Vincent Youmans' 1932 musical, Through the Years, his last full score written for Broadway, will get its world premiere recording on the ps classics label, with a release expected for fall.
A cast headed by soprano Heidi Grant Murphy (New York Philharmonic's Sweeney Todd) and Broadway's Brent Barrett (Chicago, Annie Get Your Gun) goes into the recording studio the week of July 9, producer Tommy Krasker told Playbill On-Line. The supporting roles will be filled by Hunter Foster (Urinetown, Grease!) and his wife, Jennifer Cody (Manhattan Theatre Club's The Wild Party); Philip Chaffin (of the ps classics disc, "Where Do I Go From You?"); and one actor still being cast. A full chorus also performs. Aaron Gandy conducts. Members of the Youmans family will be in attendance at the recording sessions.
"Aaron Gandy, a conductor and Youmans scholar, brought the show to me," Krasker said. "I didn't know the score at all, but I was instantly taken — part operetta, part musical comedy, it seemed to me the best of both worlds. It was full of beautiful melodies interwoven throughout the score, and I thought it would make a wonderful recording. The title song was Youmans' favorite of all his melodies."
Youmans may be best known for No, No, Nanette and the songs "Hallelujah," "Tea for Two," "I Want to be Happy" and "More Than You Know." Audiences expected frothy musical comedy in Through the Years, but their expectations were thwarted, though the supporting players do get some choice material worthy of the frivolous No, No, Nanette.
Through the Years covers a 40-year time span and has been called "Kern-like" by historians who note that both composers were interested in long musical scenes and recurring musical ideas that felt like nods to operetta. (Kern's Show Boat also similarly follows two generations of history.) The Ireland-set show (with book by Brian Hooker, lyrics by Edward Heyman) begins in 1914 and follows Kenneth and Kathleen, who plan to wed. Kathleen's guardian, John, objects to the marriage because of past problems between the families. In Act Two, John recalls the past, when he was betrothed to Kathleen's aunt, Moonyeen. In Act Three, five years have passed since 1914. The casting involves doubling and dual roles. The musical is based on a play by Allan Langdon Martin called Smilin' Through. "In researching it, I found a great quote from the original New York Times review, where the critic called it 'felicitously melodic, and in its mood, design and organic unity, far ahead of its predecessors,'" Krasker said. "Those were exactly the qualities I found so appealing. And it was so warm and romantic. The show had been a huge flop in 1932, and one of the clear reasons, even back then, was that Youmans had decided to produce it himself, and in his eagerness, had overproduced it. The show is a chamber operetta, very intimate, with just six principals, but as seen originally, it was a big lumbering spectacle. Aaron wanted to take the original orchestration, which was scored for a symphony orchestra — that's even how it was billed in the program — and reduce it down to what the show seemed to call for: a chamber group of 15. He had about 10 charts adapted by late January when we did a playthrough with some of our favorite musicians; their enthusiasm matched our own — several of them thought the score had echoes of Debussy and Faure — so we decided to move forward."
Two hits emerged from the 20-performance flop: "Drums in My Heart" and "Through the Years." Two numbers are being restored for the single-disc album: One song that was cut in rehearsal, and another cut following the opening, Krasker said.
Producer Krasker is known for producing the treasured-by-fans Gershwin recordings of Strike Up the Band, Pardon My English, Girl Crazy, Oh, Kay! and more. Barrett sang the leading man on the Krasker-Nonesuch-Roxbury Strike Up the Band discs. Still a producer for Nonesuch, helming discs by Audra McDonald, Mandy Patinkin, Dawn Upshaw and others, Krasker also runs his own label, ps classics, meant to focus on underheard singers, obscure shows and classic show music.
The first two releases of ps classics, "Philip Chaffin: Where Do I Go From You?" and "Windflowers: The Songs of Jerome Moross," are available at psclassics.com and at stores.
— By Kenneth Jones