Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Lyricists, in Their Own Words

Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Lyricists, in Their Own Words COMDEN AND GREEN PERFORM THEIR OWN SONGS/ LYRICS BY LERNER (DRG)
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COMDEN AND GREEN PERFORM THEIR OWN SONGS/ LYRICS BY LERNER (DRG)

There are those who maintain that the best rendition of a musical theatre song is one performed by its composer and/or lyricist. I've never wholly subscribed to this theory. Fascinating as it is to hear Stephen Sondheim deliver his material on various demos and work tapes, renditions of the same numbers by Angela Lansbury, Alexis Smith, Elaine Stritch, or Bernadette Peters are more scintillating. Jerry Herman is a very pleasant vocalist, but his work was tailored to the likes of Lansbury and Carol Channing, and comes fully to life in their hands. Fred Ebb and John Kander are wonderful interpreters of their own material, but I'd still just as soon hear their songs done by Liza, Chita, or Lauren. And would you rather hear Cole Porter or Ethel Merman perform songs from Anything Goes?

Nor do I really believe the supposition that a song's creator necessarily holds some special interpretive key that only the writer's performance can reveal; Sondheim singing "Send in the Clowns" does not provide greater insight into the song than Glynis Johns. But if I don't believe that it's essential for full appreciation to hear show tunes performed by their composers, that doesn't mean that such performances aren't valuable and fun.

DRG has just issued on CD two mid-'50s albums that fall into this category. Originally issued by Heritage, they disappeared but were reissued in the '80s on DRG LPs. When these recordings were new, they were of particular interest because they featured a number of songs not available elsewhere. Forty years on, most of these songs have been preserved on other discs, but many will still wish to hear them as performed here. And both new releases feature substantial bonus material.

Throughout their careers, Betty Comden and Adolph Green have, of course, been performers as well as lyricists and librettists. They wrote substantial parts for themselves in their first Broadway show, On The Town, and continued to perform their work thereafter, even if they never again created Broadway roles. Comden and Green Perform Their Own Songs was first released in 1955, before the team took their A Party With Comden and Green to Broadway; that show produced cast albums in both its '50s and '70s Broadway incarnations, but the Heritage disc marked the first time they recorded much of this material. The greatest rarity of this recording remains the two songs from the little- known, unrecorded score (music by Morton Gould) of the moderately successful 1945 Broadway musical Billion Dollar Baby (a prime candidate for a concert or studio recording). And there are a number of items the team never did in their Partys. The original LP has been augmented with another 1955 Heritage album, Comden and Green singing songs from their It's Always Fair Weather, one of my favorite MGM musicals. If it may be more exciting to hear numbers on this disc performed elsewhere by Mary Martin, Nancy Walker, Rosalind Russell, or Dolores Gray, Comden and Green are always good company.

Both Party albums are available on CD, and the team continues to perform to this day. Although DRG has (on disc and video) Alan Jay Lerner in his Lyrics and Lyricists evening, Lerner performing his material is less widely available than Comden and Green doing likewise. Recorded just prior to My Fair Lady, Lyrics by Lerner is actually more a Kaye Ballard than a Lerner album, as she gets eight numbers (including the rare "A Jug of Wine" from The Day Before Spring and "Susan's Dream," cut from Love Life) to his five.

The disc includes seven songs from the wonderful Love Life score (music by Kurt Weill); Lerner is a very compelling singer, and Ballard excels at everything. And the bonus tracks here are a genuinely rarity, six quality songs (circa 1951) from the Lerner-Burton Lane score for the unproduced MGM film Huckleberry Finn, all but one performed by Lane. The Lerner-Lane team would later make it to Broadway with On A Clear Day You Can See Forever and Carmelina. Watch for a partial recycling of a section of one of the Huckleberry lyrics in Camelot's "The Lusty Month of May."


NANCY DUSSAULT: HEART AND SOUL (NAND)

Nancy Dussault's Broadway work extends back to the '60s and the peppy ingenue in Do Re Mi, the final Maria in the original The Sound of Music, and a leading role in Bajour; she later took over in Side By Side By Sondheim (alongside Larry Kert, Georgia Brown, and Hermione Gingold, all now deceased) and Into The Woods. In between, there was a great deal of TV and many regional musicals (Mame, Follies).

Dussault will be back in New York next month for a cabaret engagement at the Firebird Cafe, and she has also produced her first solo CD, Heart and Soul. From her stage roles, there are "Stay With Me" from Woods and "Make Someone Happy," her Do Re Mi standard. She includes such other lovely show songs as "Let's See What Happens" from Darling of the Day, "Roundabout" from Two's Company, and "The Siren's Song" from Leave It To Jane.

Dussault still sounds good; she's a very warm, direct singer who brings her acting experience to every song, and this is an entirely appealing performance.


MAMALOSHEN (Nonesuch)

If you have always wanted to hear "Maria" from West Side Story and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" from Mary Poppins, not to mention "White Christmas," "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and "The Hokey Pokey," sung in Yiddish, now's your chance; all are included on Mandy Patinkin's new solo disc Mamaloshen. Fulfilling the late Joseph Papp's request following a benefit that he keep the Yiddish song repertoire alive, Patinkin here devotes an entire recital to it. Mixing traditional and contemporary material with some from the Yiddish theatre, Patinkin is joined for two duets by Titanic's Judy Blazer, who perhaps not so coincidentally shares a number called "Song of the Titanic."

While this disc obviously has little to do with theatre music, it's actually one of Patinkin's better solo albums. He makes lovely sounds, connects with the material, and his trademark over-the-top intensity and excess schmaltz are at home here.


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