Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Steel Pier/Candide

Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Steel Pier/Candide On July 29, RCA Victor released two posthumous cast recordings, Steel Pier a month after its closing, and Candide two days following its demise. Both productions had been expected to win acclaim and success, and neither did; indeed, with the possible exception of Whistle Down The Wind, Pier was the most eagerly anticipated new musical of the season, and perhaps its biggest disappointment.
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On July 29, RCA Victor released two posthumous cast recordings, Steel Pier a month after its closing, and Candide two days following its demise. Both productions had been expected to win acclaim and success, and neither did; indeed, with the possible exception of Whistle Down The Wind, Pier was the most eagerly anticipated new musical of the season, and perhaps its biggest disappointment.

On a generous 74-minute disc that includes just the right amount of scene setting dialogue and terrific dance music by Glen Kelly, Steel Pier sounds mighty good. If it's not one of Kander and Ebb's absolute best, and if Kander's work is more distinguished than Ebb's here, the score on disc--and divorced from most of the troublesome book--is atmospheric, attractive, and decidedly better than it was deemed in the opening night reviews. And Kander does very nice things with recurring themes and motifs, allowing the score to register as more than just a collection of separate songs; one of the score's most haunting melodies, first stated near the top of the prelude, recurs later but never becomes a song (and was not the melody of either of the two songs--"In Here" for the marathoners and "Winning" for Gregory Harrison-- cut during previews).

All the principals come across strongly, with Karen Ziemba in particularly good form, and Daniel McDonald having the advantage of the score's loveliest items ("First You Dream," "The Last Girl," "Second Chance"). The recording also reveals that Debra Monk's overlooked second-act song "Somebody Older" is actually more interesting than her act-one showstopper "Everybody's Girl," which is already starting to wear thin. Michael Gibson's orchestrations are a major plus.

Produced by Jay David Saks, this is a flawless cast album, one destined to take its place on the shelf alongside those of so many others that preserve scores so sparkling and enjoyable that future listeners will be left to wonder why the show failed so fast. If the Steel Pier score does not rank as high as such other scores in this category as Merrily We Roll Along, Mack and Mabel, The Baker's Wife, or Greenwillow, it compares favorably with such earlier Kander and Ebb entries in the same category as Flora, The Red Menace, The Rink, and 70, Girls, 70. And, as was the case with all of these titles, there can be little doubt that the Steel Pier disc will eventually lead to revival attempts.


Leonard Bernstein's Candide score has had five earlier cast recordings: The indispensable 1956 original Broadway set; the double LP 1974 Broadway revival cast; the double-CD 1985 New York City Opera version; TER's 1988 Scottish Opera cast; and the 1991 double-CD, Bernstein-conducted concert cast with opera leads.

Livent's recent Candide, the third Broadway production, was surprisingly short on amusement but musically acceptable, so the recording is pleasing. Jason Daniely is a fine Candide, and Harolyn Blackwell produces smooth, silvery tones as Cunegonde. Many will want the disc for Andrea Martin's Old Lady, very fun although lacking the vocal richness the role should ideally have. That's even truer of Jim Dale, who has no problem with Pangloss, but is not up to the demands of Voltaire in the first act finale, or the Governor's "Bon Voyage" and "My Love" (Dale rather daringly attempts the final notes of the latter number on disc--in the theatre, the chorus drowned him out).

This is not the place to enumerate or even hint at the hundreds of differences in material and orchestration on the six Candide recordings. Suffice it to say that one must have the '56-- for sheer thrills, no other Candide comes close, and there are simply no substitutes for Barbara Cook, Robert Rounseville, Irra Petina, or Max Adrian--and that one should hear one of the two Scottish Opera versions, as that has become the standard performance text. If you already have the two recordings that fall in between, or are (like myself) simply Candide-ed out, you may find the new set- essentially an abridged version of the City Opera text-- unnecessary. Still, it is a Broadway cast version, and one of the more stellar Candides. One of the chief selling points of the new disc is likely to be Stephen Sondheim's new lyrics for the Old Lady's two "false entrances" (amounting to less than two minutes), created to get Martin on stage earlier.

The new Candide is the second entry (following Songs From "Ragtime") in RCA's deal to record all Livent productions (although RCA had previously released First Night's London recording of Livent's Kiss of the Spider Woman domestically). Next up will be the full Toronto/ Broadway cast recording of Ragtime, a must as there's a considerable amount of music in the show not preserved on the first Ragtime disc (including the complete opening number, the first full sequence for Tateh and the Jewish immigrants, and a lovely quartet called "Nothing Like The City" for Mother, Tateh, and their children).

You can contact me at kenmanbway@aol.com