Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: New From Varese Sarabande & Jay

Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: New From Varese Sarabande & Jay THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (Varese Sarabande)
Varese Sarabande's first concept album -- a recording of the score of an as-yet-unproduced musical -- is The Night of the Hunter, based on a novel by Davis Grubb better known from its riveting movie version (Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish). The tale of a murderous preacher and some denizens of depression-era West Virginia has been musicalized by Stephen Cole (book and lyrics) and Claibe Richardson (music), the latter the composer of The Grass Harp and Lola.

THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (Varese Sarabande)
Varese Sarabande's first concept album -- a recording of the score of an as-yet-unproduced musical -- is The Night of the Hunter, based on a novel by Davis Grubb better known from its riveting movie version (Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish). The tale of a murderous preacher and some denizens of depression-era West Virginia has been musicalized by Stephen Cole (book and lyrics) and Claibe Richardson (music), the latter the composer of The Grass Harp and Lola.

This is an intriguing, impressive score. The talented Cole's lyrics are very good, and if Richardson's music is not as ecstatically gorgeous as that of his earlier pieces, it's rich and handsomely melodic. Outstanding among the numbers are "Lookin' Ahead" for an ill-fated widow; the harrowing Wedding Night sequence for the widow and the preacher; and "One More Harvest" for an old country woman and the widow's orphaned children.

With orchestrations by Donald Johnston and musical direction by Todd Ellison, the recording features a superb company, headed by Ron Raines' powerful and very attractive baritone in the role of the preacher; the always excellent Sally Mayes; veteran Dorothy Loudon in a warm, non comic role (although she is again thrown together with some orphans); and Marcia Lewis, Jonathan Freeman, and Frankie J. Salasso and Andrea Bowen as the children.

As heard here, Hunter sounds like one of the more interesting and promising pieces of late. No doubt a production will soon follow, but you will want to investigate the score now.

CHRISTIANE NOLL: A BROADWAY LOVE STORY (Varese Sarabande)
Jekyll & Hyde co-star Christiane Noll's first solo album takes pre- existing show songs and weaves them together to tell a love story. Noll begins with a combination of angry, defiant songs from two Bernadette Peters musicals: "Wherever He Ain't" from Mack and Mabel and "No More" from The Goodbye Girl (about time someone picked up the latter, underrated song). She ends with the lovely, hopeful "The Next Time It Happens" from Pipe Dream. The songs have been cleverly selected to fit the concept, and Noll (who occasionally sounds a bit like previous Varese recitalists Liz Callaway and Michelle Nicastro) is an accomplished singer, able to move easily from soprano to belt (her Jekyll role confines her mostly to the former sound). She duets with herself on "You're Just in Love," and is especially good in a pair from Song and Dance; "Now When The Rain Falls," introduced on the concept album of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Noll's Jekyll co-star Linda Eder, but not used in the show; and the Rodgers and Hammerstein finale song.

THE PAUL SIMON ALBUM (Varese Sarabande)
Noll can also be heard opening "The Paul Simon Album" with a strong "Kodachrome." The second installment in the label's series of theatre artists performing the work of a pop composer (the first was devoted to Burt Bacharach) features one song from The Capeman (the very catchy "Bernadette"), but otherwise the material here is standard Simon. I especially liked Jose Llana in "America"; Jane Krakowski's "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover"; Sally Mayes combining "Feelin' Groovy" and "At The Zoo"; and Marcia Mitzman Gaven in "Bridge Over Troubled Water." If I'm still not certain there's a compelling reason for this series, the material and performances are fine.

THE SLOW DRAG (JAY)
Suggested by the true story of Billy Tipton, The Slow Drag is about a female jazz musician who lived life as a man, her secret known only to her torch-singing wife. But that intriguing story is not told in the songs, which are pre-existing standards, so JAY's cast recording of the 1997 London production (which features five bonus numbers not from the show) is simply a collection of smooth jazz vocals.

The cast of three (plus musicians) features Liza Sadovy as the effectively mannish-sounding sax player, and Christopher Colquhoun as a black entertainer passing for white. The main attraction of the recording is now-London-based Kim Criswell, playing the role of the singer-wife taken by Ann Crumb in the Off-Broadway production. Criswell is zesty and distinctive as always, particularly in "Why Don't You Do Right?," "Blame It On My Youth," and "But Beautiful."

THE BOY FRIEND (JAY)
Also from JAY is a reissue of TER's cast recording of Cameron Mackintosh's 30th anniversary London revival of Sandy Wilson's delightful The Boy Friend. In addition to Australian and German cast albums and the film soundtrack, The Boy Friend has two Broadway cast recordings (1954 with Julie Andrews; 1970 with Judy Carne and Sandy Duncan) and three London cast sets (the brief 1954 original with Anne Rogers, and the 1967 and 1984 revivals). The score is a treat in any version; Andrews gives the edge to the first New York album, although the '67 London disc (with the Polly of Cheryl Kennedy, who came to grief and had to be replaced when she took on Andrews' role of Eliza in Rex Harrison's '80s revival of My Fair Lady) is the best all-around performance.

Notable on the satisfying JAY 1984 recording are the Tony of Simon Green; the Hortense of Rosemary Ashe; and the Mme. Dubonnet of Anna Quayle (the droll original leading lady of Stop The World -- I Want To Get Off). I don't believe too much has been heard from this production's pleasant Polly --Jane Wellman-- since.

You can contact me at kenmanybway@aol.com