Ken Mandelbaum's AISLE VIEW: Cast Album Wish-List

Ken Mandelbaum's AISLE VIEW: Cast Album Wish-List Since beginning these columns in January, not a week has gone by without a reader inquiring when a particular favored cast album will finally be reissued on CD. In some cases, the inquiry has been fairly intense in its demand for the release, making it all the more unfortunate that my answer must usually be that I have no idea. True, I can tell you that MCA is scheduled to issue the cast albums of Coco and Applause in September, but beyond that things get murky.

Since beginning these columns in January, not a week has gone by without a reader inquiring when a particular favored cast album will finally be reissued on CD. In some cases, the inquiry has been fairly intense in its demand for the release, making it all the more unfortunate that my answer must usually be that I have no idea. True, I can tell you that MCA is scheduled to issue the cast albums of Coco and Applause in September, but beyond that things get murky.

I must preface the following highly personal run-down of titles I would like to see issued on CD with an admission of my (completely selfish) viewpoint on the entire matter. Ever since labels began to reissue cast recordings on CD, most people I know have thrown their hats in the air, looked forward with almost terrifying excitement to each re-release, and eagerly plunked down their money to buy the CD versions of cast albums they have had on their shelves in LP form for years. Having purchased all of these albums years ago (many of them the week they were first issued) and having played them to death throughout my younger days, I have not quite been able to muster the same degree of enthusiasm. I played most of these recordings so much over the years--remember that when I was growing up, the number of cast albums was still a relatively finite thing, full-length show recordings for the most part only extending back to the '40s in the U.S.--that when I received the CD reissue, I would only play it once and put it on the shelf (excepting favorites like Goldilocks and Plain and Fancy). As a critic, I received complementary review copies of all of the U.S. reissues of the last decade or so, but I have for the most part not purchased earlier reissues or foreign titles that I already possess on LP.

As stated, this is a selfish perspective: Those younger than myself cannot be blamed for not having grabbed RCA's Darling of the Day LP the day it was released, and the cast recordings that remain unissued on CD are hard to find, especially in mint condition. Before going on to my list, one additional issue that has made me perhaps less enthusiastic in this area than others: While I have over the last decade gotten used to CD size, there are many show logos that looked better on LP jackets, and the more lavish, fold-out LP covers (think On The Twentieth Century or any of those early '60s Columbia Records flops) can never be approximated with CD issues (although it should be mentioned that most labels, RCA in particular, have come up with some dazzling recording session photos and color production shots for the CD booklets).

Putting all of that aside, here is an annotated list of what I would like to see appear in the near future. Three titles spring immediately to mind, and they are three of the most requested in your e-mails.

1) THE GOLDEN APPLE: One of the most sophisticated and brilliant scores (Jerome Moross-John Latouche) ever composed for a musical, The Golden Apple has always been caviar for the general, but has a legion of admirers. For that reason, I feel certain that RCA will get to it soon, as I believe it to be the best CD-less cast album in their catalogue. I will never forget finding the already-rare album on a set of four 45s in the early '60s. I took it home, was absolutely dazzled by it, and have continued to love it from that time on. Of course, the album preserves only about half of this all-sung Illiad/Odyssey musical, so in addition to the CD reissue, I would like to see an Encores! Golden Apple that would lead to a complete recording. 2) JUNO: Not everyone adores the Marc Blitzstein score for Juno as much as I do, but I find Juno one of the most moving and exciting cast albums of a period (late '50s) full of glorious discs. And it's also one of the best-made of its era, as Columbia producer Goddard Lieberson tended not to toy with (and cut down for disc) the scores of flops as much as he did with scores like Gypsy or My Fair Lady (I suspect this was because he saw no chance of airplay for a posthumous cast recording like Juno). The Juno album remains one of the most vivid and emotional of all show discs, and I've heard from others who also place it at the top of their wants list. About three years ago, Juno, Subways Are For Sleeping, and Kean were to be the next titles reissued by Sony, which for a while there was pouring the show reissues on the market a dozen at a time. Someone must have looked at sales figures, because that group was put on hold, after which Sony went out of the business of show reissues, leaving us with such deathless recordings as Here's Love and Mr. President, but not Juno.

