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Putting the God in Goddard

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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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