Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: From Duets To Duel

Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: From Duets To Duel DUETS: EMILY SKINNER/ALICE RIPLEY (Varese Sarabande)
The impression made on Broadway last season by Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley in their amazing double act as the Hilton Sisters in Side Show was so strong that many didn't want it to end. So it was a great idea to reunite them for an album of theatre "Duets," and the result should please not only Side Show freaks but many others.

DUETS: EMILY SKINNER/ALICE RIPLEY (Varese Sarabande)
The impression made on Broadway last season by Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley in their amazing double act as the Hilton Sisters in Side Show was so strong that many didn't want it to end. So it was a great idea to reunite them for an album of theatre "Duets," and the result should please not only Side Show freaks but many others.

The program is well chosen. Avoiding the big Side Show songs in favor of some catchy cut material from the score was wise. There are pop-opera numbers ideally suited to these voices ("In His Eyes," "I Know Him So Well"); traditional show songs ("Nowadays," "If Momma Was Married," "Ohio," "Baby, Dream Your Dream," "Little Me"), and several less familiar items (the gorgeous "Perfect Strangers" from Drood; "We Make A Beautiful Pair" from Shenandoah; The Life's "My Friend"; "Two's Company" from The Magic Show). The final track - "If We Never Meet Again," from the revised version of Rags -- is perhaps loveliest of all, but you will want to hold on for the very amusing "hidden" track that follows, which has the ladies impersonating the stars supposedly rumored for a London Side Show.

The overly souped-up sound makes it sometimes difficult to distinguish between the singers, but Skinner and Ripley both have clear, attractive, and rangy voices. We already know they blend well together, and it's good that they've been given the chance to do so again.

PETULA CLARK: HERE FOR YOU (Varese Sarabande)
Petula Clark is soon to head out in the new U.S. national tour of Sunset Boulevard, repeating the role of Norma Desmond she played in the West End, but this time with a new director and production. Her Varese Sarabande CD, "Here For You," is dominated by show tunes, ranging from Kismet's "Stranger In Paradise" to Tommy's "Pinball Wizard" and Rent's "Seasons of Love" (nothing from Sunset, probably because she recorded her own Polydor single of three songs from that score).

There's one from Someone Like You, the West End musical she co authored and starred in (she made a single of two other songs from the show), and one by the team (Grant Sturiale-Barry Harman) who wrote the songs for Olympus on My Mind. Clark reprises "Look To The Rainbow" from Finian's Rainbow, the film version of which she starred in. And there are four Sondheim songs, the latter three the disc's best tracks:: "I Never Do Anything Twice," "Losing My Mind," "Not A Day Goes By," and "Children Will Listen." Clark's voice has held up remarkably well, and retains its distinctive, handsome sound. If some of the arrangements are questionable (a couple of them are on the Skinner-Ripley disc as well), Clark still sounds like the star vocalist she has long been.

ORIGINAL CAST RECORDS
In addition to giving us new recordings and reissues from its catalogue, Original Cast Records now distributes recordings from many other labels. Of its latest batch, the most interesting is a reissue of its live cast recording of the 1980 Columbia University production of Fly With Me, a little-known gem written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (with additional lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and Rodgers) as Columbia's 1920 Varsity Show.

Set on a Soviet-ruled island off the coast of North America fifty years in the future (1970), Fly With Me has a nifty score. The major liability of the recording: The singers were clearly unmiked, so one must follow the printed lyrics to make them out. But this is a cute curio, and you may find yourself humming "A College on Broadway." In the now politically incorrect role of Ming Boy (his big number is "Peek in Pekin'") is none other than Peter Cromarty, now a top Broadway press agent, who has handled Victor/Victoria and Annie, and is currently representing a more serious Rodgers and Hammerstein effort, The Sound of Music.

Original Cast Records is also distributing its second disc bearing the title The Wind in the Willows. Both are adaptations of the classsic Kenneth Grahame story geared to younger audiences; last year's version (on the New Life label) had songs by William Elliott and no indication of whether or not it had ever been produced. The latest one, with a better score (by Dianne Adam, James McDowell, Gerardine Clark, and Katharine Clark), was produced by Syracuse Stage, and is on that company's label. (Note that neither of these discs documents the 1985 Broadway Wind in the Willows, which starred Vicki Lewis, David Carroll, and Nathan Lane; that one attempted to appeal to a somewhat more mature audience, and had a frequently fine score by William Perry and Roger McGough.)

Two discs distributed by O.C. on the Prestige label feature lyrics by Hal Shaper. The first is the cast recording of the 1974 Mermaid Theatre of London musical version of Treasure Island, starring Bernard Miles (who co-authored the book with Josephine Wilson) as Long John Silver; the music is by Cyril Ornadel. A TV version of this production was aired in this country on Showtime. The old-fashioned, conventional score - typical of the routine, pre-Lloyd Webber British product -- has its moments but is not nearly as good as the one Ornadel composed for Pickwick.

Prestige's Cyrano is an odd case. A year or two ago, I received a disc called "Cyrano de Bergerac": Highlight Album, made in Australia, with music and lyrics by David Reeves. The new disc is called Cyrano and has most of the same leads (including in the title role Normie Rowe, Australian pop star and that country's first Les Miz, Jean Valjean). This time, Reeves is the composer and conductor, but the lyrics are credited solely to Shaper, even though some of them are similar to ones on the earlier recording. To my knowledge, this Cyrano - another in a string of mostly unsuccessful attempts to musicalize Rostand's classic -- has yet to be staged. But some of its music is attractive.

Also from O.C. is a reissue of its cast recording of the late '70s off-off Broadway musical Duel, written by and starring Randal Wilson as Lord Byron. The fairly silly score bears the influence of the superior Stephen Schwartz musicals popular during that decade.

-- You can contact me at kenmanbway@aol.com