No matter how big they flop, it seems that just about every West End musical gets recorded these days. While there are exceptions---I'm still waiting for the Leonardo disc--we have had cast recordings of Which Witch, The Fields of Ambrosia, and now Always (Warner Music). Mostly the work of young Australians William May and Jason Sprague, Always musicalized the celebrated Edward and Mrs. Windsor saga (not quite the first show to do so--a third of the 1993 Long Beach, California musical From The Top had Carol Burnett and Gary Beach as Wallis and Edward and songs with Ira Gershwin lyrics). Always opened in June at London's Victoria Palace to scathing notices, including one with the headline, "Is This The Worst Musical Ever?"; it held on for two months then shuttered (during the same late July weekend that saw Broadway lose Victor/Victoria and Candide).
On disc, Always does not sound like one of the all-time horrors, but the score is fairly simple-minded; there are a number of handsome melodies (helped along by John Cameron's full-bodied arrangements), but the lyrics are often laughable, and the whole thing is straightforward, solemn, and faintly ludicrous. There's one huge, competely extraneous hoot of a nightclub production number, "Love's Carousel" (it's chanteuse Sheila Ferguson's only appearance); it has a very catchy melody that gives new meaning to the term "derivative." Otherwise, the songs are mostly sung by Jan Hartley and Clive Carter, who sound quite good as the pair in question. Veteran Shani Wallis, who appeared in such '50s West End productions as Call Me Madam, Wish You Were Here, and Wonderful Town before becoming better known as Nancy in the film of Oliver!, makes two appearances. The recording also features ponderous between-song narration.
Always was the kind of big, old-fashioned flop (with ballroom scenes galore) that London gave up after the '70s; on disc, it's not exactly good, but it is enjoyably silly, so camp collectors should probably pounce.
The original 1995 off Broadway production of the World War II all-girl-band musical Swingtime Canteen went unrecorded, but the show has been presented in several venues since, including London. Now available is a recording (on the PAPA label: Performing Arts Preservation Association) featuring mostly the cast of the 1996 Atlantic City production starring Ruth Williamson, but with single appearances by New York cast members (Alison Fraser, Emily Loesser, Maxene Andrews in a spoken introduction recorded just before her death) and performers (including Mary Cleere Haran) who have appeared in other productions. This is the kind of disc that tends to be of lesser interest to show fans, as the score consists entirely of numbers from the period rather than original songs, and the performances aren't exciting enough to make the difference.
Marlene VerPlanck, an attractive, jazz oriented vocalist, has a new Varese Sarabande recital devoted to The Songs of Richard Adler that has several tracks that will be of special interest to collectors. The CD comes, curiously, with no mention of Jerry Ross, the late collaborator with whom Adler wrote the music and lyrics for The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees, and there are no attributions of song to show. So some may not be aware that what's billed as "If You Win, You Lose" was called "Watch Your Heart" when it was added to the score of the 1973 Broadway revival of The Pajama Game for Barbara McNair to sing in place of a reprise of "Hey, There," or that "Put Your Money On Me" was known as "When You Gonna Learn?" when Beatrice Arthur sang it in the road-closer A Mother's Kisses in 1968 and when Eydie Gorme recorded it at the same time.
VerPlanck's program also includes "What's Wrong With Me?" and "Another Time, Another Place" from Kwamina, and "Christmas in Your Heart" from the 1958 TV musical The Gift of the Magi.
As this column is concerned with musical theatre preservation, I will from time to time include television, radio, and video. Some months back, PBS aired the 1996 Carnegie Hall Ira Gershwin Centenary Gala, featuring appearances by Debbie Gravitte, Karen Ziemba, Scott Wise, Christine Ebersole, and many others. Less heralded was last year's Royal Albert Hall, London Ira Gershwin Centenary tribute, quietly aired by A&E a couple of times last week, but it was of more than passing interest to musical theatre fans, especially those who follow West End performers.
There were three numbers from Crazy For You featuring London replacement leads Tim Flavin and Fiona Benjamin. Ruthie Henshall gave an indication of what her forthcoming Chicago Roxie Hart might be like slinking through "The Saga of Jenny" (and surrounded by chorus dancers in black). Linzi Hateley was heard in "I Don't Think I'll Fall in Love Today" (with Gerard Casey, West End Joe Gillis understudy and She Loves Me Kodaly) and "My Ship" (with Grania Renihan, a London Chess Florence). Gareth Snook (original London Artie Green in Sunset) and Shona Lindsay did "Love Walked In." John Barrowman (another West End Joe Gillis) sparked the first half finale, "Strike Up The Band."
Daniel Benzali (original Sunset Max, now better known as the original star of Murder One) and Liz Robertson dueted "I Can't Get Started." Debbie Gravitte delivered a strong "Our Love Is Here To Stay." There were appearances by three members of the West End cast of Smokey Joe's Cafe--BJ Crosby ("How Long Has This Been Going On?"), Stephanie Pope ("Delicious"), and Victor Trent Cook ("It Ain't Necessarily So"). Marti Webb (Song and Dance, Evita, Half A Sixpence, The Good Companions, The Card) did "Embraceable You." Maureen McGovern scatted through "Little Jazz Bird." Paul Nicholas (Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats) sang "They Can't Take That Away From Me." Leslie Caron showed up to introduce harmonica great Larry Adler. And the evening's nerviest entry had to be Lorna Luft in her mother's "The Man That Got Away," which was interesting indeed.