faultless, finely tuned musical direction, particularly impressive for a studio recording of pickup performers. In 1952 an international tour of Porgy and Bess went out that restored many though not all of the recitatives, undoubtedly sparked by Lieberson’s recording. Without it, Porgy and Bess might have remained a musical, and we would have lost the greatest American opera ever written.

The Most Happy Fella (1956)
Frank Loesser called his musical adaptation of Sidney Howard’s play They Knew What They Wanted “a musical with a lot of music,” but others insisted that it was an opera due the score’s musical complexity and the script’s almost total lack of dialogue. As opera was a dirty word on Broadway at the time, we’ll probably never know for sure how Loesser really saw his work. When I started collecting Broadway cast recordings, only a one-LP set of excerpts from this recording was available. I liked the songs well enough, but the recording felt very fragmentary, with little theatrical heft, so I didn’t listen to it all that much. I knew of the three-LP nearly complete recording’s existence, but it was long out of print and I couldn’t find one anywhere, not even in a library. I finally heard the full work when I connected with John McGlinn at the end of my freshman year at Northwestern. The day we met, at interviews for positions on Northwestern’s student musical revue, the WAA-MU Show, he took me back to his apartment and played me the whole thing. I was floored by it and desperately wanted my own copy, which I finally found at Chicago’s legendary Rose Records. It was Lieberson’s decision to record the full score, even though that three-LP set was highly unlikely to make a profit. If he hadn’t done it, who knows if the show would ever have been revived on Broadway? I’m beyond grateful to him, even if I’m also annoyed that he didn’t record the one dialogue-only scene, a comic set piece in which ranch hand Herman flirts with ex-waitress Cleo while teaching her how to paste labels on shipping boxes. I bet Shorty Long and Susan Johnson killed it every time.

Candide (1956)
My best friend in high school, Bill Sisson, introduced me to this Leonard Bernstein score (lyrics mostly by Richard Wilbur) for Lillian Hellman’s adaptation of Voltaire’s “schoolboy jape” skewering mindless optimism. It was so classically influenced that it took me a while to assimilate it, but I eventually did, and the OBCR remains a desert-island disc for me. It ran for only two months on Broadway, after opening to mixed reviews, but Lieberson recorded it anyway, allowing the glorious score its due. People kept trying to fix the thing because of the score, and for my money it was only the 1973 Hugh Wheeler–Stephen Sondheim–Harold Prince revisal that did the trick theatrically. That version was recorded in its entirety, and I do enjoy listening to it, but nothing is as good as the original OBCR, particularly due to the splendid Barbara Cook’s matchless acting and singing as Cunegonde. Today the show is a staple of the repertoire, even if in various versions, and it’s all thanks to Lieberson. And bless him for including Max Adrian’s indelibly cynical line reading of “Well, they all believe what they’re screaming. We’ll see” during the “Quartet Finale” the ends Act 1. Though, admittedly, that cut was not likely to get stand-alone radio play.

Regina (1958)
Marc Blitzstein’s vibrant adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s 1939 melodrama The Little Foxes debuted on Broadway in 1949 and played for 56 performances, not bad for an opera but hardly a commercial success. New York City Opera revived it to acclaim in 1953 and then again in 1958, after Lieberson had become president of Columbia Records. While his name is not on the recording as producer (no one’s is; the credit is merely “Recorded under the auspices of the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, Inc.”), as president he would have green-lit the project, and, especially due to his longstanding friendship with Blitzstein (which dated back to the 1930s, when both were trying to make their marks as composers), I can’t believe that Lieberson wasn’t seriously involved with the making of this highly theatrical complete three-LP recording. Alas, it documents a seriously cut version of the score (with most of the cuts having been made at the urging of Hellman, who had mixed feelings about seeing her work musicalized), but it is vital to any musical theatre collection just for its brilliant performances and dramatic integrity. In 1992, conductor John Mauceri and his then-student Tommy Krasker restored Blitzstein’s original vision and produced it for the Scottish Opera. That two-CD release is out of print, but copies can be found on Amazon.com. You really need both.

Juno (1959)
Blitzstein’s final Broadway work was this adaptation of Sean O’Casey’s drama Juno and the Paycock, which had a book by Joseph Stein. Ironically, it was done as a commercial book musical, when the material might better have lent itself to an opera. In any event, book and score failed to mesh, and the show closed at the Winter Garden Theatre after a mere 16 performances. Nevertheless, Lieberson recorded it, though it quickly went out of print. I still remember my boundless joy at finding the LP in a cutout record bin at a Zayre’s convenience store in suburban Ohio for a mere 49 cents, one Sunday afternoon in 1970 after church. My mother was utterly mystified as I babbled excitedly from the back seat of our car about Blitzstein, star Shirley Booth, choreographer Agnes de Mille, and the LPs extreme rarity. There have been several attempts to fix the show in the intervening years, once again due to the lure of a great score, all of which I have either seen or heard. All had charms but none worked completely, though I think the best was done by Geraldine Fitzgerald, who also starred, and Richard Maltby Jr. for the Long Wharf Theatre in 1976. It was retitled Daarlin’ Juno and contained additional lyrics by Maltby, and I only know it thanks to a live bootleg recording. I think Maltby should reacquire the rights and take one more stab at it.

On the Town (1960)
Lieberson’s collaborations with Leonard Bernstein on Candide and West Side Story led to this long-overdue documentation of Bernstein’s debut Broadway musical from 1944. It’s a studio recording, and yet it isn’t, as four of the original six principals—Nancy Walker, Cris Alexander, and book writers–lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green—were reassembled for it. Daringly, Lieberson included the music for four hefty ballets in full, and I recall being gob-smacked by how exciting they were when I first heard them (as a teenager I was not much of a fan of extended dance music on cast recordings). As On the Town’s acclaimed 1949 MGM film version had jettisoned most of Bernstein’s music in favor of new, and decidedly inferior, songs by Comden, Green, and MGM house composer Roger Edens, Lieberson’s recording was a crucial rescue mission. It has led to three Broadway revivals, though only the last one, in 2014, really clicked. The terrific cast recording of that revival is the most complete and has become my favorite to listen to, but Lieberson’s remains indelible due the inclusion of those original cast performances and Bernstein’s conducting of the ballets. Without it, MGM’s movie might have remained the last word on the property.

Anyone Can Whistle (1964)
I became obsessed with this absurdist fable by Arthur Laurents (book) and Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) about conformity and sanity after reading the published script at the age of 15 at my local library. It was my introduction to the work of both men, though it took me two years to hunt down a copy of the out-of-print OBCR. I finally was able to buy it from the local Columbia Records distributor, who had a sample copy of every Columbia release sitting in his garage. The lady clerk at Hurst’s Tune Town took pity on me and put me in touch with him after numerous unsuccessful attempts to order it through the Schwann Catalogue, which still listed it as in print. The musical received violently mixed notices and closed after only nine performances, but Lieberson knew it was an important score and documented it anyway. While it has never made it into the hit column, the show has a devoted cult following and is produced a fair amount. I’ve seen it on stage six times, thrice in concert versions. Never would’ve happened without good ol’ Goddard, by god.

Bonus: Brigadoon (1958)
I just couldn’t write about Goddard Lieberson without including this studio recording of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s first Broadway hit. While it didn’t prevent a great score from being lost (the 1947 OBCR has never been out of print), it did present it more or less in full for the first time, and with a theatricality that the truncated OBCR, which only runs 33 minutes, lacks. Then-married Jack Cassidy and Shirley Jones make an ideal romantic couple, and for my money no one has ever delivered a better Meg Brockie than the incomparable Susan Johnson, who on this disc became the first person to record Meg’s Act 1 saucy paean to inadvertent promiscuity, “The Love of My Life.” Lieberson even included all the dialogue in “Heather on the Hill” and “From This Day On,” perhaps because the song hits from the score were already well established, and he didn’t have to worry about radio airplay. There have been some pretty good recordings since, most recently the 2017 Encores! production starring Kelli O’Hara, Patrick Wilson, and Stephanie J. Block, but I still favor Lieberson and Lehman Engel’s landmark effort.

