Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Jerry Herman on Disc, Part 2

Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Jerry Herman on Disc, Part 2 JERRY HERMAN ON DISC: PART TWO

JERRY HERMAN ON DISC: PART TWO

MAME: While Mame gave Herman his second consecutive smash --much of its run was concurrent with that of Hello, Dolly!-- it has a much lighter recording history than Dolly!; in fact, there's only one English-language cast recording, the original 1966 Broadway set, preserving the gleaming performances of Angela Lansbury, Beatrice Arthur, Jane Connell and everyone else. Less creatively conceived and staged than Dolly!, Mame was nonetheless a heap of fun, and allowed Lansbury to glitter as she never had before and offer one hell of a performance. The Columbia recording is missing a number of significant bits of material (including "The Fox Hunt") and could have benefitted from some lead-in dialogue here and there (such as Mame's first words in the show, just before "It's Today"), but the score and the performances make up for what's lacking.

Ginger Rogers was the effective star of the West End production, but while the Drury Lane production ran a year, it went unrecorded. Just as she had done with Dolly!, Beryl Reid, who never played the role and was hardly the Mame type, got to record a forgotten British studio LP.

Lovers of Lucille Ball like myself may prefer to draw a veil over the 1974 film version and the star's performance. While Ball does have some effective moments, her stock-in-trade (at least from her TV heyday on) was depicting middle-class, down-to-earth (if zany) characters the audience could identify with; she really wasn't eccentric, madcap, extravagant Mame, and I don't believe she would have been quite right for it even when she was closer to the right age. There was probably no choice but to use Ball's actual, bass- baritone vocals, for by this time her singing voice was too recognizable for dubbing. The soundtrack album --which includes an attractive new song for Robert Preston's Beauregard called "Loving You"-- lingered for years in discount bins.

Mexico's Silvia Pinal starred as Mame in 1973, and the cast recording of that production is fun. What's more noteworthy is that, while Lansbury had little success with her 1983 Broadway revival, Pinal's 1985 revival was enough of a hit to warrant a second Mexican cast recording. The complete BBC Radio 2 broadcast of a few years ago starred Julia McKenzie (who had played Gloria Upson to Rogers' Mame at Drury Lane) in the title role. McKenzie was supported by Libby Morris, Claire Moore, David Kernan, Robert Meadmore, and John Sessions.


DEAR WORLD: It was inevitable that reality --and the law of averages-- would set in, and it did: After two of the biggest hits of the era, Herman would experience three consecutive Broadway failures, the first of which reunited Herman, Lansbury, Connell, book writers Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, and others involved in Mame. A full account of the travails and shortcomings of this 1969 adaptation of The Madwoman of Chaillot is available in my book Not Since 'Carrie': 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops (which also includes Herman's other flops), so I needn't go into detail here.

Herman's fondness for bombastic production numbers reared its head in the inappropriate title number, and the score is sometimes too Broadway-ish for the delicate source material. But overall it's delightful, and has several really superb things. Once again, Lansbury is a dream, and never sounded better on disc than she does on the Sony Dear World cast recording. That album is the only Dear World disc, but there is talk of a Roundabout revival with Chita Rivera, so who knows?


MACK AND MABEL: This 1974 show was an even quicker flop than Dear World, yet it has three cast recordings and has continued to get produced with some regularity. It's quite obviously the score --one of the most admired of all flop scores-- that has kept Mack and Mabel alive, for the show never quite works. Indeed, I would suggest that if it didn't work with Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters under the direction of Gower Champion (and it didn't), it's not ever likely to work better without them.

MCA's Broadway cast album is all anyone really needs, as it has the perfect leads (Lisa Kirk is a plus, too) and unsurpassable renditions of most of the songs. Because the overture was heard as accompaniment to ice skaters Torvill and Dean in the Olympics, the recording was issued in England, resulting in a starry 1988 London concert (First Night CD) featuring multiple Macks (George Hearn, Denis Quilley, Stubby Kaye) and Mabels (Debbie Gravitte, Paige O'Hara, Georgia Brown, Frances Ruffelle), plus Tommy Tune and Herman himself. It substitutes the cut "Hit 'Em on the Head" for "My Heart Leaps Up," and is enjoyable listening, although it's fundamentally a presentation of the songs, with little pretense at dramatic coherence.

London got a full-scale production in 1995, with a less-than-ideal Howard McGillin opposite Caroline O'Connor, now playing Velma in the Melbourne Chicago. The result ran awhile but ultimately failed; the EMI cast album (which also uses ""Hit 'Em," and features a brief title number which is actually a reprise of "Look What Happened to Mabel" with a different lyric) is pleasant, but the Broadway recording remains the one.


