Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: The Unrecorded Ones -- Part 1

Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: The Unrecorded Ones -- Part 1 It's not an exaggeration to state that just about every Broadway musical gets recorded these days. For that matter, preservation is fairly common for smaller-scale efforts like Das Barbecu, john & jen, Cowgirls, and Bed and Sofa. Last season, the only Broadway musical productions that went unrecorded were the Johnny Mercer revue Dream and the revival of Annie, and neither was a great loss, although the latter did have a new Strouse- Charnin song for Nell Carter's Miss Hannigan called "You Make Me Happy." This season's Broadway musical line-up has already produced cast albums of The Lion King, Side Show, and 1776. The Scarlet Pimpernel is in the can for a February release; RCA will give us the full Broadway cast recording of Ragtime and the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Children of Eden; and Sony is likely to record the revival of The Sound of Music.
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It's not an exaggeration to state that just about every Broadway musical gets recorded these days. For that matter, preservation is fairly common for smaller-scale efforts like Das Barbecu, john & jen, Cowgirls, and Bed and Sofa. Last season, the only Broadway musical productions that went unrecorded were the Johnny Mercer revue Dream and the revival of Annie, and neither was a great loss, although the latter did have a new Strouse- Charnin song for Nell Carter's Miss Hannigan called "You Make Me Happy." This season's Broadway musical line-up has already produced cast albums of The Lion King, Side Show, and 1776. The Scarlet Pimpernel is in the can for a February release; RCA will give us the full Broadway cast recording of Ragtime and the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Children of Eden; and Sony is likely to record the revival of The Sound of Music.

But people keep asking about a recording of Triumph of Love, and it's a fair question in a time when just about everything gets preserved. It appears that in spite of a provisional closing notice, the recording will happen in January; but if Triumph were to go unrecorded, it would be the first time that happened to a Broadway book show since the 1993 flop The Red Shoes. There was a time just a few years ago, though, when it was not uncommon for a musical to open and close without a recording. True, Original Cast Records deserves enormous credit for preserving such '80s disappearing acts as Oh, Brother!, Bring Back Birdie, A Doll's Life, Onward Victoria, and One Night Stand (the latter a Jule Styne show that closed during previews). But other shows slipped through the cracks, and I am devoting the last two columns of '97 to a partial survey of musicals of the '80s and '90s that failed to make it to disc, leaving out unrecorded revivals and shows that never played New York.

To be blunt, most of the titles on this list do not represent major, deathless scores, with the world a poorer place for the lack of a recording. But there are a few that come to mind that, for various reasons, should have happened, and I doubt that there's anyone taking the trouble to read this who won't immediately think of Carrie, which celebrates the tenth anniversary of its opening night this May. Yes, the title song (on a Linzi Hateley disc) and "When There's No One" (on a Betty Buckley recital) have been recorded, and, yes, just about anyone who wants one possesses some kind of tape of the score (hardcore fans must have live recordings with both Buckley and Barbara Cook, as well as the Cook rehearsal tape, the Maureen McGovern workshop, and demos). But if the Michael Gore-Dean Pitchford score ranged from stunning, powerful material for the Buckley-Hateley scenes to trashy pop for some of the teen scenes, it was one of the more interesting entries in the pop opera genre of the last two decades. Gore had an obvious theatrical gift, and it's a shame that he was so discouraged by the failure of the show that he has yet to try again.

While one can argue for almost every title in this survey that only a limited number of collectors would be interested in a recording of such a short-lived production, Carrie might just have been the one to do a little better. A prominent collectors' record shop once had on display a CD case into which someone had cunningly folded and inserted a Carrie color logo flyer so that it looked like a booklet cover; more than one customer was stopped dead in his tracks, and there were even reports of heart seizures, etc. Two or three years after the show closed, I received an elaborate release announcing a forthcoming recording backed by some Wall Street investors, but nothing came of it; since that time, several record producers have expressed interest in preserving Carrie, but it appears that the authors are not eager to have it done. Still, it remains at the top of the wish-list of most fans.

The 1986 Smile, a dissection of the rites and backstage turmoil at a California beauty pageant, has a more consistent, high quality Marvin Hamlisch-Howard Ashman score; you can sample three songs from it on Varese Sarabande's Unsung Musicals I. In fact, Smile was recorded, with several of the Broadway leads (Jodi Benson, Anne-Marie Bobby, Marcia Waterbury) and synthesized accompaniment, for a demo tape to accompany the Samuel French acting edition text for those wishing to produce the show, and that tape reflects substantial alterations from the Broadway version that also appear in the French script. But the recording is not commercially available, and, while it clearly demonstrates the strength of the score, everything sounded even better on Broadway. Smile should have been recorded in '86; had it been, I'm certain that it would be constantly staged at colleges and community theatres. There aren't many other commercially unrecorded scores of the last two decades on quite as high a level, but there are others of interest. Roza (1987) ranks as the only musical directed by Harold Prince that opened on Broadway and went unrecorded; its Gilbert Becaud-Julian More score was spotty, but it boasted one of the last performances of the always enjoyable Georgia Brown, who had a field day as the eponymous former prostitute and concentration-camp survivor. The show would have been worth recording simply to preserve its one gem, Brown's opening song "Happiness." Wind in the Willows lasted just four performances in 1985, but had some lovely music (by William Perry) and Nathan Lane, Vicki Lewis, and David Carroll in its leading roles.