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Apr
05

On Vacation...

.Ken is away this week and will be back soon!

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Mar
22

Spring Flings

I let Ken and Erik go their own way this week. The result is two columns that provide some marvelous insights into musical theater. Don't want to spoil any surprises, so just click the links to read what they've written.

To complement Erik's and Ken’s columns, I'd like to offer up the following two albums for your consideration: 

  • Bat Boy the Musical - This choice reflects Erik's column. Specifically, I chose it because of Devon May's exceptional work in the title role. You can catch him these days in Hamilton. He's wowing folks as King George.
  • Sondheim on Sondheim - This 2010 examination/celebration of the songwriter's work is filled not only with some marvelous performances (Barbara Cook, anyone?), but also some terrific first hand commentary from Mr. S. himself.

Remember, if you need to add any of the recordings mentioned here and in the guys' blogs to your collection, you can find links to them in the carousels on the BwayTunes.com homepage. 


Using Erik's and Ken's columns as the basis for a Spotify playlist, I've added in a bunch of other things to simply give you an hour or so worth of music that I hope will entertain you...maybe even surprise you?


The free song this week is a nifty rarity that comes from one of Harbinger Records' compilations. It turns the clock back and brings you a musical theater great who's delivering a song that you wouldn't normally associate with her. To find out more, just click here!


Take a look at the marvelously diverse array of new music that we've gotten for you, particularly:

  • Ain't Too Proud - I hear audiences have been cheering this musical that charts the fortunes of Motown's the Temptations. This cast recording has been released to coincide with the show's recent Broadway opening.
  • Three Points of Contact - Some of Broadway's finest, including Jenn Collela, Gavin Creel, and Lindsay Mendez, have lent their voices to this studio cast recording of a new musical by Ryan Scott Oliver. It's a pretty fantastic listen.

In addition to these albums, you’ll want to check out these new releases, which can be found in the main carousel at the top of the home page and in the “New and Recommended” one at the bottom of the page.

  • Heathers - After an acclaimed and often extended off-Broadway run, Kevin Murphy and Laurence O'Keefe's musical version of the 1989 movie of the same name is taking London by storm. That production's cast album is now available over here!
  • Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical - Also just out is the cast recording of this show that had audiences roaring in its off-Broadway run last season. This one uses a bevy of 90s hits, including "Colorblind," "I Want It That Way," and "Genie in a Bottle," as it transports the story of Les Liaisons Dangereuses to the world of Manhattan prep schools.
  • Mythic - Marcus Stevens and Oran Eldor have brought the Greek gods to marvelous, contemporary life in this new musical. That's delighted audiences in the U.K. and now can works its magic on all of us in the U.S. thanks to this original cast recording.
  • Bella: An American Tall Tale - The Playwrights Horizons cast that deftly delivered Kirsten Childs' comically revisionist look at the mythos of the Old West sounds fantastic on this album, where the music fuses contemporary sounds with traditional Broadway ones and Americana.
  • Company - This gender-swapped production of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's 1970 classic has been generating a lot of buzz both in the UK and here. It's promised for Broadway in the not-so-distant future. Take a listen to this new cast album to discover what the excitement's about!
  • Unbreakable - Soloists Britney Coleman, Marcus J. Paige, and Lisa Vroman, along with songwriter Andrew Lippa, join the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus for this exciting new cast album of a show that traverses more than a century of the gay experience in America.
  • Follies - Stephen Sondheim's ravishing score for this 1971 musical sounds pretty incredible on this new recording that preserves last year's highly acclaimed London revival cast (from the Royal National Theatre). It's a marvelous addition to the collection.
  • Songs for a New World - This Jason Robert Brown score gets showcased beautifully on a new album that features the cast that presented the show last summer as part of City's Center's Off-Center seriesWhat's great about this recording is that it comes on two CDs meaning it is longer than any previous release of this much-loved show.
  • Band Geeks: The Musical - You'll find some giddy merriment at work in this tuner that's finally come to disc. A romp through the world of high school marching bands, Band Geeks sets toes a-tappin' and mouths a-smilin' from start to finish.
  • The Dancing Years - A rare treat awaits listeners with this new, complete recording of Ivor Novello and Christopher Hassell's 1939 operetta about a man who's in love with two women. Swirling melodies and gorgeous vocals abound on this beautifully assembled studio cast album.
  • Brigadoon - Kelli O'Hara and Patrick Wilson are both in fine voice on this beautiful recording of Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner's classic musical. We're all very happy to have a recording of this Encores! presentation.
  • "Loser Geek Whatever" - In anticipation of the Broadway bow of Joe Iconis' Be More Chill, the producers have released this nifty EP featuring three different versions of one of the show's terrific tunes.
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Imogen Heap's Drama Desk Award winning score for the epic theatrical adventure featuring J.K. Rowling's renowned boy wizard has been marvelously transformed into four suites for this new recording. 
  • Will He Like Me? - Philip Chaffin lends his voice to over a dozen classic Broadway tunes and, in the process, creates a moving song cycle.

Our next newsletter will coincide with what would have been recording executive and producer Goddard Lieberson's 108th birthday.

If the name is unfamiliar to you, Lierberson is the man who produced the cast recordings of My Fair Lady, A Chorus Line, and A Little Night Music, as well as hundreds of others. He was also responsible for numerous studio cast recordings of shows that predated his time at Columbia Records.

Lieberson's work also extended to convincing the record company's parent company, CBS, to make investments in Broadway shows, including My Fair Lady, and he was a mentor to a new generation of producers, including Thomas Z. Shepard. I imagine Erik and Ken might have a few words to say about his remarkable work and career.

 

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Mar
22

What Is the Stars?

This week I am allowed to select my own topic, and my choice comes out of recent experience. I just finished watching 11 performances of Alan Jay Lerner and John Barry’s 1971 musical Lolita, My Love, based on Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel, in a book-in-hand concert staging presented as part of the York Theatre Company’s Musicals in Mufti series honoring Lerner’s centenary. I saw all 11 shows because I edited together the script that was used, taking it from six different scripts in the Lerner archives at the Library of Congress. Thanks to the extraordinary direction of Emily Maltby and the sterling work from a phenomenally talented and extremely hardworking company of 13 actors, I was very proud of what was on the York stage and happy to see how well audiences responded to it.

Central to the production’s success was the stunning performance of Robert Sella as Nabokov’s anti-hero, the pedophilic literature professor from Switzerland known as Humbert Humbert, fiction’s most famous unreliable narrator. The character virtually never leaves the stage, as the whole musical takes place in a psychiatrist’s office in which Humbert is being examined by Dr. June Ray as to the state of his sanity. Lolita, My Love had 27 musical numbers, 16 songs and 11 reprises, and Humbert was involved in 24 of them and sang in 16. It’s a mammoth part of extreme psychological complexity that calls for nothing short of a tour de force star performance, and I watched Robby deliver exactly that at every show. I was in awe of him each time.

I started thinking about the idea of “star” performances. I suppose the term means different things to different people, but I realized that for me it means a performance that galvanizes me, whether emotionally, intellectually, or simply in terms of sheer show biz. It leaps across the footlights, grabs me by the throat, and won’t let go. It can be delivered by an actual star, one whose name above the title guarantees ticket sales, but it can also come from an actor who is not at all famous. It often happens in a leading role, but it can also come in a brief appearance. I’ve been fortunate to experience quite a few star turns in my nearly 60 years of theatergoing. Here are 10 of them, in alphabetical order.