3) PROMISES, PROMISES: The most frequently requested by others, this recording is slightly less high on my list, only because, while I love the show and the score, I always felt that both United Artists Promises cast recordings (New York and London) sound a bit too much like pop albums and fail to capture the excitement of the score as it sounded in the theatre. Still, both should be available, which presents an additional problem, as we all want the Broadway recording for the superb performance of the original cast, but we also want the London set for Betty Buckley's Fran. It was an unfortunate situation this spring when so many people wrote in demanding a recording of the Encores! concert of Promises, fully aware that neither of the two already-existing Promises albums was on CD.

4) NEW FACES OF '52/'56: The first cast album I fell in love with as a child was RCA's New Faces of '52, and to this day I find the material of what was probably the last great Broadway revue (in the true sense of the word) absolutely sparkling and delicious, the performances of Eartha Kitt, Alice Ghostley, June Carroll, Ronny Graham et. al. simply dreamy. This recording is total pleasure, and in the '70s RCA was nice enough to reissue it on LP with a bonus track ("Time For Tea") that had only been available on Ben Bagley's Ballet on Broadway set.

The score for the '56 New Faces is not nearly as good as that of '52, but the performers (including Inga Swenson, John Reardon, Jane Connell, female impersonator T.C. Jones, and none other than Maggie Smith) are pretty terrific, and the material is fun. But here's where the CD-length advantage comes in: Recorded for the '56 album but never issued by RCA are eight cast tracks that once found their way onto a bootleg LP. Wouldn't it be great if RCA did a double-CD set of '52 and the complete, never-available-on-a-single-disc '56 New Faces?

5) THE CONSUL: No, this isn't a musical at all, but an extremely powerful Gian-Carlo Menotti opera presented to ecstatic praise at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in 1950. I find The Consul, about a family desperately trying to get out of an unidentified Iron Curtain country, a terrifying, thrilling piece, and if Decca's two-LP cast recording (with an elaborate box and libretto that a CD issue won't be able to approximate) isn't complete, it's nonetheless sensational, preserving the incomparable leading performance of Patricia Neway. As The Consul is one of the few modern American operas that has continued to have a performance life, I'm bewildered by MCA's failure to reissue the original Broadway performance on CD, particularly when more than a few utterly forgotten American operas are available on CD.

6) UNISSUED JULE STYNE: A category all its own for the numerous unissued cast recordings with music by one of Broadway's best, Jule Styne. For personal reasons, the one I would most like to have is Decca/MCA's Two on the Aisle, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. I know it's not the greatest score, and it's a revue rather than a book musical, but it preserves at least a bit of the incomparable Bert Lahr's work, and above all it has Dolores Gray in stupendous voice, singing some grand numbers. Apart from Destry Rides Again, it's Gray's fullest and best cast album performance.

Because it stars Carol Burnett in her only Broadway musical other than Once Upon A Mattress, Fade Out--Fade In is a must for reissue. Burnett was right when she complained to Styne that he had failed to supply her with songs to equal those he gave Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl the same year, but the Fade Out score (Comden-Green lyrics) is pleasant, Burnett is great, and it's a very enjoyable album.

While Subways Are For Sleeping was a fairly lame show, the Comden-Green-Styne score is very attractive apart from its original surroundings, and the Columbia cast recording is highly playable. It should be out so people can enjoy Phyllis Newman's big "I Was A Shoo-In" solo (it got her a Tony), plus the unique singing (I like it, but it drives some people up a wall) of leading man Sydney Chaplin.

Darling of the Day may have lasted a month, but the Styne-E.Y. Harburg score is full of sparkling and lovely things, and everything Tony winner Patricia Routledge touches on RCA's cast album turns to gold (leading man Vincent Price is more problematic). While RCA should place this one high on its list, they can take their time with Say, Darling (Styne-Comden-Green), and the reason is obvious: While singing stars Vivian Blaine and Johnny Desmond are fine, Say, Darling was not a musical but instead a comedy about the making of one, and these songs, in the theatre mostly throwaways accompanied by piano, do not benefit from being blown up and orchestrated as they are on the recording.

The Styne-Bob Hilliard score for Hazel Flagg (RCA) is not great but has its moments ("The World Is Beautiful Today," "How Do You Speak To An Angel?," "Every Street's A Boulevard in Old New York"), and performers Helen Gallagher, Benay Venuta and Jack Whiting are good company. While it's not a very distinguished score, Sugar (Bob Merrill lyrics, and based on the superior Some Like It Hot film) has some nice things in it, and is another of those cast albums being zealously guarded by United Artists.