AN EVENING WITH JERRY HERMAN: The first recording with this title (Laureate LP/ DRG CD) was made live on November 24, 1974 (Mack and Mabel was playing at the time) at the 92nd Street Y as part of Maurice Levine's Lyrics and Lyricists series. Herman narrates, plays, and sings, joined by three deceased artists, including longtime friend Carol Dorian and Joe Masiell, Dear World performer and Herman's lover for a time. The third name is what makes this disc interesting, for while these Y events usually featured competent but routine singers, this one has Lisa Kirk, who does exciting things with "Just Leave Everything To Me," "Before The Parade Passes By," "If He Walked Into My Life," "And I Was Beautiful," and her M and M song "Tap Your Troubles Away."


THE GRAND TOUR: Herman's least admired and performed flop score is nonetheless filled with nice things, and the Columbia cast album deserves to have the CD reissue it has thus far been denied. It was Joel Grey's second consecutive flop (following Good Time Charley) at the Palace, and the last Broadway musical to date in which he created a role. And it featured the only role Herman wrote for Florence Lacey, who can also be heard as Irene Molloy on the Varese recording of the last Channing Dolly! revival, and is appearing with Herman in his new Broadway show. If this adaptation of a '40s hit comedy was rather too mild, and if Grey and Ron Holgate were not ideal in the leading roles, The Grand Tour was moderately pleasant, and more enjoyable on disc.


A DAY IN HOLLYWOOD/ A NIGHT IN THE UKRAINE: Perhaps because Tommy Tune had lent a helping hand on the road with Grand Tour, or because Herman had worked with producer Alex Cohen on Dear World, or simply because he was in a bit of a rut, Herman contributed three numbers to the Hollywood half of this 1980 Broadway revue, and wound up with his first contribution to a hit since Mame. Herman's numbers were "Just Go To The Movies," "Nelson," and "The Best in the World"; the first two would reappear in Jerry's Girls.


LA CAGE AUX FOLLES: Herman fought hard to get the rights to material that had already made for a hugely successful French play and film, even though that material was already in development as a musical (called The Queen of Basin Street) by Jay Presson Allen and Maury Yeston, with Tune directing, Mike Nichols producing, and the story shifted from France to New Orleans. Well-suited to the property, Herman was wise to have grabbed it, and --with the help of Harvey Fierstein and Arthur Laurents-- he found the smash that had eluded him for 17 years.

Original Broadway leads George Hearn and Gene Barry were ideal, more so than anyone had expected them to be, and the RCA original cast album is the one to have. The Australian cast recording has a wonderful performance by Keith Michell as Georges, a role he also took over in New York. Because the source material of the musical had had tremendous international appeal, the show has had a long life in Europe; it rarely leaves German stages, where it is part of numerous "volksoper" repertoires. There's a wonderful Berlin cast album with major producer-director-actor Helmut Baumann as Albin, and good recordings from Vienna, Italy, and Mexico.

I strongly suspect that Broadway will see a La Cage revival in a decade or so. But I also suspect that the show is the reason why Herman hasn't returned to Broadway for the last 15 years: After contributing good scores to three consecutive musicals that didn't work, it must have appeared to him that the Dolly!/Mame days were over forever. Finally approaching that level of success again with La Cage, Herman may be reluctant to risk it again.


JERRY'S GIRLS: After a couple of off-Broadway/cabaret incarnations, Jerry's Girls embarked on a national tour in 1984 starring Carol Channing, Leslie Uggams, and Andrea McArdle that closed on the road but produced a double-CD Polydor cast recording. A year later, the show made it to Broadway for an unsuccessful run, and the stars were Chita Rivera, Dorothy Loudon, and Uggams.

Although the tour cast recording boasts a genuine Herman icon in Channing, McArdle doing well by three Mack and Mabel songs, and a special appearance by Herman, a Broadway recording would have been preferable, as Rivera and Loudon were in fine form, and their vocals would have made for more interesting listening. The Broadway version also included a couple of rare songs not in the tour, including "Have A Nice Day," cut from La Cage and wickedly rendered by Loudon.


AN EVENING WITH JERRY HERMAN: Arabesque recorded the 1989 Rainbow & Stars cabaret program which had Herman at the piano, narrating and joining singers Lee Roy Reams (whose Herman associations include playing Cornelius in the '70s Channing production, directing the most recent one, and playing Albin in La Cage aux Folles) and Karen Morrow. When the show was brought back, Lacey replaced Morrow, and it is that second R&S trio that is now on Broadway, in an expanded version of this act. Morrow sounds good as always, and, in addition to "If He Walked Into My Life," "Time Heals Everything," and "Song on the Sand," gets to do Ethel Merman's added Dolly! song "World Take Me Back."


JERRY HERMAN'S BROADWAY AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL: Yet another Herman salute, the 1993 Los Angeles gala is available on a Varese Sarabande videotape. Such Herman regulars as Reams, Morrow, Lacey, Hearn, Channing, and Uggams are joined by Davis Gaines, Bea Arthur (in her Mame "The Man in the Moon"), Lorna Luft, and Rita Moreno.


MRS. SANTA CLAUS: Herman's only post-La Cage score was for this 1996 Lansbury TV movie; the pleasant score is available on an RCA CD, and the film has been released on video. Also note another RCA disc, regular Herman conductor Don Pippin leading the orchestral Jerry Herman's Broadway.


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