Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Masterworks & More

Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Masterworks & More COLUMBIA BROADWAY MASTERWORKS (Sony Classical/Columbia/Legacy)
Unlike the five titles that last spring kicked off the Columbia Broadway Masterworks series, the new batch of four reissues contains no restored original cast material, like the couple of minutes of "Hello, Twelve" that surfaced on A Chorus Line. And all but one of these titles has been previously remastered on CD, a couple of them fairly recently. But all now have bonus material beyond earlier LP and CD issues, and, of course, pristine sound.

COLUMBIA BROADWAY MASTERWORKS (Sony Classical/Columbia/Legacy)
Unlike the five titles that last spring kicked off the Columbia Broadway Masterworks series, the new batch of four reissues contains no restored original cast material, like the couple of minutes of "Hello, Twelve" that surfaced on A Chorus Line. And all but one of these titles has been previously remastered on CD, a couple of them fairly recently. But all now have bonus material beyond earlier LP and CD issues, and, of course, pristine sound.

The original 1957 Broadway cast recording of West Side Story received a "super bit mapping" remastering a few years ago in Columbia Legacy's Mastersound Album Classics series. But that issue was high priced, and included the original LP jacket notes and no photos. Now a state-of-the-art sound version is available at a good price, and there are new notes (by this writer) and photos. (In the photo on page 11, I believe the actor identified as Mickey Calin is Martin Charnin -- who also contributed an essay to the booklet-- while the one billed as Jamie Sanchez is probably George Marcy, and the one listed as Ken Le Roy is probably someone else. The back cover photo depicts Allyn McLerie as Anita, rather than Chita Rivera, although there's no caption.) The bonus tracks are composer Leonard Bernstein's 1961 recording of the 20-minute West Side Story "Symphonic Dances" suite.

Even after Bernstein's very successful double-disc Deutsche Grammophon recording (with those miscast opera stars), a complete JAY version, and several others with more material than can be heard here, the '57 West Side Story recording remains the most electric and features a cast that has never been matched. (The only Tonys and Marias that approach Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence are the pair of Americans -- Marlys Watters and Don McKay -- heard on the HMV four-track EP from the original London production; David Holliday on two British Music for Pleasure studio recordings; and Julia Migenes on the Viennese cast recording. No Anita can touch Chita Rivera's, although Caroline O'Connor's on JAY comes close.)

Performers aside, the realization that you are listening to arguably the finest Broadway musical and/or score in the canon, captured three days after the opening and performed by a youthful company who couldn't have known quite the historical impact and place this show would ultimately have, makes this a moving disc indeed.

More Bernstein is available in On the Town; while no full-length recording of the score was made in 1944, Goddard Lieberson reassembled original principals Nancy Walker, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Cris Alexander in the studio in 1960 to make one, conducted by the composer, and featuring the gorgeous voice of John Reardon as Gabey. (Walker and Reardon had just opened in Comden and Green's Do Re Mi when this recording -- minus "Do-Do-Re-Do" and "I Understand"--was first issued.) There are now two worthwhile and more complete Town sets (DG, JAY), plus a London cast recording; no doubt the forthcoming Broadway revival will produce another. But this one remains essential for its stylistic authenticity and performances. The CD bonuses are the overture, from Lehman Engel's 1958 collection (West Side Story's reissue did not acquire the show's overture or entr'acte, which can be heard on the JAY version), and Bernstein's 1963 recording of three "dance episodes."

Annie is the sole title here never before remastered for CD, and also the one with the most unusual bonus material, seven selections from a 1972 backer's audition. Of these songs, four are unknown; one ("We've Got Annie") was recycled for the film; "Just Wait" has the same tune as "Little Girls"; and the other is "Tomorrow." The Kander and Ebb bonuses on the Cabaret reissue were choice; these tracks indicate why Annie took another five years to make it to the Alvin Theatre. Otherwise, the score remains top-notch old-fashioned Broadway, and the performances by the leads remind one what was missing in the recent revival.

On Feb. 15, 1998, I offered in this space a discussion of all recordings of The Sound of Music prior to the current revival, so I need not say much more about the latest reissue of the first Broadway recording except to note that the principals -- in particular Mary Martin and Patricia Neway -- make it irreplaceable. Unlike its previous CD remastering, the new issue reproduces the charming original cover artwork. And the bonus tracks are orchestrator Robert Russell Bennett's "Symphonic Picture for Orchestra" arrangement of music from the score (including film additions), recorded in 1968 by William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony, plus the original cast kids joining Mitch Miller and his sing along gang on a single of "Do-Re-Mi."

GEORGE GERSHWIN: THE 100th BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION (RCA)
This double-CD set features Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony in a two-hour program of Gershwin orchestral pieces, recorded in S.F. in the summers of 1997 and 1998; Tilson-Thomas led a similar program at Carnegie Hall last month that was aired over PBS.

What will be of particular interest to show fans is the chance to hear that supreme Ragtime pair, Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell, in music from Porgy and Bess. The set opens with a 41-minute arrangement of Gershwin's 1936 "Catfish Row Suite," into which have been integrated four songs which feature the soloists: "Summertime," "Bess, You Is My Woman Now," "My Man's Gone Now," and "There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon" (the telecast also featured "I'm on My Way" and "It Ain't Necessarily So").

The singers are very impressive, and it's nice to hear music that these days is most often performed by full-blown opera singers delivered by theatre artists. One only wishes McDonald and Mitchell had been given a full disc of Gershwin songs and duets, featuring more of the music for the title characters of Porgy and Bess, as well as other theatre and film songs.

HELEN REDDY: CENTER STAGE (Varese Sarabande)
Helen Reddy's new album of show songs features a quality program, including numbers from musicals ("Tell Me It's Not True" from Blood Brothers, "Blow, Gabriel Blow" from Anything Goes, "You're Just in Love" from Call Me Madam ) in which she has appeared. There's a gospel setting of Sunset Boulevard 's "Surrender"; The Life 's "My Friend" (a duet with Jessica Williams); plus "Knowing When To Leave," "Love, Look Away," "The Party's Over," and more.

I was happy to note the inclusion of the vibrant, neglected Drood finale song "The Writing on the Wall." And because I've always found Lucie Arnaz's singing on the cast album of They're Playing Our Song highly reminiscent of Reddy's, I was amused to find Reddy including Arnaz' eleven o-clock ballad from that score, "I Still Believe in Love." The most unexpected track: "A Boy Like You," Mrs. Maurant's moving final aria from Street Scene.

The laid-back Reddy doesn't plumb the emotional depths of some of this material, but she connects with Ballroom 's "Fifty Percent" and the Blood Brothers song. And she remains a smooth, attractive vocalist, notably in "Speak Low" and "With Every Breath I Take" from City of Angels.

You can contact me at kenmanbway@aol.com