7) OH CAPTAIN!: A routine late '50s product, but the Jay Livingston-Ray Evans score is much better than what surrounded it. In his only Broadway musical star part, Tony Randall is excellent, and there's the fabulous Susan Johnson in a supporting role but mopping up every time she appears. This is the Columbia cast album that substitutes Eileen Rodgers for the show's Abbe Lane, whose label would not release her for the recording. RCA can also take its time getting to the other Livingston Evans Broadway cast album, Let It Ride!

8) DONNYBROOK!: Only a pleasant show rather than a strong or distinguished one, but the Johnny Burke score is lovely, and Art Lund, Eddie Foy, Jr., forgotten but strong-voiced leading lady Joan Fagan, and Susan Johnson in her last Broadway role figure largely on the Kapp (controlled by MCA) cast album.

9) A TIME FOR SINGING: A big 1966 Alexander Cohen flop with a frequently beautiful score (John Morris-Gerald Freedman), the richness of which points directly to the pop operas of a decade or two later. Tessie O'Shea, Shani Wallis, Ivor Emmanuel, Laurence Naismith, and many others (find young George Hearn) are wonderful, and the Warner Brothers cast album is a great listen. Little known but strongly deserving of reissue.

10) FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Sultry '50s songstress Polly Bergen may not be the model of a Jane Austen heroine, but this musical version of Pride and Prejudice (score by Robert Goldman, Glenn Paxton, and George Weiss, with, it has been said, a helping hand from producer Jule Styne) was slightly underrated in the late '50s, and is another of those Columbia cast albums of a flop that is more complete and better recorded than those of many a hit of the same period. Bergen may be less than idiomatic, but she's fun anyway, and Hermione Gingold is a riot as Mrs. Bennet. A very fine album, even if the score is uneven.

11) ERNEST IN LOVE: It's probably not a good idea to musicalize a play as perfect as The Importance of Being Earnest, but around the time The Fantasticks opened, a musical Earnest written by Anne Croswell and Lee Pockriss opened off-Broadway and won acclaim, including a rave from Brooks Atkinson in the Times. If no one should musicalize the Wilde play, I doubt if it could be done better, and Columbia Records made a rare foray into off-Broadway with its quickly deleted cast recording. The score still holds up, impressive for its cleverness and tunefulness, and the leads include Leila Martin, soon to celebrate her tenth anniversary as Madame Giry in the Broadway The Phantom of the Opera.

12) THE GRAND TOUR and PARADE: Jerry Herman's remaining unissued cast albums, both worth hearing. Parade (Kapp/MCA) was an early off-Broadway effort, but this revue makes it clear that Herman was a talent here to stay (this is the show with the "Show Tune" opening number that had its melody recycled for Mame's "It's Today"). The Grand Tour (Columbia) was Herman's third consecutive Broadway flop after Dear World and Mack and Mabel, and while its score is not as good as those two, it's quite pleasant, and Herman now uses its opening number, "I'll Be Here Tomorrow" (introduced by Joel Grey in the last star part he created on Broadway), as his concert theme song.

13) A FAMILY AFFAIR: Not the most sophisticated or tasteful musical or score, but it's fun, and the cast (Eileen Heckart, Shelley Berman, Morris Carnovsky, Larry Kert, Rita Gardner, Bibi Osterwald, Linda Lavin) is a curious and pungent one. The United Artists cast album deserves to be reissued simply because this is John Kander's first Broadway score (the show also became Hal Prince's first Broadway directorial contribution when he took over on the road from Word Baker). 14) REX: All the cast albums of musicals by Broadway's greatest melodist, Richard Rodgers, should be available, so even though I will admit that the 1976 Henry VIII musical Rex has an uneven score, there are gems here (especially the opening "No Song More Pleasing"), the cast is a strong one (Nicol Williamson, Penny Fuller, Glenn Close), and the lyrics are by one of the best in the field, Sheldon Harnick. It's one of those albums that one can find fascinating even though one knows it's less than top-notch Rodgers, so RCA should get to it soon.

The label also has the 1967 Rodgers TV musical Androcles and the Lion; while I am avoiding the category of TV musicals in this survey (practically all such cast recordings are unavailable on CD), this one has a glamorous cast (Noel Coward, Inga Swenson, John Cullum, Patricia Routledge, Norman Wisdom, Brian Bedford) and a ravishing, unknown Rodgers ballad called "Strangers."