The First (1981), which told of Jackie Robinson's struggle for acceptance as the first black player in baseball's major leagues, had its moments, although its performances and scenic design were stronger than its Bob Brush-Martin Charnin score. But leads David Alan Grier and Lonette McKee had some strong musical material, and I have a feeling that a recording of this one would also have promoted further productions.

Harrigan 'n Hart (1985) was likewise not a total washout, and a cast album would have preserved not only the decent new songs by Max Showalter and Peter Walker, but also the ones by Edward Harrigan and Dave Braham that the team of Harrigan and Hart actually performed in their groundbreaking turn-of-the- century musicals. Another show that mixed old (John Philip Sousa) and new (Richard Kapp-Hal Hackady) was the 1987 Roosevelt flop Teddy and Alice, and while six numbers from it were preserved on a CD called Sousa For Orchestra, only one of those tracks features an original Broadway player (Ron Raines).

I would have liked a Broadway cast recording of the 1993 Dutch import Cyrano, as the pop opera had a fair amount of attractive music, and some startling singing from its Roxanne, Anne Runolfsson. Yes, there is a single- CD Dutch cast recording which features the same leading man -- Bill van Dyck -- who played the show in New York. But the local mounting featured lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and would, I dare say, have made for a playable cast album. Flopping around the same time as Cyrano was The Red Shoes, which by opening night had little more than a half hour of sung music mixed with the show's often stunning dance sequences. It was not a strong score, but the fact that it was Jule Styne's last makes one regret that it wasn't preserved (even if Styne cribbed some its music from such previous efforts as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Look to the Lilies).

Perhaps because it was Bob Fosse's last project, the misconceived Big Deal (1986) should have been preserved, but its entire score consisted of standards like "I'm Just Wild About Harry" and "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries," so even with distinctive performers like Loretta Devine and Cleavant Derricks, the lack of a recording is not a great loss. Nor can I grieve too much about the lack of recordings of the Broadway versions of Singin' in the Rain or Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (although the latter had David Carroll in the male lead), as they were not stage musicals to begin with, and both have London stage cast recordings plus others.

Moving lower down the scale, Welcome to the Club (1989) had several strong Cy Coleman tunes, and some attractive singers (Sally Mayes, Marcia Mitzman, Jodi Benson, Samuel E. Wright, Scott Waara, Scott Wentworth). The lack of a recording of the 1992 disaster Anna Karenina means that Melissa Errico did not get to preserve the first Broadway role she created; also lost was the work of Ann Crumb, Gregg Edelman, John Cunningham, and (again) Scott Wentworth, not to mention the somehow Tony-nominated score itself. The 1981 Dickens adaptation Copperfield had a few catchy and/or pretty Al Kasha-Joel Hirschhorn numbers, and pros like Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, George S. Irving, and Carmen Mathews.

Those following the career of Michael John LaChiusa will regret that his 1994 Hal Prince-New York Shakespeare Festival show The Petrified Prince was not preserved. While I am aware that the Tony-nominated Starmites (1989) has its admirers, I found the score to be almost wholly without merit. Nor can I say much for the Michael Rupert-Jerry Colker concept disaster Mail, or the misguided Joe Raposo Raggedy Ann (1986). But I would like to put in a good word for the 1987 off-Broadway musical Mademoiselle Colombe, an interesting near-miss with an often very attractive score by Michael Valenti and Ed Dulchin. With Tammy Grimes doing bravura work in her last New York musical to date, Colombe would have made a nice album, and I daresay I would have listened to it far more than I have to the discs of john & jen or Bed and Sofa.

And two scores that exist on disc, but not in their Broadway versions: There are any number of Starlight Express cast albums, including both the original and revised London recordings, and three German cast sets. But because it was decided to release an album of pop singers performing numbers from the show to coincide with its 1987 Broadway arrival, the New York cast never got to make their own album, so posterity can't hear Andrea McArdle, Jane Krakowski, and others (although Broadway's Reva Rice is Pearl on the second London cast disc). March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland were nicely preserved by DRG, so it may seem selfish to wish that there had been a Broadway cast album of Falsettos, preserving the numerous alterations made to combine the two pieces into one evening, as well as the performances of Barbara Walsh, Carolee Carmello, and Jonathan Kaplan.

Related notes: Mitch Leigh's scores for Chu Chem and Ain't Broadway Grand were both recorded; the former was never commercially available, but the latter was sold in cassette form at the theatre. One of the finest "lost" scores of the '80s, The Human Comedy, is finally available: The show was recorded in 1984 but not released until now, by Original Cast Records.


Next week: Part II: Camp Heaven and Revues