Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Broadway's New Revivals on Disc, Part I

Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Broadway's New Revivals on Disc, Part I The 1998-'99 season features four musical revivals; two of them - Little Me and On The Town -- are now playing on Broadway, while the other two -- You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown and Annie Get Your Gun -- will arrive in New York after out-of-town tryouts. While I suspect the latter two productions are fairly certain bets for recordings, the new Little Me and On The Town have not, at this writing, found their way to disc, although both scores are already well represented on disc. I'll devote this column to a rundown of commercially released recordings of On The Town; cover Little Me and Charlie Brown discs in Part II; then give Annie Get Your Gun's recorded representation the full column it requires.
Bob Kingdom as Elsa Maxwell.
Bob Kingdom as Elsa Maxwell. (Photo by Photo by James Leynse)

The 1998-'99 season features four musical revivals; two of them - Little Me and On The Town -- are now playing on Broadway, while the other two -- You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown and Annie Get Your Gun -- will arrive in New York after out-of-town tryouts. While I suspect the latter two productions are fairly certain bets for recordings, the new Little Me and On The Town have not, at this writing, found their way to disc, although both scores are already well represented on disc. I'll devote this column to a rundown of commercially released recordings of On The Town; cover Little Me and Charlie Brown discs in Part II; then give Annie Get Your Gun's recorded representation the full column it requires.

The first noteworthy preservation of the Leonard Bernstein-Betty Comden-Adolph Green On The Town score was a 1946 Decca set of three 78s, featuring Nancy Walker in wonderful renditions of "I Can Cook Too" and a solo "Ya Got Me"; Comden and Green in "Carried Away"; the opening "I Feel Like I'm Not Out of Bed Yet"/"New York, New York" done by the Lyn Murray chorus and orchestra; and Mary Martin (who never appeared in the show) in silky stylings of "Lucky To Be Me" and "Lonely Town." This set found its way to LP as one side of a Decca release, paired with Martin in Lute Song.

The first full-length Town remains the most indispensable, the 1961 Columbia studio recording reuniting Walker, Comden, Green, and Cris Alexander from the original cast, joined by John Reardon, and conducted by Bernstein. I recently reviewed this disc as part of the third group of the Columbia Broadway Masterworks Series, and, while other Town albums have more music, none can ever have the authenticity and emotional impact of this one.

Almost every time the Columbia Town disc has reappeared, it has expanded: My parents brought it home the moment it appeared in '61, but I purchased it again on LP (with a new cover design) a decade later, because "Carnegie Hall/Do-Do-Re-Do" was added on. When the first CD appeared in '88, another number recorded in 1960 but never before released -- Pitkin's "I Understand" -- appeared. In addition to supplying bonus tracks of the overture (from a Lehman Engel collection) and Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic in "Three Dance Episodes," the recent Masterworks issue features a slightly expanded version of "So Long Baby."

The next Town recording is at this writing the only full-length stage cast album; it's the only one not on CD, and by far the hardest to find: The CBS LP of the short-lived West End premiere production in 1963. This has terrific sound and conducting (by Lawrence Leonard) and offers an excellent, vibrant performance. If Carol Arthur's Hildy is only okay, Don McKay (London's West Side Story Tony) is a top-notch Gabey, and Elliott Gould an overqualified Ozzie. Gillian Lewis is Claire, and Franklin Kiser -- soon to go on to fame as Temple in Ben Franklin in Paris -- is Chip. 1993 saw Deutsche Grammophon issue a 74-minute CD of a concert production, recorded live at London's Barbican Centre in June 1992. It boasts three cut numbers ("The Intermission's Great," "Ain't Got No Tears Left," and "Gabey's Comin'," the latter heard in the current revival) not on the earlier recordings. Although Tyne Daly (in good vocal form) is a lovably warm Hildy and David Garrison is Ozzie, the rest of the principals -- Frederica Von Stade (Claire), Thomas Hampson (Gabey), Kurt Ollmann (Chip), Samuel Ramey (Pitkin and others), Evelyn Lear (Madame Dilly) -- are from the world of opera. They all do well, although one never quite forgets they are not natural Broadway singers (Hampson will be heard this year on studio discs of two more Bernstein scores, Angel's Wonderful Town and DG's A White House Cantata/1600 Pennsylvania Avenue). Cleo Laine is a tasty bonus in "Tears," and Michael Tilson Thomas' conducting of the London Symphony Orchestra is impassioned.

It's important to note that this concert was also released on video and is more interesting in that format. If the 107-minute tape lacks "The Intermission's Great," it includes a good deal of dialogue and narration (written and performed by Comden and Green) plus several incidental vocal and orchestral pieces not on the CD. The video gives a better idea of the show as a whole, and while Daly sounds fine on disc, she's more wonderful when seen.

While the 1996 double-CD JAY Town (90 minutes) lacks two of the cut songs heard on the DG set ("Gabey's Comin'" is included as a bonus), it's the most complete recording of the score, including extended versions of several numbers, reprises of "Carried Away" and "Lonely Town," the entr'acte, playout, etc. Ethan Freeman -- star of the Vienna Elisabeth and Beauty and the Beast, a London Phantom, and soon to play the title roles in the German premiere of Jekyll & Hyde in Dusseldorf -- is a handsome Gabey. Kim Criswell and Judy Kaye are at their considerable best as Hildy and Claire. Gregg Edelman has more voice than Chip needs, Tim Flavin is Ozzie, and the conducting by John Owen Edwards compares favorably with that on the earlier recordings. The fact that the DG concert cast is a single CD may cause some to choose it over the JAY set, but the latter is a more idiomatic performance.

Will the new Broadway production get recorded? It's hard to imagine Lea DeLaria's acclaimed Hildy not getting preserved, even if the other principals don't necessarily cry out for a recording. It would preserve the revival's score alterations (i.e. new overture, chase music, and reprise of "Some Other Time" for Lucy, switched order of "Lucky To Be Me" and "I Can Cook Too"). And a CD of the revival would rank as the only available full stage cast recording.

You can contact me at kenmanbway@aol.com