15) TWO'S COMPANY: The pure-camp entry. Since RCA has already given us on CD such great-lady flops as Jennie, Happy Hunting, and Wildcat, surely Bette Davis' only New York star turn in a musical deserves to be heard by future generations. And what a riot it is! If you've never experienced Davis ripping into her opening number "Turn Me Loose on Broadway" (or caught the video clip of her recreating it on the Andy Williams Show) or fog-horning her way through the eleven o'clock number "Just Like A Man"- well, you haven't really lived.

Two's Company, a 1952 Broadway revue that did good business until Davis came down with one of her famous "illnesses" (they struck every time she returned to the stage), doesn't possess a score in the class of the diva flops mentioned in the previous paragraph, but Davis is something to hear, and there's the great voice of Ellen Hanley on two tracks. RCA reissued the very rare cast album on LP in the late '70s, but it's time that wonderful Davis-caricature logo found its way to CD.

Beyond these, there are many others that deserve to appear for various reasons. For more camp fun, there's the so-awful-it's-fabulous '50s Kean Sisters classic Ankles Aweigh (MCA/Decca, and almost spoiled by one really good song, "Nothing Can Replace A Man"). Maggie Flynn (RCA) has a few good songs, especially the opening ones, and Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy are in fine voice. Speaking of Jones and Cassidy, I must put in a vote for Columbia's studio cast recording of Brigadoon, no longer the most complete Brigaoon as it was for years, but featuring the greatest Meg Brockie of all time, Susan Johnson, who played the role on the road.

Bravo Giovanni (Columbia) is a mixed bag, but there's the beautiful opening number "Rome" for opera's Cesare Siepi, some good ballads for Michele Lee, and some funny material for Maria Karnilova. Kean (Columbia) is also uneven but reasonably rewarding, and has the great Alfred Drake in one of his major roles, plus the amazing voice of Lee Venora in a supporting role. Venora is also the main reason to reissue the Lincoln Center The King and I (RCA), as her Tuptim may actually surpass that of original Doretta Morrow. Patricia Neway is the distinguished Lady Thiang, but it's hard to warm to Rise Steven's Mrs. Anna.

Carmen Jones is a must for MCA, especially since two songs on the original '78 issue were not included on LP issues of this cast recording, and Muriel Smith is wonderful in the title role. The same label has the delectable Decca cast recording of the '43 revival of A Connecticut Yankee. RCA was promising Saratoga a year or two ago, and it should appear, as there are enough nice things in the Harold Arlen-Johnny Mercer score, and leads Howard Keel, Carol Lawrence, and especially Carol Brice are intriguing (the gorgeous logo will never look as good reduced for CD).

I've always found The Nervous Set, the obscure 1959 beatnik musical which Columbia almost inexplicably recorded during its brief Broadway life, one of the oddest cast recordings ever made, but there are some interesting things in the score, especially the classic "Ballad of the Sad Young Men," and the rest at least doesn't sound like any other Broadway score. Also on Columbia is Cyril Ritchard enunciating E.Y. Harburg's lyrics to Offenbach melodies in the Lysistrata musical The Happiest Girl in the World. RCA has flops like Make A Wish, Seventeen, How Now, Dow Jones, and Jimmy that they will eventually have to confront, and there is pleasure to be had on all of them (check out Julie Wilson's wonderful Jimmy tracks). They also have the famous Dinah Shore Call Me Madam, the original cast album of the show minus its raison d'etre, star Ethel Merman, who was under contract to Decca and who had to make her own Madam album without the show's supporting cast or orchestrations. Shore warbles smoothly without ever really sounding like Mrs. Sally Adams, but the RCA Madam is worth hearing for everything around her.

United Artists has Anya, the last of the big Broadway floperettas, and Columbia has Maureen O'Hara's only Broadway effort, Christine, a King and I rip-off that boasts the always enjoyable Nancy Andrews in a supporting role. And Sherlock Holmes fans will want to hear Baker Street, even if the MGM cast album makes a weak case for a show that was fairly entertaining in the theatre (and boasts Inga Swenson's only Broadway musical star performance aside from 110 in the Shade).

I must put in a word for House of Flowers and Li'l Abner: Columbia Special Products issued both of these on CD but later deleted them, so those two glorious albums simply must be issued again. For that matter, I hear that Broadway Angel, which was nice enough to release the entire Capitol Records show catalogue a few years back, is now in the process of deleting some of the titles; if you don't already have them all, grab them.

