THE MUSIC OF HAROLD ARLEN (Harbinger/DRG)
Now available on a single CD, this double-LP set was recorded in 1955 as part of a series of songbook discs on the Walden label; Harbinger (distributed by DRG) intends to issue on CD the others in the series, devoted to Rodgers and Hart, Porter, Gershwin, Kern, and Schwartz.
The 24 selections from one of the greatest of all theater/film composers include songs from the shows Hooray For What!, Bloomer Girl, St. Louis Woman, and House of Flowers. As was the case with DRG's reissues of a couple of '50s Heritage albums recently discussed in this space, many of the songs here were less well-known and recorded at the time this set was first issued than they are now. But the material is not all familiar, and there are a number of fairly obscure film songs.
Half the material is performed by Arlen himself, and, as songwriters go, there are few better vocalists. The other numbers are performed by five non- name performers -- Louise Carlyle, Bob Shaver, Warren Galjour, Miriam Burton, and June Ericson -- some of whom had small roles in '50s musicals and studio recordings; Galjour is the answer to the trivia question, "Who created the role of the tour guide who leads the 'Christopher Street' opening number in Wonderful Town?"
The forgotten singers have a real '50s sound, and are enjoyable, with Ericson making a particularly good impression. Likewise, the arrangements by musical director Peter Matz are unmistakably of their time. Of particular interest here are the original, duet version of the House of Flowers song "Gonna Leave Off Wearing My Shoes," and the lovely "I Wonder What Became of Me?," cut from St. Louis Woman but restored in the recent and superb "Encores!" production.
AN EVENING WITH DOROTHY FIELDS (DRG)
DRG continues its releases (which have embraced both CDs and videotapes) of programs from Maurice Levine's 92nd St. Y Lyrics and Lyricists series with the first issue of the 80-minute 1972 evening devoted to the great lyricist- librettist Dorothy Fields.
Fields is a witty, acerbic charmer narrating the story of her career and singing in her deep voice. She's joined by vocalists Bobbi Baird (Levine's wife), Adrienne Angel, John Peck, and Bob Gorman, and Richard Leonard at the piano. Fields is engaging company throughout; the singers are respectable but not distinctive.
The shows represented include Stars in Your Eyes, Up in Central Park, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Redhead, Sweet Charity, and the then-forthcoming Seesaw, which is represented by the attractive and ultimately dropped "If There Were More People Like You." Cy Coleman makes a guest appearance, joining Fields for the Charity and Seesaw numbers.
The disc is exactly what you would expect, and enjoyable for those interested in hearing top songwriters singing and discussing their work. If these recordings are the kind of thing that tend to remain on my shelf, there's no question that such a series is of significant documentary value.
ERIC MICHAEL GILLETT: CAST OF THOUSANDS/ THE SONGS OF CRAIG CARNELIA (Harbinger/DRG)
Even to an admirer of the work of composer-lyricist Craig Carnelia, a cast recording of another cabaret show devoted to his work may seem like overkill. Many of the songs on the new Cast of Thousands, a recording of Eric Michael Gillett's 1995 Eighty-Eight's club act, also appear on Original Cast Records' disc of Pictures in the Hall, the 1990 Eighty-Eight's cabaret evening that had Carnelia himself, joined by then-wife Maureen Silliman, performing his songs.
Gillett, best known for his 11 years as Singing Ringmaster with the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus, performs fine songs (including some not previously recorded) from the shows Is There Life After High School?, Working, Three Postcards, and Diamonds, as well as non-show material. Gillett has an attractive tenor and interprets the material with sensitivity. But while Gillett has more voice, Carnelia (who joins Gillett for one duet on the new disc) does more haunting things with these songs on the Pictures disc. Also worthy of mention are Karen Akers' numerous, striking Carnelia renditions on various recitals.
By now, Carnelia's theater songs have had more cabaret performances than the combined runs of his four New York shows. All of Carnelia's stage work has been for revue-like musicals or plays, so it will be interesting to see how he fares with the lyrics (to Marvin Hamlisch's music) for his first narrative musical, the forthcoming Sweet Smell of Success.
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