Marilyn Cooper in Woman of the Year
Thanks to the magic of the alphabet we begin with possibly the briefest star turn I’ve ever seen. Late in Act 2, famous TV news personality Tess Harding visits with her ex-husband and his second wife to find the secret of their marital success, because her second marriage is on the rocks. Cooper played the wife, Jan, sharing a breakfast scene in her kitchen with the musical’s star, Lauren Bacall, as Tess, and joining with her in a hilarious John Kander and Fred Ebb duet, “The Grass Is Always Greener.” Cooper’s deadly deadpan and Swiss watch comic timing landed consistent belly laughs, and her shlubby housewife in a smatte was a brilliant caricature with just the right amount of honesty simmering underneath. She stole the musical right out from under Bacall and wound up with 1981 Tony and Drama Desk awards for best performance by a featured actress in a musical. Not bad for a mere 13 minutes on stage.

Joel Grey in George M!
Because my high school group visiting from Cleveland saw this bio musical about George M. Cohan at a Wednesday matinee a mere two weeks before it closed in April 1969, we had great center orchestra seats at Broadway’s Palace Theatre. (Usually we were stuck up in the rear balcony.) I already knew Joel Grey from the OBCR of Cabaret, but I was unprepared for his magnetic triple-threat performance, acting, singing, and dancing as the Man Who Owned Broadway with command and élan to spare. It seemed as if director-choreographer Joe Layton’s whirlwind production never stopped moving, the Cohan songs were seriously infectious (even the ones I didn’t know), and 15-year-old me was totally bowled over, especially by the first-act closer, “Give My Regards to Broadway,” which put a big old lump in my throat. When the national tour came to Cleveland not long after, I rushed to see the show again. Grey was as great as ever, but I couldn’t help noticing that Michael Stewart and Fran Pascal’s book was a bit thinner than I had thought, too much of an excuse for songs and not enough of a character study. It was an early lesson in developing a more discerning critical eye. Still, nothing can tarnish the glory of that afternoon at the Palace and Grey’s phenomenal performance.

Katharine Hepburn in Coco
Alan Jay Lerner crafted this 1969 musical about French couturier Coco Chanel’s post–World War II comeback specifically for Katharine Hepburn, who at the time was at the height of her international film stardom. In particular, the script’s in-your-face feminism fit the pugnacious Hepburn’s public image like a glove. She responded with an incandescent, incantatory performance that riveted the audience at Cleveland’s Music Hall (the show was on national tour after Broadway) like I have seldom seen since. Hepburn wasn’t much of a singer, but she could put a song across with gusto and switch seamlessly from steel to sentiment in the blink of an eye. She knew she was in a star vehicle and played it to the hilt, delivering unforgettable show biz panache with wit and flair. Brava! (You can see her in the show’s final scene and song, “Always Mademoiselle,” filmed for the 1970 Tony Awards, on YouTube.)

Hugh Jackman in The Boy From Oz
As my husband was the casting director for this 2003 bio musical about Australian singer-songwriter Peter Allen, I first encountered Hugh Jackman’s electrifying performance in a small rehearsal studio on 42nd Street during a workshop presentation. The room couldn’t cramp the size and power of Jackman’s overwhelming theatricality, and it was quite clear that something very special was happening. Playwright Martin Sherman’s book was much richer and more political before Broadway, where it underwent an incompetent bris during previews, and as a gay man I was as moved as I was entertained. On Broadway the show featured flash over substance, but Jackman’s work only got better, drilling into the heart of this driven song-and-dance man and infused with a joy of performance that radiated throughout the Imperial Theatre like a thousand suns. It was a privilege to experience it.

Michael Jeter in Grand Hotel
It takes a singular talent to give a star performance while playing a nebbish, but that’s what Michael Jeter did as the dying bookkeeper Otto Kringelein, who has come to Berlin’s Grand Hotel for one fling before expiring, in search of a taste of the high life he has never known. Jeter delivered Kringelein’s shyness and sweetness at high wattage, and though it is a supporting character part, you couldn’t look away from the actor whenever he was on stage. Songwriters Robert Wright and George Forrest, with a little help from director-choreographer Tommy Tune, came up with the showstopping “We’ll Take a Glass Together,” in which the Jewish Kringelein and the elegant German Baron Felix von Gaigern celebrate their newly made and most unlikely friendship. Jeter’s impossibly frenetic, loose-limbed dancing effortlessly captured the moment’s potent mix of giddy joy and poignant incipient loss. When he hurtles over the bar, crashing out of reality and into momentary nirvana in limbo, I always choke up, and you can watch Jeter and Brent Barrett perform the number on the 1990 Tony Awards on YouTube.

Eartha Kitt in Timbuktu!
Playing Shaleem-La-Lume, wife of wives to the crooked Wazir of Timbuktu, Eartha Kitt was an elemental force of nature, and the brilliant Geoffrey Holder, who directed, choreographed, and designed the costumes, built this 1978 all-black revisal of Kismet around her. Whether entering triumphantly aloft on the shoulder of one of her cadre of muscle-bound bodyguards or smoldering her way through a suggestive recipe for a sweet, Kitt was mesmerizingly sexy, saucy, and salacious. With a simple flash of her eyes she could bring down the house. My ex-husband served as assistant to producer and book writer Luther Davis, so I saw the show many times, and Kitt always gave her all. No, it wasn’t about much of anything, except perhaps the glorification of a magnificent African culture, but it was beautiful to look at, lovely to hear, and fun. A good friend who taught musical theatre performance at the University of New Hampshire called it “children’s theatre for adults,” which struck me as astute and apt. Despite mixed notices it ran for eight months and spawned a successful national tour headed by Kitt, but there was no recording. Still, you can see Kitt make her entrance and sing her establishing song, “In the Beginning, Woman,” one of several new numbers added to the score by Robert Wright and George Forrest, on YouTube, as well as her formula for “Rahadlakum,” also on YouTube.

Donna Murphy in Birds of Paradise
If ever there was an ensemble musical, it’s Winnie Holzman and David Evans’ 1987 off-Broadway piece about a group of amateur performers staging a musical version of Chekhov’s The Sea Gull under the direction of an out-of-work Broadway actor. The show had a powerhouse cast of mostly soon-to-break-out actors all doing excellent work, and yet what I recall most vividly is Donna Murphy’s comically concentrated, ironically named Hope, “a thirty-ish depressed feminist.” Murphy was an absolute hoot clad in masculine wear chosen to hide her femininity while drooping fiercely about the stage as she pined for the musical’s author, Homer, who was in love with his leading lady, who was in love with the director, who…you get the idea. Her only solo was a deliberately bad song, “Diva,” from a musical rip off of My Fair Lady that the troupe had originally intended to do, and it didn’t make the cast album. But just listen to her delivery of lines such as “To what end?” in the opening number (when she’s asked if she is going to warm up her voice before performing) and the surprised glee that she gives “Me too!” after another character sings “And I need lingerie” in the title song, as well as her fierce refusal to name her beloved in the same song. It was my first time seeing her on a stage, and afterward I remember remarking to numerous friends, “Donna Murphy! Who is she?”

Tonya Pinkins in Caroline, or Change
Playwright-lyricist Tony Kushner and composer Jeanine Tesori don’t much care whether you like their titular character, an increasingly bitter and angry African-American maid for an upper-class Jewish family struggling to keep her family afloat in 1963 New Orleans, but they do want you to understand her. Off-Broadway at the Public Theater in 2003, Tonya Pinkins provided this complex, psychologically layered show with a rock-solid center of gravity, one that still held when the musical moved to the larger confines of Broadway’s Eugene O’Neill Theatre in 2004. If Caroline’s gruffness causes her to be less than articulate at times, Pinkins’ visceral emotional transparency communicated volumes about her roiling, often contradictory feelings. Her delivery of Caroline’s climactic soliloquy, “Lot’s Wife,” in which she tries to murder any hope left in her after she has cruelly lashed out at her employer’s child in anger, begging God, “Don’t let my sorrow make evil of me,” was quite simply one of the most heartbreaking moments of musical theatre I have ever witnessed, one that Pinkins elevated into transcendent art.