I could go on, and you'll notice I've restrained myself from mentioning British musicals, most of which have yet to find their way to CD, and most studio cast recordings. I have no doubt left out some of your favorites, but I continue to believe that if we are patient, just about everything will find its way out again.


MUSICAL THEATRE CD OF THE WEEK
In terms of CDs, that ever-fascinating 1941 landmark show Lady in the Dark already has available on the Pearl Kurt Weill--From Berlin To Broadway set original Liza Gertrude Lawrence's six peerless RCA sides, plus two Danny Kaye cast tracks. AEI has on CD the soundtrack of the 1954 TV version starring Ann Sothern, plus a radio version with Lawrence. Just released by Sony Classical is the 1963 Columbia studio cast recording, still the most complete commercially available version in Weill's original orchestrations; as a bonus, the Sony CD has six Kaye tracks.

Because it was a single, 46-minute LP in '63, Sony's Lady features many cuts in the score, but if very incomplete, it's fairly comprehensive, and the sound, conducting (Lehman Engel) and supporting cast (Adolph Green and the marvelous baritone John Reardon) are fine. And even condensed, the Weill-Ira Gershwin score is terrific. But any Lady ultimately comes down to its diva: Mezzo Rise Stevens, in her day a celebrated Carmen and Octavian, was by the '60s past her prime, and made a couple of forays into musicals, including the above-mentioned King and I (another Lawrence part) revival. Stevens' Liza has its attractive moments, but it's also rather broad and heavy-handed; Sothern, on the far less authentic TV version, is preferable. But because of the score and the full-bodied performance it receives here, this recording remains indispensable, and Kaye's '41 tracks are wonderful.

The only complete recording of this score in the original orchestration is a radio broadcast of the 1988 Edinburgh Festival concert performance starring (as a replacement for originally announced Julie Andrews) the excellent Patricia Hodge, who sounds a great deal like Lawrence, and even played her in Sheridan Morley's Noel and Gertie. But the current Royal National Theatre production starring Maria Friedman is now set to be recorded by TER, and in the full orchestration rather than the reduction heard at the Lyttelton.

Additional CD news: TER is recording complete, double CD versions of two musicals less celebrated than most to which they have accorded such treatment: TER's Anyone Can Whistle will star Maria Friedman, Julia McKenzie, and George Dvorsky, while its 110 in the Shade has Karen Ziemba, Ron Raines, and Richard Muenz; Ziemba and Muenz played their roles in the New York City Opera 110, and they may be joined on the recording by other City Opera cast members.

TER is also recording this summer's Chichester Festival revival of Sandy Wilson's Divorce Me, Darling!, with a cast that includes Ruthie Henshall, Liliane Montevecchi, Marti Webb, Tim Flavin, Linzi Hateley, and Joan Savage. The label also made a live recording of the revue Leading Men Don't Dance, with Ron Raines, Byron Nease, George Dvorsky, Scott Holmes, and Richard Muenz.


QUIZ OF THE WEEK
In the '50s, Lehman Engel conducted Portia Nelson and Robert Rounseville in the leading roles on a never-issued Columbia Records studio cast recording of a '20s musical. What was the show?

Answer to last week's quiz: Marti Webb, who had earlier replaced Elaine Paige in the London production of Evita, succeeded Paige in Cats.


ASK KEN
Sarah Tracey asks:
To your knowledge, has a complete recording ever been made of the full score of A Chorus Line? In the original cast album currently found in music stores, serious omissions have been made. After seeing the show and performing in it, I regret not being able to come home and listen to such pieces as the complete opening number, "And," Judy's and Connie's songs in the montages, as well as part of "Gimme the Ball," a full version of "One," etc. Why aren't these songs on the album, and are they available on any other recordings? Do you know of any plans to make a new or concert recording of the (soon to be former) longest-running musical on Broadway?

KM: A number of the pieces missing on the original Broadway cast recording of ACL are available on the foreign language recordings--Japanese, Italian, Danish, German--but not one has everything. I guess the most complete recording of the score was last season's BBC Radio 2 broadcast of the whole show (although the book was updated). This broadcast has not been commercially released. Perhaps one day TER Records in England will get around to ACL and, like they have done for many other classic titles, make the first complete recording. In fact, I'm sure they will.

Send your questions to kenmanbway@aol.com