John Yap is a man with a musical-comedy mission.
The president and producer of Britain's TER record company, and its more recent U.S. incarnation JAY Records, says he has set himself an ambitious, if not epic, goal: "The complete recordings of the complete scores of all the great shows ever written, with the original orchestrations" intact.
Eighteen years and some 250 recordings along, the Malaysia-born British resident has stuck to his prime directive: "I'm trying to redefine the appreciation of recorded musical scores," he said.
As in any good musical, that simple "I-want," has led to all sorts of colorful adventures, and close encounters with some of the great talents and tunes of 20th century theatre.
In the coming months he'll release a new The Most Happy Fella with Karen Ziemba, a Cabaret with Jonathan Pryce and Dame Judi Dench, a Fiddler on the Roof with Len Cariou, and, in a coup, the original cast recording of Triumph of Love with Betty Buckley, F. Murray Abraham, Susan Egan, et al. His 1997 cast recording of the Broadway-bound Peter Pan is already in release. "I only record things I like," Yap said, "that's what makes it so satisfying."
First taken to see "those glamorous MGM [movie] musicals" as a boy by his mom back in his native Kuala Lumpur, Yap, who now lives in London, pursues several strategies in his recordings, dozens of which are currently in release around the world.
* Hiring his favorite contemporary singers -- Ron Raines, Judy Kaye, George Dvorsky, Karen Mason, Richard Muenz, among others -- Yap records the complete score of a show, restoring truncations on the original cast albums -- including not only dropped and transitions, but dance music, reprises, and sometimes even music-under-dialog. Nearly all his restorations are 2-CD sets.
* He finally captures those original orchestrations in stereo where many were flattened by primitive (for their time) recording techniques.
* He expunges updates made by well-intentioned revivals.
* He restores worthy or historically significant songs cut during tryouts and rewrites.
* He also sometimes does his own job of recording an original cast album, such as the Broadway cast of Triumph of Love, which went into the studio in June 1998 and is anticipated this fall.
* But Yap's goal above all is finding and faithfully recreating those original orchestrations by his gods: the like of Robert Russell Bennett, Ralph Burns, Red Ginzler, Irwin Kostal, Bill Byers and the rest of the greats.
Though a purist about the original orchestrations, he scoffs at those who feel the original actors in these musicals can never be topped. His model is opera. In the classical world, he says, "you can get five new Tosca's or La Boheme's in a year and all are equally important and legitimate. I don't see why this shouldn't happen with musical theatre scores. I see no reason why there shouldn't be 20 recordings of Carousel. It can only mean further diversification."
John Pike, publisher of Show Music magazine, said he's "all for" the idea of preserving the original orchestrations, but, coming from an educational background, he identified another reason [he supports] the JAY recordings: "It's a great road map for these [school and stock] companies that attempt to do those shows. There is no other source for non-professional theatre groups to get to to know how the orchestrations they have been sent by the licensing agent are supposed to sound. The truncated [original cast] recordings of the 50s, 60s and 70s sometimes make that difficult."
Visiting New York to record the JAY version of 110 in the Shade with Karen Ziemba and Richard Muenz in October 1997, Yap said, "But for a New York City Opera production, never again will we hear the full orchestrations -- they get revised, reorchestrated, scaled down, cut. That's why these are such important projects. The original orchestrators and authors worked for months to get it right. I think it's sheer arrogance [to try to improve on that]. When [directors of revivals] reorchestrate, it dates faster. When you listen to Hans Spialek's original On Your Toes it sounds right. Don Walker's 1956 revival sounds more dated than the 1936 original! It would be like updated the orchestrations of Tosca or Der Ring Des Niebelungen. Can your imagine 'updating' Puccini's orchestrations and trying to present it at the Met?"
And yet, Yap has to contend with the fact that many theatre lovers feel the same way about the original cast albums themselves, whatever their flaws. How can he hope to improve on, say, Ethel Merman in Annie Get Your Gun, even though the recording is in mono?
"We don't necessarily artistically improve on the original recording," Yap said, "but technically we're a vast improvement over the originals. We're not trying to replace the originals, but provide a complement to the original recordings."
His TER (That's Entertainment Records) has been in existence since, 1980. Since launching JAY (John Andrew Yap) records in 1996, he has gone into the studio with 50 projects, adding to the more than 200 done by TER since 1980. The JAY recordings include Guys and Dolls, South Pacific with Paige O'Hara, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Pajama Game, etc. He's also done some studio albums like "Leading Men Don't Dance."
Yap, whose music education was never formalized (he holds a degree in graphic design), said "I'm in a very fortunate position because I'm doing what I love. It's a real blessing."
His next big challenge is a two-CD recording of Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella including material cut during the rewrites and tryouts, "with the full and gracious support of Jo Sullivan Loesser [the composer's widow]." The cast includes opera singer Louis Quilco in the lead, Emily Loesser [the composer's daughter, and a theatre singer on her own] as Rosabella, Karen Ziemba as Cleo, and Richard Muenz as Joey. The production was recorded in December 1997 in London. No release date has been set.
Other plans: Finian's Rainbow with George Dvorsky as Woody and Milo O'Shea as Finian, Where's Charley, Anyone Can Whistle, Brigadoon, Hair and a recording of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
JAY recently launched a website with more info on its work, at www.jayrecords.com.
Lady in the Dark (Just released.)
"Liliane Montevecchi: On the Boulevard" (Just released)
Thomas and the King -- Score for 1976 John Williams musical produced in London. (Just released)
Triumph of Love -- The original Broadway cast, featuring Betty Buckley, F. Murray Abraham and Susan Egan. (October)
Ron Raines' Broadway Passion -- Favorite showtunes performed by the baritone. (November)
"Sondheim Tonight at the Barbican" -- Live recording of London concert at the Barbican Center. Includes the first recording of Sondheim's"A Short Violin Sonata." (November)
110 in the Shade the original score, plus interpolations from the New York City Opera revival, with members of the NYCO cast, including Karen Ziemba and Ron Raines. (Early 1999)
The Most Happy Fella (Spring 1999)
Cabaret -- Ready now, but postponed to 1999 so as not to conflict with RCA's cast recording of the 1998 Broadway revival and the recent Sony re-release of the original cast album. The JAY recording stars Jonathan Pryce as the emcee, Dame Judi Dench as Frau Schneider, lyricist Fred Ebb as Herr Schultz, Gregg Edelman as Chris and Maria Friedman as Sally Bowles. (Summer 1999)
The Music Man with Brian Cox as Harold Hill and Catherine Porter as Marian (late 1999)
Fiddler on the Roof with Len Cariou as Tevye, Judy Kaye as Fruma Sarah and Sara Kestelman as Golde.
Anything Goes with Louise Gold and Gregg Edelman.
42nd Street with Michael Gruber and Marti Stevens.
-- By Robert Viagas