Chita Rivera in Kiss of the Spider Woman
I think this 1993 musical adaptation of Manuel Puig’s classic novel is my favorite Kander and Ebb musical, most likely to due to its bold mix of sexuality and politics. Of course, Terrence McNally’s taut book and Harold Prince’s inspired staging helped too. Playing a beloved and glamorous South American screen icon named Aurora, Rivera was asked to project an image rather than create a fully dimensional character, and she did so with high style, exploiting her own persona ruthlessly. Her presence haunted the musical all night, and she was particularly seductive and sensitive in Aurora’s final deathly pas de deux with Molina, the gay prison inmate who sacrifices his life to protect his cell partner, a heterosexual political revolutionary with whom Molina has fallen in love. I saw Vanessa Williams, Carol Lawrence, and Maria Conchita Alonso in the part as well, and all had plenty to recommend them, but none of them ruled that stage like Rivera.

David Rounds in Herringbone
This audacious one-man musical by Tom Cone (book), Ellen Fitzhugh (lyrics), and Skip Kennon (music) ran off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons for a mere 46 performances in the summer of 1982. It tells the story of a young boy in 1929 who becomes possessed by the ghost of a dead midget (they used that word then) entertainer named Chicken and rockets to stardom in vaudeville. David Rounds played all of the characters, who included the boy’s greedy but mystified parents and assorted people they all meet along the way. Rounds gave a kaleidoscopic, virtuosic performance in which you were never once unsure who was talking while displaying musical comedy chops of the highest level in his singing and dancing. His emotions ran the gamut from childlike innocence to adult debauchery and everything in between with crystalline clarity. Alas, it was to be his last role. We lost him to the plague of AIDS in December 1983. It’s a crime that no one recorded him in the role, but at least the show got a much needed waxing in 2012 when a production starring B.D. Wong was recorded for CD release live and in full at Dixon Place. I saw Wong do the show in 2007 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and he was very good, but he wasn’t as good as David Rounds. Nobody could be.

 

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Mar
22

Wikipedia Musicals

Today I’d like to discuss a relatively new form of musical theatre. We had the revue and the book musical. Both of which had original songs either as one-offs like in a revue or songs that propelled and commented on the plots. But now we have a wholly new variety of musical theatre, one that I have dubbed the Wikipedia musical. I’m thinking of Jersey Boys, Summer, Cher, and now the Temptations musical, Ain’t Too Proud.

Some call them jukebox musicals but I don’t quite think that’s right. But before we go into that let’s have a look at the genesis of the Wikipedia musical. How did they evolve from traditional musical comedy.

Way back in 1968, Eric Blau and Mort Shuman opened a little show at the Village Gate downtown. The show was Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Blau and Shuman along with a fantastic cast gave us a musical revue of the songs of French composer Jacques Brel. It ran for four years downtown, was performed all over the world, including Paris, and in 1975 there was a film version that was basically a film of the stage show. It was a tremendous success.

Uptown at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s E. 75th Street theatre a little revue based on the music of Fats Waller opened. The show, Ain’t Misbehavin’, opened in February of 1978 and was such a success it quickly transferred to Broadway in May, opening at the Longacre Theatre. The show ran over 1,600 performances. Pretty impressive for a little five-person musical revue.

These shows were what I would call “staged radio.” Though one thing that separated Ain’t Misbehavin’ from other songwriter revues was that the five characters each had separate personalities which added to the fun. And like in today’s Wikipedia musicals, there were lots and lots of copycats many of them unsuccessful. Think of Eubie! (Blake), Side By Side By Sondheim, Jerry’s Girls (Herman), Perfectly Frank (Loesser), Words and Music (Sammy Cahn – who also narrated the show!), and many others.

Flash forward to Mamma Mia!. Here was the first jukebox musical that actually had a plot. And the show was tremendous fun even though nobody really paid attention to the machinations on stage. But all was forgiven because the show didn’t take itself seriously. It opened in London in 1999 and then toured around the US finally opening on Broadway in 2001. Flimsy or not, the show was a true musical utilizing (squeezing in) the ABBA songs to the plot. No one begrudged the astounding worldwide success of this fun, breezy show.

Now, we have a sort of amalgam of the jukebox revues and the full-fledged jukebox musical. Only, in the case of the newest shows, the stories are told chronologically with the songs having little relationship to the plots. And there aren’t really any full-fledged characters and, in the case of Jersey Boys, Cher, and Ain’t Yoo Proud, not a whole lot of dialogue scenes. Mostly, it’s the characters speaking directly to the audience filling them into the timeline of the events. And that’s why I call them Wikipedia musicals.

One current exception today is Beautiful that is basically is a timeline of the career of Carole King. The difference in this bio-musical is that Beautiful has an excellent book by Douglas McGrath with strong characterizations, actual, traditional Broadway sets, and a very strong production. Beautiful is really a play with music because the music doesn’t further the plot. Only two times do the characters actual sing their feelings. So the score is almost a soundtrack to the play. But it all works, if you’ll excuse the expression, beautifully.

Though Ain’t Too Proud, Cher, and their ilk mostly have excellent production values, costuming, lighting and really terrific performances, they’re mostly variety shows with narration. And it should be said that the form has its hits and also its flops. Summer didn’t last long this season, and Cher is, perhaps surprisingly, not the success we expected. Maybe this is just a fad and the pendulum will swing back.

Only time and the box office will tell.

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Mar
08

Just a Cole Porter Song

I became a Cole Porter aficionado while still a teenager in high school. My gateway drug was the OBCR of Kiss Me, Kate, and soon I was also regularly listening to Can-Can, Silk Stockings, and the soundtrack of High Society. While I was in college, Columbia Records reissued the OBCR of Porter’s 1950 flop Out of This World in its Special Products Series, and for a time that took over as my favorite Porter score. Also during college, the scores for The Pirate and Les Girls were rereleased by MGM as part of the Silver Screen Soundtrack Series, and I also managed to acquire a copy of the out-of-print soundtrack to the TV special Aladdin by trading my studio recording of White House Inn for it with one of my teachers.

The above scores have one thing in common beside their author: They are all written for book musicals, in which the songs dramatize action and character in furtherance of storytelling, and, at first, though I knew Porter started writing musicals in 1929, I thought he belonged to the tradition of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe. Indeed, I even produced, directed, and performed in a musical revue, RH, LL, & Cole, in the summer of 1973, equating the songwriters with each other.

However, during college I discovered the OCR of the Ben Bagley revue The Decline and Fall of the Entire World as Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter, and my eyes were opened. The integrated book musical was not Porter’s natural state. Most of his career had been spent writing for jerrybuilt musical comedies in which the songs, the dances, the production values, and particularly the stars were all more important than plot and character. I also found an interview with Porter in the 1950s in which he was asked what was the most important development in musical theatre in his lifetime, and he answered, “Rodgers and Hammerstein.” I remember getting the distinct sense from reading that interview that Porter said it with some regret. He knew he had to write book musicals going forward, but he really preferred the older form.

Surprisingly, considering that I was devoted to book shows, this knowledge didn’t turn me off but spurred me into wanting to find as many pre–Kiss Me, Kate Porter songs as I could. I bought the OCR of the 1962 off-Broadway revival of Anything Goes, which became a favorite. Porter’s own demos for Jubilee came out during my college years, and I listened to them over and over. There was also a Bagley album released called Unpublished Cole Porter that dovetailed with the publication of a songbook of the same name containing some of the songs on the LP. I bought both, of course. Ultimately, Bagley released five LPs of older Porter material in his Revisited Series, and I grabbed them greedily.

Finally, the 1975 Peter Bogdanovich jukebox musical film At Long Last Love was another Porter milestone for me during college, despite its failure with critics and audiences. In its first-run engagement in Chicago, it kept losing songs and getting shorter with each week of the run. Restored and released on Blu-ray DVD in 2013, I think it’s better than its reputation, though hardly without flaws. It’s worth it just to see Madeline Kahn and Eileen Brennan exercise their musical-theatre chops on screen.

