Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Three Reissues From RCA Victor

Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Three Reissues From RCA Victor THE GOLDEN APPLE
Of the three new reissues from RCA Victor (in stores Nov. 11), the 1954 The Golden Apple must take pride of place. On June 15 in this space, I offered a reissue wish list, and the top slot went to The Golden Apple. The Victor cast recording, out of print well before the end of the '50s, reissued in the '60s by Elektra, but unavailable for decades, is finally back, and it must be heard.
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THE GOLDEN APPLE
Of the three new reissues from RCA Victor (in stores Nov. 11), the 1954 The Golden Apple must take pride of place. On June 15 in this space, I offered a reissue wish list, and the top slot went to The Golden Apple. The Victor cast recording, out of print well before the end of the '50s, reissued in the '60s by Elektra, but unavailable for decades, is finally back, and it must be heard.

The Golden Apple also received special treatment--the closing spot--in my book Not Since 'Carrie', as I consider it the finest show that ever failed to find an audience on Broadway. An off-Broadway transfer that was probably too sophisticated for mass consumption uptown, it's a simply glorious piece, its Jerome Morross-John Latouche score perhaps the wittiest, most inventive one ever composed for a contemporary musical. Above all, it's an original that sounds like no other work I know (with the exception of Gentlemen, Be Seated, presented in 1963 by New York City Opera, with Moross music to the lyrics of Edward Eager). While The Golden Apple is an opera with no dialogue whatsoever, it's entirely buoyant, light, and filled with accessible melody. Its deployment of source material--Homer's Illiad and Odyssey--is dazzling, particularly in the second-act "Spree" sequence of numbers. There are music-hall turns for Kaye Ballard's Helen and Jack Whiting's Mayor Hector; gorgeous emotional items ("It's The Going Home Together," "Windflowers") for Penelope (Priscilla Gillette) and Ulysses (Stephen Douglass); brilliantly sustained comic sequences ("The Judgment of Paris"); dramatic arias ("Mother Hare's Prophecy," "Ulysses' Soliloquy"); and a sultry standard in "Lazy Afternoon."

There are two problems with the recording: It's 50 minutes long and therefore preserves less than half of this all-sung show; the magnificent first act finale is trimmed to two minutes, and the opening number ("Nothing Ever Happens In Angel's Roost") is entirely absent. And intrusive rhymed narration, spoken by Whiting, was created for the album; on CD, it's separately tracked and can be programmed out, although these sections are underscored, and those in the "Judgment of Paris" sequence could not be isolated.

The cover of the Elektra reissue sported a luscious photo of Ballard and Jonathan Lucas (whose Paris was a silent dance role and thus unheard on the recording) in their first-act-curtain rising balloon, but the CD happily reverts to the even more luscious Hirschfeld drawing on the original jacket. Balllard, Douglass, Whiting, Gillette, Bibi Osterwald, Martha Larrimore, Portia Nelson, Geraldine Vitti and the others are heavenly, and after all these years, The Golden Apple remains astonishing. Now that the cast recording is back, can a City Center "Encores!" version be far behind? How about using this year's Encores! Boys From Syracuse leads Debbie Gravitte (as Helen), Davis Gaines (as Ulysses), and Rebecca Luker (as Penelope)?


GOODTIME CHARLEY
Larry Grossman is one of Broadway's hard-luck kings: A gifted composer who might now have the kind of reputation that John Kander or Maury Yeston has, Grossman's lot has been creating scores that range from enjoyable to exciting for such Broadway flops as Minnie's Boys, Goodtime Charley, A Doll's Life, and Grind; his Off-Broadway Snoopy was a modest success, but his latest show, Paper Moon, has yet to make it to New York.

The 1975 Goodtime Charley, written, like Minnie's Boys and Snoopy, with lyricist Hal Hackady, was a vehicle for Joel Grey. It was the star's second show at the Palace Theatre (following George M!) and first major flop (to be followed by another Palace failure, The Grand Tour). The big mistake with Charley was the decision to build a show around Grey's Dauphin and make Ann Reinking's Joan of Arc the second lead.

But Charley was not without its pleasures, including acclaimed Rouben Ter-Arutunian sets (in the style of Maxfield Parrish), good work from the stars (it was the most demanding vocal workout of Reinking's career), and an often pleasant score, helped along by Jonathan Tunick's grand orchestrations. "History," "You Still Have A Long Way To Go," "I Am Going To Love (The Man You're Going To Be)," "Merci, Bon Dieu," and the title song all have their charms. The score has some weak material too, and doesn't entirely escape the feel of a flop. Still, this is a good time to reissue the Charley album, as it preserves the first meeting of Chicago co-stars Grey and Reinking (you will note that Reinking's voice has changed over the years more than Grey's). And if Charley has Grossman's least interesting Broadway score, it's nonetheless worth hearing.


REX
A year after Charley, Broadway's greatest composer, Richard Rodgers, had a substantial failure with a show that was, like Charley, a less than wonderful idea. It was the extremely troubled Henry VIII musical Rex, and it was to be Rodgers' penultimate show, followed by another flop, I Remember Mama. But at its best, the Rex score is far better than the Mama score. This is partly because Rex has lyrics by Sheldon Harnick while Mama's are the work of Martin Charnin and Ray Jessel, but more because Rex often has the unmistakable surge of Rodgers greatness, and there's nothing quite like it.

Ed Evanko's minstrel Smeaton has beautiful stuff in "No Song More Pleasing" and "Elizabeth." Stars Nicol Williamson, who sang superbly, and Penny Fuller, who was terrific playing both Anne Boleyn and her daughter Elizabeth, share the very fine "Away From You." Fuller has a good solo in "In Time"; Barbara Andres as the doomed Queen Catherine has the plaintive "As Once I Loved You"; and newcomer Glenn Close shares "Christmas At Hampton Court."

Rex has one of those scores that, for all its unevenness, can't be dismissed and should be experienced. In fact, it sounds better now than it did originally, perhaps because Rodgers has been gone for almost 20 years, and there will never again be a Broadway career or talent like his. RCA still owes us a reissue of the soundtrack album of the Rodgers-Peter Stone 1967 TV musicalization of Shaw's Androcles and the Lion. In the meantime, you might as well grab all three of the new RCA trio.

-- You can contact me at kenmanbway@aol.com