Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: 1776 and Peter Pan Revivals

Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: 1776 and Peter Pan Revivals 1776 (TVT)
Although it contains numerous cuts in the score, Columbia (Sony Broadway on CD)'s cast recording of the original 1969 Broadway production of 1776 preserves a peerless company, with one unfortunate problem: Stricken by illness, the production's Ben Franklin, Howard Da Silva, managed to make it to opening night, but was then forced to take a leave of absence, so his temporary replacement, Rex Everhart, is heard on the album.
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1776 (TVT)
Although it contains numerous cuts in the score, Columbia (Sony Broadway on CD)'s cast recording of the original 1969 Broadway production of 1776 preserves a peerless company, with one unfortunate problem: Stricken by illness, the production's Ben Franklin, Howard Da Silva, managed to make it to opening night, but was then forced to take a leave of absence, so his temporary replacement, Rex Everhart, is heard on the album.

English Columbia made the second 1776 cast recording, when the show played London in 1970; while the West End staging featured a superb cast (notably Lewis Fiander's Adams, Ronald Radd's Franklin, David Kernan's Rutledge, and Cheryl Kennedy's Martha) and was rapturously received by critics, audiences may have resented this celebration of colonial victory, and the production lasted only five months. But the London recording, long out of print and unavailable on CD, is very fine; added to the material preserved on the Broadway disc are some dance sections and the "Compliments" reprise of "Yours, Yours, Yours."

The 1972 film version of 1776 is filled with performers from the Broadway production (either originals or replacements), has Peter Hunt and Onna White repeating their Broadway directorial and choreographic assignments, and remains one of the best documents of a Broadway musical production. Howard Da Silva got to recreate his Franklin, so the Columbia soundtrack album was a required purchase for fans who regretted his absence on the Broadway set. But 40 minutes of material shot for the film was cut prior to its release, and the soundtrack album reflects those cuts, including the omission of "Cool, Cool, Considerate Men."

Just a few years back, an amazing thing happened when a major restoration job was done on the film for its release on laserdisc: Those 40 minutes were painstakingly tracked down and put back, and the three-hour set includes, in addition to a fascinating interview with Hunt that can be heard as running commentary on a separate track, "Considerate Men," the verse of "He Plays The Violin," the reprise of "The Lees of Old Virginia," the complete "Piddle, Twiddle, and Resolve," and more.

Needless to say, the soundtrack of the 1776 laser will stand as the most complete documentation of the score. Now from TVT comes the third stage cast recording, preserving the Roundabout Theatre production which began performances in July 1997 and, after a successful run at the Criterion Center, transferred in December to the Gershwin Theatre. Because it's the first 1776 recording made in the CD era, it is naturally the most complete of the three cast albums. It has far more dialogue, and, in addition to "Compliments," features such items omitted on the Broadway and London sets as the "Lees" reprise and the first section (sung by Congressional Secretary Thomson) of "Is Anybody There," as well as complete versions of several songs trimmed on the other stage recordings. As is the case with any number of recent revival cast albums, the company is not as wonderful as that to be heard on the original Broadway set. While the Roundabout's Adams, Brent Spiner, sings better than original William Daniels, no one is ever likely to match Daniels for endearing obnoxiousness and warm irascibility. Linda Emond is an excellent Abigail, but Virginia Vestoff was definitive. And will any future Martha shine like Betty Buckley did in her Broadway debut? Good as Spiner, Emond, Pat Hingle, Gregg Edelman, Michael Cumpsty, Lauren Ward and the rest of the Roundabout principals are, they're not a match for the originals, particularly as they're heard on disc in a slightly augmented version of the small-scale orchestration created for the Roundabout by Brian Besterman (the production has reverted to the fuller, original Eddie Sauter orchestration at the Gerswhin).

Sherman Edwards' 1776 score remains strong, with a sound not quite like any other. The new recording preserves more of it (and more of Peter Stone's great libretto) than any previous cast album, and as such it's welcome.


PETER PAN (JAY)
When the musical version of Peter Pan by Moose Charlap, Carolyn Leigh, Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and Jerome Robbins (he was both stager and unbilled adapter of the Barrie play) first played Broadway in 1954, the star was Mary Martin, offering one of the great musical star turns of the era. Her Captain Hook was the incomparable Cyril Ritchard, and, as one can see on the three existing preservations --black-and-white kinescopes from 1955 and 1956, color taping from 1960-- they were pretty much the last word on their roles.

But it was inevitable that the '54 musical version would become a perennial, for not only is it a generally successful adaptation with a completely charming score, but young audiences will always thrill to "I'm Flying" and enjoy Hook's mayhem. Sandy Duncan scored a huge personal triumph when she starred in the first Broadway revival in 1979, making Peter into an irresistible street kid and flying with more abandon than anyone had before. Duncan and one of her Hooks (George Rose, Christopher Hewett) should have been recorded, but attempts to do so failed.

Former gymnast Cathy Rigby brought the show back to Broadway in 1990 (at the Lunt-Fontanne) and 1991 (the Minskoff), and acquitted herself well, even if she was not quite a match for her predecessors. She is now touring in a new production (directed by Glenn Casale) scheduled to play through the year and arrive in New York for the next holiday season. To coincide with the tour, JAY has released the first recording (in English) of this version of Peter Pan since RCA Victor's terrific 1954 Broadway cast album. Rigby is backed by three principals from her new company (Paul Schoeffler's Hook/Mr. Darling, Elisa Sagardia's Wendy, Susan LaMontagne's Tiger Lily); the other leads are British. Jenny Agutter is along as the narrator and grown-up Wendy; Helen Hobson (of the London Passion and Heathcliff) is Mrs. Darling; and conductor Craig Barna and others are responsible for new orchestrations.

The new disc features 45 minutes of highlights from what will eventually become a double-CD, complete recording; there's more dialogue than on the '54 album, but "Indians" and "Oh, My Mysterious Lady" are missing; the latter has been dropped from some recent productions, as it may not work without a star (like Martin) with a trick coloratura in addition to a lyric belt. Cathy Rigby is certainly an effective Peter in the theatre; on disc, she does reasonably well, although she doesn't approach Martin's enormous vocal appeal in the role. Schoeffler brings more voice than is customary to Hook, and the score remains as nifty as ever.

-- You can contact me at kenmanbway@aol.com