All of this is a way of saying that this column will be devoted not to Porter shows, but to Porter songs. The Indiana native could be self-deprecating about his work: “Have I the right hunch/Or have I the wrong?/Will it be Bach I shall hear/Or just a Cole Porter song?” he wrote in the lyric of  “At Long Last Love.” Philistine that I am, I’ll take Porter over Bach any day. Here is a playlist of a dozen favorite rarities.

“Please Don’t Monkey With Broadway,” from the film Broadway Melody of 1940
Fred Astaire and George Murphy introduced this jaunty paean to the Great White Way. The lyric includes such fun things as “Close those Village honky-tonks/Suppress cheering in the Bronx” and “Move Grant’s tomb to Union Square/And put Brooklyn anywhere.” Patti LuPone sang it, with slight alterations to the lyric, as the opening number of her 2017 show at Feinstein’s/54 Below, Don’t Monkey With Broadway.

“Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye,” from the West End play O Mistress Mine
I don’t remember how Porter was inveigled to produce this triste ballad for a play in London, but he was, crafting it for French operetta star Yvonne Printemps, whose original performance you can hear on Cole Porter in London, Vol. 1. More recently the song was interpolated for Laura Osnes to sing as Hope Harcourt in Roundabout’s 2011 revisal of Anything Goes.

“Kate the Great,” cut from Anything Goes
Ethel Merman refused to sing this enthusiastic tribute to the sexual voraciousness of Russian Empress Catherine II because of the line “she made the maid who made the room.” Merman insisted that she couldn’t say that in front of her mother. John McGlinn preserved it for posterity on his 1989 studio recording, for which the show’s original orchestrator, Hans Spialek, finally did an orchestration 55 years after Anything Goes opened, just a few months before he died. Kim Criswell stands in for Merman.

“We Shall Never Be Younger,” cut from Kiss Me, Kate
Written for Lilli Vanessi to sing about her ex-husband, this song apparently never even made it into rehearsals. I’ve never heard the music for the verse, in which Lilli says that she was too “worldly-wise” to try to stop her husband’s adultery, but I love the ache of mortality in the resigned chorus. Bobby Short performing at the Café Carlyle swings the song on the 1999 CD You’re the Top: Love Songs of Cole Porter, but for a more romantic approach listen to Jack and Sally Jenkins, playing Cole and Linda Porter, in a 1974 musical produced in Atlanta, RSVP: The Cole Porters. Porter reused the music for the release verbatim in the song “No Lover” from Out of This World.

“Tale of the Oyster,” from Fifty Million Frenchmen
Originally a party song called “The Scampi” that Porter wrote to amuse his friends while living in Venice, it got rewritten to become less “inside” and added to Frenchmen for comedian Helen Broderick. Kay McClelland does a good job on Evans Haile’s studio recording, but the definitive version is Kaye Ballard’s on Ben Bagley’s Cole Porter Revisited, whose out-of-print CD can be found at premium prices on Amazon. Stevie Holland gives a good account of the original version in her cabaret act Love, Linda: The Life of Mrs. Cole Porter.

“You Don’t Know Paree,” from Fifty Million Frenchmen
This knowing ballad makes the distinction between Paris and Paree one of romantic disillusionment. Howard McGillin does very nicely by it on Haile’s studio recording, but Bobby Short is positively thrilling in his rendition on Bobby Short Loves Cole Porter. “Paree will still be laughing after every one of us disappears/But don’t forget her laughter is the laughter that hides the tears.”

“Red, Hot, and Blue,” from Red, Hot, and Blue
Porter’s favorite star, Ethel Merman, introduced the title song for this 1936 musical. Playing a character named “Nails” O’Reilly Duquesne, a wealthy young widow who used to be a manicurist and whose passion is the rehabilitation of ex-convicts, she expresses her preference for popular music over classical in the show’s finale. Only Merman could make this rhyme work: “I’m for the guy that eee-ludes/Bach sonatas and Chopin preee-ludes.”

“Who Said Gay Paree?,” cut from Can-Can
Yet another Porter song about Paree, this was intended for Peter Cookson as Judge Aristide Forestier to sing after the sober judge has broken up with La Môme Pistache, who runs a Montmartre dance hall in which the titular dance is performed. Robert Kimball’s The Complete Lyrics of Cole Porter says it was never used, but Wikipedia claims that the song opened Act 2 but was cut before Broadway. If so, it was no doubt replaced by “It’s All Right With Me,” which performs the same function of romantic disillusionment and was indeed written on the road. I like both songs, but “Who Said Gay Paree?” has a particular ache to it that gets me every time, and I especially admire the internal rhyme in the release: “I thought our love, so brightly begun/Would burn through eternity.” You can hear Porter himself sing it on a demo recording.

“Solomon,” from Nymph Errant
Evangeline Edwards is an English girl recently graduated from a Swiss finishing school who is on a quest to lose her virginity. That quest lands her in a Turkish harem in Act 2, and it’s there that a fellow wife sings this lament about the lack of faithfulness of King Solomon’s wives. Elisabeth Welch got to preserve her original London cast performance in 1933 (the show is the only one Porter wrote directly for the West End, where it was a vehicle for Gertrude Lawrence), which can be found on Cole Porter in London, Vol. 1. I got to see Welch do the song 53 years later in Elisabeth Welch: Time to Start Living off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, a show that was recorded live a few months later at London’s Donmar Warehouse under the title Elisabeth Welch in Concert. The lady was sensational.

“Dream Dancing,” from the film You’ll Never Get Rich
I became enamored of this long-lined ballad when I found it in a used sheet music bin during college, and I often stumbled my way through it on piano in our dorm basement. Fred Astaire should have sung it on screen, and perhaps he did at one point, but not in the released film; there he just dances to it. It should have become a standard but somehow never did, even though Ella Fitzgerald used it as the title of a 1978 all-Porter LP. Tony Bennett waxed a version with Bill Evans at the piano on 1976’s Together Again. Most recently, jazz artist Gabrielle Stravelli released it as a single in 2015.

“The Kling-Kling Bird on the Divi-Divi Tree,” from Jubilee
I don’t remember how, but I became aware of this unusual Porter song title early on in my Portermania, and I was very frustrated that I couldn’t find a recording of it. Then in 1973 Columbia Records put out an LP simply called Cole, which included author demos for the 1935 musical. I was, shall we say, jubilant when I finally heard this witty warning against indecorous foreign sexual entanglements. “That damned oiseau/Would begin to crow/In a voice just a bit off-key” indeed.

“Why Don’t We Try Staying Home,” cut from Fifty Million Frenchmen
Robert Kimball’s liner notes for 1971’s Bobby Short Loves Cole Porter list this song as being “unpublished” and don’t link it to a Porter score, as they do for the 21 other songs on the two-LP set. However, his 1983 Porter lyrics tome has the song being written for Frenchmen but cut during rehearsals, so I guess he did additional research in the intervening years. In the song a jet-setting couple contemplate changing their ways by embracing quiet domesticity. It makes a mellow ending for Short’s indispensible recording, so I thought I’d use it for the same purpose on this playlist.

Bonus: Ben Bagley’s Unpublished Cole Porter (or Cole Porter Revisited Vol. II)
This 1972 LP was crucial in beginning the process of changing my understanding of what kind of musical theatre writer Porter was most comfortable being. The original LP carried the subtitle “Soon to be produced as a major Broadway musical,” but Bagley was never able to raise the money, as he says in his notes for its 1991 rerelease (with four additional tracks to fill out the CD). It consists mostly of risqué comedy songs that went unrecorded because they would never have been allowed radio broadcast. Whether it’s Alice Playten being delightfully naughty on “After All, I’m Only a Schoolgirl,” “If You Like Les Belles Poitrines,” and “Pets,” Carmen Alvarez offering faux-wide-eyed innocence on “Humble Hollywood Executive,” or the great Karen Morrow belting the hell out of “Kate the Great,” there’s a delight on virtually every track. You can find used copies of the CD for exorbitant prices on Amazon, but I hope Bruce Kimmel, who has been gradually rereleasing the Bagley Revisited Series on CD on his Kritzerland label, does this one sooner rather than later. I gather Kimmel deplores digital downloads, which is why he only issues CDs in numerically limited releases. I fear that battle has already been lost, but at least he’s putting the material back out there, so here’s to him!

