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

Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Broadway's New Revivals on Disc, Part II In last week's installment of this three-part series, On The Town offered a fairly wide choice of recordings. Things get easier with Little Me and You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, each of which has two cast albums.

In last week's installment of this three-part series, On The Town offered a fairly wide choice of recordings. Things get easier with Little Me and You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, each of which has two cast albums.

Even in LP days, RCA's original 1962 Broadway cast recording of Little Me could have been longer. But if there was room on the 40-minute disc for "The Rich Kid's Rag" and other missing pieces, it's one of the most enjoyable show albums of the early '60s. It's hard to find anyone who doesn't like the snappy Cy Coleman tunes or clever Carolyn Leigh lyrics, and the leads -- Sid Caesar's deadpan, throwaway multiple leading man; Virginia Martin's recklessly belted Young Belle; Nancy Andrews' lovable Older Belle -- are definitive.

But Pye Records' recording of the 1964 London premiere lasts 11 minutes longer and goes a long way toward supplying what's missing on the Broadway set: You'll find "The Rich Kid's Rag," dialogue lead-ins for most numbers, and significantly longer versions of "Dimples," "Boom-Boom," "I've Got Your Number," "Real Live Girl" and "Goodbye," including introductory sections and dance music lacking on the first recording. The additional material adds greatly to the theatricality, particularly in items like the title song.

The London leads aren't quite as scintillating; the ideal disc would combine the Broadway company with the material on the London album. But the performance is strong, headed by popular local clown Bruce Forsyth (more of a singer than Caesar), Eileen Gourlay (who also took Martin's How To Succeed role in London, but is not as funny), and Avril Angers (more elegant than Andrews). Swen Swenson was brought over to recreate his New York "I've Got Your Number."

Listeners will note that the lyrics have been altered all over the place, in most cases because the West End production anglicized the script. Both Little Me cast albums are on CD (the London cast reissued by DRG), and I believe both are required. It looks like Varese Sarabande will record the current Roundabout revival and thus preserve -- along with the vocally strong performances of Martin Short and Faith Prince -- a number of alterations. Chief among them: Because the production combines the roles of Young and Older Belle for Prince, the title song could no longer be a duet for the two; it has been moved from the middle of the second act to the opening, refashioned as a Kay Thompson-style, "It's Today"-like number for Belle and her guests, celebrating the publication of her book.

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In the case of Clark Gesner's Charlie Brown score, the situation is somewhat more complex. It was first heard as a 1966 children's concept LP on MGM featuring Orson Bean, Barbara Minkus, Gesner, and Bill Hinnant, who would go on to create the role of Snoopy in the stage version. Most of the score was already in place, with the exceptions of "Book Report" and "The Red Baron."

MGM's 1967 original off-Broadway cast recording features a well-chosen company, including future "M*A*S*H" TV principal Gary Burghoff, just right for the title role, and the very funny Lucy of Reva Rose. There are 12 modest, sweetly appealing songs, plus a couple of spoken pieces.

TV's Hallmark Hall of Fame picked up the show for presentation (in more or less its original Joseph Hardy-Patricia Birch staging) in 1973. Then up-and-coming Wendell Burton (The Sterile Cuckoo) was Charlie Brown; Ruby Persson, wife of co-producer Gene Persson, was Lucy; and Bill Hinnant repeated his celebrated Snoopy. The material on Atlantic Records' TV cast album is mostly the same as on the off-Broadway disc, and the performance, while a little less witty, is not radically different. The most notable alteration: The fuller arrangements and orchestrations, with Little Me's Ralph Burns billed for "additional orchestrations."

If you possess the MGM stage disc, the TV album isn't a must. But RCA/Victor's cast recording of the new Broadway revival -- being made on January 20 -- will be, as it's a heavily revised show, and includes new songs by Andrew Lippa.

Further notes: Neither the MGM nor Atlantic Charlie Brown discs appears to be currently available on CD. There was a second TV production, the 1985 CBS animated version, featuring almost all of the stage score (and including the character of Sally, as in the current revival). And there are, of course, U.S. and U.K. cast recordings of the sequel show, Snoopy, with a score by Larry Grossman and Hal Hackady. (Gesner went on to the 1979 Broadway disaster The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall and little else.)

Coming in February: Revivals Part III: Annie Get Your Gun On Disc You can contact me at kenmanbway@aol.com