Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Cabaret on Disc

Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Cabaret on Disc New York will soon see an important revival of the 1966 John Kander-Fred Ebb- Joseph Masteroff classic Cabaret, and RCA Victor is likely to record it. British TER has just issued a major new recording that ranks as an unprecedented preservation of multiple versions of the score. So we will this week look back at earlier Cabaret recordings then discuss the latest release.
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New York will soon see an important revival of the 1966 John Kander-Fred Ebb- Joseph Masteroff classic Cabaret, and RCA Victor is likely to record it. British TER has just issued a major new recording that ranks as an unprecedented preservation of multiple versions of the score. So we will this week look back at earlier Cabaret recordings then discuss the latest release.

I was more blown away by a preview of the original Cabaret at the Broadhurst Theatre than by almost anything I had seen on Broadway before, and couldn't wait for Columbia to release its original cast recording. As was the case with so many show albums produced for the label by Goddard Lieberson in the '50s and '60s, the recording features substantial cuts and alterations. To note just a few: the key Act One finale reprise of "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" was not preserved (which means that Tony winner Peg Murray is not heard on the album); the second act finale features fake song reprises in place of the chilling spoken lines brought back from earlier in the show; most of the entr'acte and dance music has been omitted; and Sally Bowles (Jill Haworth) is not heard in "Meeskite."

But the original cast is ideal: No one will ever bring to the role of Fraulein Schneider the degree of authenticity and genius that Lotte Lenya provided. Jack Gilford's Herr Schultz has never been touched. For all the criticism that was directed at Haworth's Sally, her sound is exactly right for the role. And Joel Grey's Emcee would also be difficult to top. For all the trims, the original recording does capture the excitement of the production and is an essential item in any show collection. While this recording has long been available on CD, it will receive its first remastering and restoration when it appears on March 31 as one of six entries in the new Sony Legacy series of reissues (the other titles in that batch are Camelot, My Fair Lady '59, On The Town, Kiss Me, Kate, and A Chorus Line). The new CD will include four bonus tracks taken from Kander and Ebb's original demos, including the cut songs "I Don't Care Much" (restored for Grey in the 1987 Broadway revival) and "Roommates."

The CBS cast recording of the scintillating 1968 Palace Theatre, London production is a more accurate rendering of the score; while it doesn't find room for the dance music, it has the Act One finale "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" reprise, the second-act finale as performed in the theatre, and a number of other previously unrecorded bits and pieces. Judi Dench was the finest of all the Sallys that appeared in Hal Prince's original staging, and if she's obviously not much of a singer, her Sally is a perfect example of how one can give a thrilling musical theatre performance without a great singing voice. Lila Kedrova may be the only lady who has ever seriously challenged Lenya's Schneider; Barry Dennen makes a very creepy Emcee; and Kevin Colson, later prominent in Aspects of Love, was Cliff. I love both the original New York and London cast albums, and feel that both are required.

There is, of course, the soundtrack recording of the great 1972 film version, but the movie is an entirely different animal from the stage show, with all the character songs eliminated, and the singing (with the exception of the beer garden "Tomorrow Belongs To Me") confined to the stage of the Kit Kat Klub. Many stage numbers were dropped; "Mein Herr" replaced "Don't Tell Mama"; a new "Money Song" replaced the original; and "Maybe This Time," which had first appeared on an early Liza Minnelli recital, was added. Within 20 years of its premiere, Cabaret took its place as part of the standard musical theatre repertoire, constantly revived around the world, and its recording history has followed suit. The 1986 London revival, staged by Gillian Lynne and built around dancer Wayne Sleep's Emcee, was only so-so, and its First Night cast album is the same; many revivals of the show feature one or more of the film songs, and this one includes "Maybe This Time" for Kelly Hunter's Sally. There are at least half a dozen foreign language cast recordings, including performances in Greek, Italian, German, and Dutch. The one worth tracking down is the recording (now available on CD) of the 1970 Viennese production (in Prince's staging), a wonderful performance notable for the Emcee of Blanche Aubry, a female performer who is quite scary in the part.

Recorded in 1993 but only recently released, TER's double-CD set tops all previous recordings in terms of documentation. It preserves a great deal of music from the original 1966 version not previously recorded (and all in its original Don Walker orchestration), including three substantial dance sequences; the complete "Perfectly Marvelous" scene; all of the original "Money Song"; Herr Schultz's "Married" reprise; Sally's brief duet with Schultz in "Meeskite"; the complete six-minute entr'acte (the all-female Kit Kat Klub band began playing during the intermission); the scenes that surround the title number; the play out music; and more.

And then there's almost a half-hour of bonus material. From the '87 Broadway production, there are the combination of stage and film "Money Song"s, the restored "I Don't Care Much," and "Don't Go," which replaced "Why Should I Wake Up?." From the film, there are "Mein Herr," "Maybe This Time," the Emcee-Sally "Money Song," and the brief Tiller Girls sequence.

If the cast here doesn't quite equal those to be heard on the original Broadway and West End albums, it's a classy company. The chance to hear Judi Dench, now a Dame and one of England's foremost actresses, moving from Sally Bowles to Fraulein Schneider is irresistible, and she brings to the older character her considerable skills as singer-actress. The vocal standout is Gregg Edelman's Cliff, and he gets to preserve the song he introduced in '87, "Don't Go," as well as the song he never got to sing in that revival, "Why Should I Wake Up?"

It's initially jarring to hear none other than Fred Ebb himself as Herr Schultz, simply because I'm so used to hearing him on demos and at special events rather than in a full role with orchestra. But he is suited to the part, does a nice job on "Meeskite," and is fun to hear reunited with Dench on "It Couldn't Please Me More." Many thought Jonathan Pryce was performing a variation on Cabaret's Emcee when he played the Engineer in Miss Saigon, so it's fitting that he should now take on Grey's role; he does it with great flair and wit.

No Sally ever got to record as many songs as does Maria Friedman here. The head tones that were so perfect for her Passion Fosca make her somewhat less ideal for Sally; Friedman has an oddly placed voice, soprano-ish with useful extensions up and down, but she lacks the gritty chest belt of most Sallys. But she is able to provide ringing tones when needed, offers a very intelligent performance, and is especially strong in the dialogue.

The lavishness of the casting doesn't end there: Caroline O'Connor, star of the West End Mack and Mabel and Romance/Romance and soon to be Velma in the Australian Chicago, delivers Fraulein Kost's Act One finale "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" reprise. And the Kit Kat Klub girls are all West End regulars: O'Connor, Claire Moore, Louise Gold, Jacqueline Dankworth, Clare Burt, and Gay Soper.

Quite obviously, no other Cabaret recording is ever likely to offer such a comprehensive look at the score or serve as such an invaluable resource for future presenters.

-- You can contact me atkenmanbway@aol.com