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Mar
08

Cole Porter

Each of the great American songwriters had their own voice through their lyrics. And Cole Porter is no exception. Like Irving Berlin, he supplied the lyrics to his tunes an enviable talent. Of all the great lyricists, it was Porter who expressed his difficult emotions in his songs.

He wrote of the upper classes that, despite all their wealth, were sometimes depressed. Think of “Miss Otis Regrets” wherein Porter adds a rueful humor with the proper language of the lyric contrasted with the depth of despair. After all, she’s lynched by a mob while still averring “Miss Otis regrets she’s unable to lunch today.” (Take a listen to Elisabeth Welch delivering it.)

The same note is reflected in Red, Hot and Blue’s “Down in the Depths on the Ninetieth Floor.”  At El Morocco and the Stork clubs people are living it up. But she’s downhearted and depressed in her regal eagle’s nest. These women can be very, very droll and proper while still being deeply unhappy. For the “Laziest Gal in Town” she can’t be bothered to make love. She lets us know that it’s not that she wouldn’t couldn’t and it’s not that she shouldn’t, and not that she couldn’t. She’s just the laziest gal in town.

Not everything was as deeply regretful as those songs. Porter could also be silly, almost to a fault. Think of Du Barry Was a Lady’s, “Well, Did You Evah!” (a tune later used in High Society) or Anything Goes’ advice song, “Be Like the Bluebird.”

And his list songs are unparalleled. Take “Anything Goes” where “Grandmama whose age is eighty in night clubs is getting matey with gigolos. “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love” (heard in the 1928 musical Paris and later covered by multitudes, including Eartha Kitt) proves its points by examples. “Dragonflies in the reeds do it” as do “Sentimental centipedes,” “refined ladybugs, “ katydids, as well as bugs and, moths in your rugs, bees do it, as well as educated fleas, chimpanzees in the zoo, courageous kangaroos. Well, the message is they all do it. And in the song Porter defines “doing it” as falling in love though Porter himself might have been thinking of something more carnal. And that’s part of the joy of Porter. He can put a laugh or glossy lyric over something definitely bordering on the risqué. Sometimes even crossing the border!

But, Porter’s ballads could be serious and deeply emotional. Even when presenting a humorous front behind the clever rhymes is a deep sadness. “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” from Seven Lively Arts, is one of the saddest songs in the Tin Pan Alley tradition (an example could be Lena Horne’s rendition). The singer is happy when with her love but when the lover is gone she wonders why a little. It’s as if she cannot accept complete happiness; happy being in love and equally happy being alone wishing she could fully accept that love.

Even “Love for Sale,” which was first heard in The New Yorkers in 1930 and in which a prostitute stands under a lamppost (it was a white woman in the original staging but that was too much for audiences so she was replaced by a black lady of the evening). It seems with Porter whether you were “The Top” or hanging around a street corner looking for some unemotional, unfeeling intimacy, it was hard to be happy.

In Porter’s last show, the television musical Aladdin, there’s a song that encapsulates Porter’s feelings. For in the song the Emperor, the richest man, the most famous man, the man who has everything and knows everyone surmises, “Wouldn’t it be fun not to be famous? Wouldn’t it be fun not to be rich? Wouldn’t it be pleasant to be a simple peasant, and spend a happy day digging a ditch?” And that’s the theme that keeps winding through Porter’s long career. Living the high life when deeply unhappy. Porter opens a window to his psyche more deeply than any other lyricist. The giddy highs and the lowest lows.

 

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Mar
08

Cole Porter - He's the Top!

Next week Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate, starring Kelli O'Hara and Will Chase, opens. To celebrate the return of this classic to Broadway, Ken and Erik are toasting the man who wrote the show's exceptional score: Cole Porter.

To complement Erik's and Ken’s columns, I'd like to offer up the following two albums for your consideration: 

  • Jeri Southern Meets Cole Porter - People on a couple of blogs I follow have been talking a lot about Southern recently, prompting me to go back and re-listen to some of her albums. One of the first I pulled out was this beaut. If you don't know Southern's work, take a listen!
  • The Columbia Album of Cole Porter - You can't surpass this one for majesty and/or lushness. It's a compendium of Porter's best-known songs performed by the late Michel Legrand and his Orchestra.

Remember, if you need to add any of the recordings mentioned here and in the guys' blogs to your collection, you can find links to them in the carousels on the BwayTunes.com homepage. 


Cole Porter's best-loved songs (sung by a variety of fave performers) and a bevy of forgotten or underappreciated gems constitute this week's Spotify playlist. It's a good ninety minutes of listening that I hope you enjoy. 


A delightful rendition of Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" is our free song download right now; it's a cut from a new album from Stage Door Records that brings two London studio cast recordings into the 21st century!


Take a look at the marvelously diverse array of new music that we've gotten for you, particularly:

  • Heathers - After an acclaimed and often extended off-Broadway run, Kevin Murphy and Laurence O'Keefe's musical version of the 1989 movie of the same name is taking London by storm. That production's cast album is now available over here!
  • Cruel Intentions: The 90s Musical - Also just out is the cast recording of this show that had audiences roaring in its off-Broadway run last season. This one uses a bevy of 90s hits, including "Colorblind," "I Want It That Way," and "Genie in a Bottle," as it transports the story of Les Liaisons Dangereuses to the world of Manhattan prep schools.

In addition to these albums, you’ll want to check out these new releases, which can be found in the main carousel at the top of the home page and in the “New and Recommended” one at the bottom of the page.

  • Mythic - Marcus Stevens and Oran Eldor have brought the Greek gods to marvelous, contemporary life in this new musical. That's delighted audiences in the U.K. and now can works its magic on all of us in the U.S. thanks to this original cast recording.
  • Bella: An American Tall Tale - The Playwrights Horizons cast that deftly delivered Kirsten Childs' comically revisionist look at the mythos of the Old West sounds fantastic on this album, where the music fuses contemporary sounds with traditional Broadway ones and Americana.
  • Company - This gender-swapped production of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's 1970 classic has been generating a lot of buzz both in the UK and here. It's promised for Broadway in the not-so-distant future. Take a listen to this new cast album to discover what the excitement's about!
  • Unbreakable - Soloists Britney Coleman, Marcus J. Paige, and Lisa Vroman, along with songwriter Andrew Lippa, join the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus for this exciting new cast album of a show that traverses more than a century of the gay experience in America.
  • Follies - Stephen Sondheim's ravishing score for this 1971 musical sounds pretty incredible on this new recording that preserves last year's highly acclaimed London revival cast (from the Royal National Theatre). It's a marvelous addition to the collection.
  • Songs for a New World - This Jason Robert Brown score gets showcased beautifully on a new album that features the cast that presented the show last summer as part of City's Center's Off-Center seriesWhat's great about this recording is that it comes on two CDs meaning it is longer than any previous release of this much-loved show.
  • Band Geeks: The Musical - You'll find some giddy merriment at work in this tuner that's finally come to disc. A romp through the world of high school marching bands, Band Geeks sets toes a-tappin' and mouths a-smilin' from start to finish.
  • The Dancing Years - A rare treat awaits listeners with this new, complete recording of Ivor Novello and Christopher Hassell's 1939 operetta about a man who's in love with two women. Swirling melodies and gorgeous vocals abound on this beautifully assembled studio cast album.
  • Brigadoon - Kelli O'Hara and Patrick Wilson are both in fine voice on this beautiful recording of Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner's classic musical. We're all very happy to have a recording of this Encores! presentation.
  • "Loser Geek Whatever" - In anticipation of the Broadway bow of Joe Iconis' Be More Chill, the producers have released this nifty EP featuring three different versions of one of the show's terrific tunes.
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Imogen Heap's Drama Desk Award winning score for the epic theatrical adventure featuring J.K. Rowling's renowned boy wizard has been marvelously transformed into four suites for this new recording. 
  • Will He Like Me? - Philip Chaffin lends his voice to over a dozen classic Broadway tunes and, in the process, creates a moving song cycle.

