Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Three Reissues

Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Three Reissues DARLING OF THE DAY (RCA Victor)
The history of the 1968 Broadway musical Darling of the Day is one of the more convoluted (countless librettists, directors, announced stars) and unfortunate (a New York Times second-stringer panned it on opening night, followed by fine reviews in the same paper from first-stringer Clive Barnes and Sunday's Walter Kerr). The show ranks as a genuine Broadway horror story, one I've already recounted in "Not Since Carrie : 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops."
Alexandra Geis, Benim Foster.
Alexandra Geis, Benim Foster. (Photo by Photo by Beth Lincks)

DARLING OF THE DAY (RCA Victor)
The history of the 1968 Broadway musical Darling of the Day is one of the more convoluted (countless librettists, directors, announced stars) and unfortunate (a New York Times second-stringer panned it on opening night, followed by fine reviews in the same paper from first-stringer Clive Barnes and Sunday's Walter Kerr). The show ranks as a genuine Broadway horror story, one I've already recounted in "Not Since Carrie : 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops."

But a concert mounting last September in York Theater Company's Musicals in Mufti series (with fine work from Simon Jones, Nancy Opel, and Stephen Hanon) demonstrated that, if the show is never likely to work as a whole, it has charm, wit, and a frequently delightful score, and ranks among the better flops of its time. York is considering a full production later this season, but in the meantime, RCA has reissued the long-deleted cast recording that preserves the two choice elements of the Broadway production.

Those would be most of the Jule Styne-E.Y. Harburg score, and glorious leading lady Patricia Routledge, who won a Tony for Darling but would thereafter continue an unlucky streak in American musicals with 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Love Match, and Say Hello To Harvey (she did not transfer to Broadway with her one New York musical success, The Pirates of Penzance at the outdoor Delacorte Theater). Routledge is an enormous talent, capable of inspired comedy (now documented and seen world wide in the TV series Keeping Up Appearances) and singing of near-operatic quality. She can also be heard on the London cast recordings of Cowardy Custard, Little Mary Sunshine, and Virtue in Danger among others, although more recent West End musical roles -- Nettie in the Royal National Theater Carousel, the Old Lady in the Old Vic Candide -- have gone unpreserved.

I've never agreed that Vincent Price was the reason the show failed; he was not ideal, but I doubt the show would have succeeded with another leading man. On the recording, his singing isn't great, but you won't wish to dwell on it when you have Routledge in a series of entrancing numbers: The charm song "It's Enough to Make a Lady Fall in Love," the ravishing "Let's See What Happens" and "That Something Extra Special," and the raucous showstopper "Not on Your Nellie." And she salvages the lovely "Sunset Tree" duet with Price.

The score has quite a bit of floppish material (most of it involving Peter Woodthorpe and Brenda Forbes), but Harburg's lyrics are the kind we don't hear anymore, and (with the exception of some of Bar Mitzvah Boy) Darling was the last time Styne was his old self. This is one of those cast recordings from a flop that's better than the show itself; and Routledge makes it special. PROMENADE (RCA Victor)
I recall sitting through a 1969 preview of Promenade (it was the first show at the off-Broadway theatre of the same name) in a state of bewilderment. It was different, occasionally fun, but generally loony; even with a classy production, I couldn't imagine that it would run. It opened to mostly raves but lasted about eight months.

The music is by Al Carmines, at the time a significant figure in the downtown Manhattan arts scene, simultaneously the gay Reverend of the Judson Memorial Church in the Village, and a prolific composer of unconventional off-Broadway musicals. The book and lyrics were by avant-garde playwright Maria Irene Fornes. The biggest names in the cast were Madeline Kahn and George S. Irving, but, as indicated in last week's column, they were both gone by the time the recording was made. Although the forgotten Sandra Schaeffer is acceptable, she's not Kahn, and the absence of the star in her early glory is unfortunate. But there is notable work on the recording by Gilbert Price, Alice Playten at her most delicious, and Damn Yankees' original Meg, Shannon Bolin.

The score is an indescribable stew of styles ranging from vaudeville pastiche to Kurt Weill, art song, and opera. Nothing makes much sense, and some of the numbers are interminable. But there are some extraordinary pieces, notably "A Flower," "The Moment Has Passed," "I Saw A Man," and (the disc's peak) Playten's "Capricious and Fickle." With their Gertrude Stein-ish lyrics, the songs give no indication of a story, but then Promenade's plot defies description. Still, Carmines' music is nothing if not original and inventive, and Promenade is literally incomparable.

One might have expected RCA to reissue New Faces of 1952, By Jupiter, Your Own Thing, Saratoga, Say, Darling, Two's Company, Maggie Flynn, How Now, Dow Jones, Make A Wish, Hazel Flagg, or Androcles and the Lion ahead of Promenade, yet it's worth a listen. Unlike the LPs, the Darling and Promenade CDs have the musical numbers in correct show order.

THE MAGIC SHOW (January/DRG)
During the '70s, Stephen Schwartz experienced a run of success almost comparable to the one enjoyed by Andrew Lloyd Webber a decade later. In quick succession, his Godspell, Pippin, and The Magic Show were major hits, among the longest-running musicals of their period.

The first two titles continue to get produced everywhere, but it was inevitable that The Magic Show -- which opened in 1974 and ran almost 2,000 performances -- would not. This is because Schwartz and book writer Bob Randall were creating a vehicle for magician Doug Henning, conceived as a display of his wizardry with a plot loosely draped around it. Henning did not sing (and barely acted), and while other performers took his role later in the run, the show existed only to show off a hot talent in a specialized field (Henning's other Broadway musical, the 1983 flop Merlin co-starring Chita Rivera, was not recorded). Unlike the other Schwartz smashes, The Magic Show is not much use to stock or high school groups.

The score is generally appealing, with Dale Soules getting by far the best of it with "Lion Tamer" and "West End Avenue," the latter highly extractable for cabaret use. The late Anita Morris makes a couple of bright appearances (her husband Grover Dale was director and choreographer). Until now, The Magic Show was one of the longest running musicals without a CD transfer of its cast album (originally a Bell Records LP); finally available, it's a pleasant curiosity chiefly of interest as part of the Schwartz career.

You can contact me at kenmanbway@aol.com