Sometimes I'm just astonished by how amenable Ken and Erik are to the varied topics for columns that I throw at them.

Spring is in the air (sort of), and I'm thinking they need to be given some freedom. So in a couple of weeks I'm going to let them write about whatever is on their minds.

To sort of salute that, take a listen to Caroline Sheen's terrific solo album, Raise the Curtain. On it she delivers the appropriately titled "Anything Can Happen" (from Mary Poppins).

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Feb
22

Favorites by Decade – The 1940s

How do I pick just five favorite Broadway musicals from the 1940s? Four slots are immediately taken by the four Rodgers and Hammerstein collaborations. That leaves only one other show, a selection I simply couldn’t make. I chose three other shows, for a list of seven, with a whole host of worthy titles, among them Pal Joey, Lady in the Dark, Carmen Jones, Bloomer Girl, Street Scene, Finian’s Rainbow, Brigadoon, Kiss Me, Kate, and Regina, left by the wayside.

So far for each of these “favorites by decade” columns I have also chosen five off-Broadway shows. However, off-Broadway really didn’t exist in the 1940s, so that wasn’t an option. Instead, what I have done is to pick five Broadway shows that exhibit an adventurous off-Broadway sensibility and also lack a complete recording, though bits and pieces of each have been preserved. All five deserve a complete recording, but I’m not holding my breath.

Here’s my list, once again in chronological order of opening.

Cabin in the Sky (Opened Oct. 25, 1940, at the Martin Beck Theatre)
This is the first of three shows with lyrics by John Latouche that are part of my off-Broadway shows on Broadway list, and it’s also the best-known title in that category, due to Vincente Minnelli’s 1943 film adaptation. The film is quite faithful to book writer Lynn Root’s original story, but much of the glorious Latouche–Vernon Duke score is dropped, some of it replaced by songs by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg (who turned the project down when it was headed for Broadway because it lacked social significance – I guess MGM paid better). The story, about a loving, religious wife trying to save her equally loving wastrel husband from ending up in Hell, isn’t the sturdiest or the most racially enlightened today, but it was progressive for its time, and the show’s book and score are surprisingly integrated for a pre-Oklahoma! musical. Star Ethel Waters recorded several of the songs with the Martin Beck Theatre orchestra, and there is an OCR of a poorly received 1964 off-Broadway production that tampers with the score too much (both cuts and interpolations) but is the only place to hear most of it. Encores! did a decent concert version in 2016, fitted out with fine new orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick (the originals being lost) and a strong cast featuring LaChanze, Norm Lewis, and Chuck Cooper, which should have been recorded but wasn’t. Well, let’s just say it wasn’t professionally recorded.

No for an Answer (Opened Jan. 5, 1941, at the Mecca Temple)
This show actually did play off-Broadway, in the building that is now New York City Center, for three performances only on successive Sunday nights, on a bare stage and to piano accompaniment. It was Marc Blitzstein’s follow-up to The Cradle Will Rock (which will shortly be directed by John Doyle for Classic Stage Company), and it, too, was a piece of agitprop musical theatre about labor vs. capital. This time, however, Blitzstein attempted to write real characters rather than satirical types to engage the audience emotionally as well as politically. A short OCR of excerpts was made, and they are tantalizing, but it’s impossible to gauge the full show by listening to them. Unlike in Cradle, whose hero, labor organizer Larry Foreman, is successful in his battle with the oppressive boss Mister Mister, Answer’s hero, labor organizer Joe Kyriakos, is killed, and his Diogenes Social Club is burned to the ground. A one-night 1960 concert version conducted by Leonard Bernstein didn’t go over well, which is not surprising considering the political climate of the time. American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco did the show’s first full production in 2001, 60 years after it was written, but there was, as with Cabin at Encores!, no professional recording. If No for an Answer is known at all today, it is for the fact that a 19-year-old Carol Channing made her New York stage debut in it as a nightclub entertainer singing the wickedly funny “Fraught.” (In 1955 Charlotte Rae recorded an even better version of “Fraught” than Channing’s on her album Songs I Taught My Mother.) Considering that we are now in a new Gilded Age, perhaps someone should take a look at No for an Answer. Does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez direct?

Oklahoma! (Opened March 31, 1943, at the St. James Theatre)
What is there left to say about the initial collaboration of Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers? I’ve been a fan of the show since I first encountered it at 15 in my high school’s production in 1969. It wasn’t the first dramatically integrated book musical, but it is the one that caused that form to be almost universally adopted on Broadway. And it is still relevant today, with two recent experimental productions succeeding with critics and audiences alike. Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s artistic director, Bill Rauch, directed a same-sex version in Portland last summer, and Daniel Fish’s immersive production featuring a folk-band arrangement of the score and a dark take on America’s colonization of the West is coming to Broadway this spring at the Circle in the Square Theatre after successful runs at Bard College and St. Ann’s Warehouse.

On the Town (Opened Dec. 28, 1944, at the Adelphi Theatre)
Twenty-five years ago I wrote a cover story for the Goodspeed Opera House’s Show Music magazine celebrating On the Town’s 50th anniversary. As I think the recent 2014 Broadway revival proved, this musical about three sailors on 24-hour leave in NYC during World War II, which marked the Broadway debuts of composer Leonard Bernstein, book writers–lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and choreographer Jerome Robbins, remains fresh and vital to this day. Here’s some of what I had to say about it in 1994 (which you won’t find on the internet, as Show Music was never online): “What is perhaps On the Town’s most important asset is its open, casually adult, almost celebratory attitude about sex. Both the men and the women are happily and unashamedly on the prowl. In wartime, of course, such behavior was common. Young men, often still in their teens, were facing death. They wanted to taste a little of life before dying. And many young women thought they deserved to and were happy to oblige. By focusing on this phenomenon of contemporary culture, On the Town brought a heretofore unseen innocent, yet frank, acknowledgment of the truth about contemporary sexual behavior to the Broadway musical, minus the vaudeville sniggering and operetta sugaring which had up to then held sway.” I wouldn’t be on a desert island without it.

Carousel (Opened April 19, 1945, at the Majestic Theatre)
This is my favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, and I count the 1994 Lincoln Center production, which director Nicholas Hytner based on his 1993 production for England’s Royal National Theatre, as one of the highest highlights of my theatregoing life. I can’t understand why Angel Records hasn’t made the OBCR available digitally, but you can buy the CD on Amazon. Even if the production did cut “The Highest Judge of All,” the recording is a must if only for preserving the sensational Carrie Pipperidge of Audra McDonald (then Audra Ann). That said, there is, for me, no definitive recording of Carousel. Even the good ones are compromised, whether by cuts, miscasting, bad new orchestrations etc. That’s why I was so hopeful that producer Scott Rudin’s recent Broadway revival might finally give us a complete and completely satisfying recording. Alas, the less said the better about director Jack O’Brien’s production, filled with fathomless cuts and afraid to address the subject matter of domestic abuse head on. It’s probably more successful as a recording than it was on stage, but I’ve yet to listen to it. One day, when the disappointment subsides, I’ll get around to it.

Annie Get Your Gun (Opened May 16, 1946, at the Imperial Theatre)
As with Oklahoma!, I first encountered this musical while a student in high school. A neighboring Catholic high school rented our auditorium for its production. I was stunned by how many of Irving Berlin’s great songs I already knew, and I found the Herbert and Dorothy Fields book to be funny and breezy while eminently satisfying on a storytelling level. Somehow the hubby and I have nine different recordings of the score, but my favorite is the 1966 Lincoln Center revival starring Ethel Merman and Bruce Yarnell, probably because it contains both Merman, for whom the show was written, of course, and “An Old-Fashioned Wedding,” a great contrapuntal number that is the last new Berlin song to be heard on the New York stage. For all the brouhaha about “I’m an Indian Too” being offensive today and the non-feminist ending, where Annie lets Frank win a shooting match, the show, with tweaks, still worked as late as 2015, when Megan Hilty and Andy Karl headlined a benefit concert gala for Encores! Good is good, I guess.

Beggar’s Holiday (Opened Dec. 26, 1946, at the Broadway Theatre)
The first time John Latouche had a book credit on Broadway was for this then-contemporary adaptation of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. Duke Ellington supplied the music for Latouche’s lyrics, though Ellington amanuensis Billy Strayhorn was also heavily involved in the creation of the score. The show had a tumultuous out-of-town tryout tour, with George Abbott being brought in to replace John Houseman as director. Abbott’s reputation as Mr. Broadway made him a somewhat odd choice to direct such an experimental piece, but he is on record as saying that of all the shows he tried to fix out of town, this is the one that could and should have worked, if only he’d had a bit more time and money. It is historic for featuring the first interracial kiss in a Broadway musical, shared by Alfred Drake as Macheath and Mildred Joanne Smith as Lucy Lockit, which, according to Latouche’s surviving partner, Kenward Elmslie, discomfited audiences no end, resulting in nightly walkouts. There is no OBCR, as the musical only ran for three months, but you can hear Lena Horne sing “Tomorrow Mountain” on Stormy Weather and “Take Love Easy” on Lena Horne Sings (The MGM Singles). More recently, Sheri Bauer-Mayorga’s CD On the Wrong Side of the Railroad Tracks covers that song. Man of La Mancha book writer Dale Wasserman did a misguided rewrite that resulted in an unfortunate OCR that is marred by poor performances and badly revised lyrics (by Wasserman). But I think this show could work in a smart rewrite, and I hope someone eventually manages to do one.

Allegro (Opened Oct. 10, 1947, at the Majestic Theatre)
In theatrical folklore Allegro is said to be Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first flop, but technically that’s not the case. It recouped in its nearly yearlong run, but it wasn’t the unalloyed critical and commercial triumph that Oklahoma! and Carousel were. Hammerstein initially wanted to tell a man’s life from birth to death but settled with stopping at 35. I’ve been fascinated by it since I read the script and heard the OBCR while still in high school, and I have managed to see six productions of it in my theatergoing lifetime. I’m very drawn to its use of a commenting Greek chorus and the clear overtones of Our Town, and despite its flaws, particularly in Act 2, I love it wholeheartedly. The cast recording is very truncated but necessary to hear the performances, especially Lisa Kirk’s definitive “The Gentleman Is a Dope.” However, the complete studio recording released in 2008 by Masterworks Broadway beautifully conveys how the show works and is a must for any lover of musical theatre.

Ballet Ballads (Opened May 9, 1948, at Maxine Elliot’s Theatre)
John Latouche and Jerome Moross’ collection of three “dance cantatas” is probably the first musical to move from off-Broadway to Broadway, though it only played in Broadway theatres. It opened at Maxine Elliot’s Theatre for a one-week run as a production of the Experimental Theatre, Inc., which was headed by producer Cheryl Crawford and functioned under a special contract with Equity that allowed for much lower pay for actors, the equivalent of what would become an off-Broadway contract. The critical response was so favorable that commercial producer Alfred de Liagre moved it immediately to the Music Box Theatre on a Broadway contract. Critics raved again, but the show only ran for two months. In a fusion of dance and singing, it told the stories of “Susanna and the Elders” (a Biblical tale), “Willie the Weeper” (about a drug addict), and “The Eccentricities of Davy Crockett” (the life of the eponymous “king of the wild frontier”). A fourth ballad, “Riding Hood Revisited,” was not performed initially but was done in a 1961 off-Broadway revival. Digitally, you can hear songs from Ballet Ballads on Windflowers: The Songs of Jerome Moross. “Willie the Weeper” was recorded in its entirety for the Naxos CD American Classics: Jerome Moross, and on the OCR of my John Latouche revue, Taking a Chance on Love: The Lyrics and Life of John Latouche, you can hear a good deal of material from “Willie” and “Davy Crockett” (a CD that I swear will be available digitally before 2019 is out). There is also a complete live recording made by Moross in 1950 of the show’s Los Angeles premiere that has a young Marni Nixon in the cast, but you have to know someone to get that. The scores for all four sections have recently been restored and published, and I hope some enterprising dance or theatre company will try this timeless show out.

Love Life (Opened Oct. 7, 1948, at the 46th Street Theatre)
The sole collaboration of Alan Jay Lerner and Kurt Weill is the fifth of my off-Broadway on Broadway shows. Perhaps the first concept musical (some will argue that’s Allegro), it looked at the institution of marriage across 150 years of American history. Its protagonists, Sam and Susan Cooper, start out married and happy in a rural setting in 1791 and end up divorced and miserable in what was then the present-day Manhattan of 1948. In between the scenes of their life are comment songs presented in the style of a vaudeville. The brilliantly eclectic score never got an OBCR due to a recording strike, even though the show ran a whole season on Broadway. A recent production in Germany used a new critically edited version of the score created by the Kurt Weill Foundation. So what is Encores! waiting for? Kurt Weill on Broadway: Thomas Hampson offers four songs—the sweeping opener, “Who Is Samuel Cooper?”; the main love ballad, “Here I’ll Stay”; the nostalgic duet “I Remember It Well” (Lerner reused the idea in Gigi), and the dramatic aria “This Is the Life”—and employs the show orchestrations. Lotte Lenya Sings Kurt Weill has Weill’s widow in an uncharacteristically bubbly mood on the Act 1 production number “Green-Up Time.” Kerry-Anne Kutz: Songs From Berlin to Broadway has a medley of two comment songs, “Economics” and “Love Song,” plus Susan’s torchy Act 2 lament “Is It Him or Is It Me?” And the OBCR of LoveMusik has a truncated version of the show’s climactic minstrel sequence, “The Illusion Minstrel Show,” performed as “The Illusion Wedding Show.” And there’s a lot more out there on a variety of recordings if you are diligent about looking. But you shouldn’t have to look. We need a complete recording!

South Pacific (Opened April 7, 1949, at the Majestic Theatre)
It took director Bartlett Sher’s 2008 production for Lincoln Center Theatre to convince me that South Pacific was a first-rate musical, but convince me it did. Kelli O’Hara and Paulo Szot were outstanding as Nellie Forbush and Emile de Becque, and Sher surrounded them with an equally superb company of actors. The double whammy of “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” and “This Nearly Was Mine” leaves me in helpless tears whenever I watch my DVD of the live PBS broadcast, and O’Hara’s delivery of the word “colored” in the last scene of Act 1 never fails to pierce my heart. Rodgers and Hammerstein were not afraid of presenting the dark side of America, but they always leavened it with hope. While there a number of fine recordings of this score, it’s always O’Hara and Szot that I want to hear.

Lost in the Stars (Opened Oct. 30, 1949, at the Music Box Theatre)
If you read me regularly, you probably have noticed that I do tear up in the theatre a fair amount. But rarely have I been as destroyed as I was by Michael V. Smartt’s delivery of the title song of Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s musical tragedy, based on Alan Paton’s book Cry, the Beloved Country, about apartheid South Africa. Director Arvin Brown’s masterful 1986 production for Connecticut’s Long Wharf Theatre left me shuddering with uncontrollable sobs at the Act 1 curtain, when Rev. Stephen Kumalo sings “Lost in the Stars,” in which he tells his young nephew that he believes he has lost his faith, due to the fact that his only son has murdered a white man. The lights came up for intermission, but I couldn’t stop for quite a while after they did. Lost in the Stars is a hard show to pull off successfully (every other production I’ve seen hasn’t really worked), but if you do, it’s a killer.

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