3HREE DRG 12992
3hree, the trio of one-act musicals developed by Harold Prince, opened last November in Philadelphia and is presently at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles (through June 10). A Broadway production for next season is in the works, but in the meantime we can listen to the highly enjoyable new CD (featuring the Philadelphia cast).
The piece consists of 3hree works. The Mice, based on a story by Sinclair Lewis, has a score by Laurence O'Keefe (of Bat Boy) and Nell Dunbar Benjamin; it was directed by Brad Rouse (of the Encores! Bloomer Girl). Lavender Girl has a score by John Bucchino (of Grateful), with direction by Scott Schwartz (of Jane Eyre and Bat Boy). The Flight of the Lawnchair Man has a score by Robert Lindsey Nassif, with direction by Mr. Prince.
All three musicals have a somewhat old-fashioned feel to them, but I mean this in the nicest way possible. (As best I can make out from the synopses, all three seem to address the subject of death.) The Mice starts things off well. "Mice!" is a snappy opening number; "That's All I Need" is a delicious concerted number; and "If You'd Be Mine" is a good, up tempo love duet (as the characters engage in a double suicide). O'Keefe and Dunbar bring to mind Bock and Harnick — which is not a bad place to start, is it? Lavender Girl seems somewhat slighter, perhaps because we only get sixteen minutes worth of excerpts, but Mr. Buccino does some wonderful writing. He is one of those composer/lyricists who seem capable of saying whatever he wishes effortlessly. "We've Got Time" is a delightfully syncopated dance tune, while "Dancing" is a lovely anthem-like waltz. Lawnchair Man doesn't quite come across for me. It seems highly imaginative and fanciful; I assume that it works far better in the theatre and in context, so I'll reserve judgement until I have seen it.
DRG has provided an informative set of liner notes, but you need to perform an act of origami to piece together the song lists and singer information. There is no such thing as a billing page, either; if you dig through long enough, you'll learn that the fine orchestrations are by Michael Gibson, with musical direction by Lawrence Yurman. The back page of the booklet, meanwhile, is totally blank. But don't take this as a bad sign; the recording itself is very good. (I just now wanted to check who did the fine job producing this album, and I had to slip out the booklet and dig through it once again to find that it was Hugh Fordin.) There are quite a number of intriguing performances on this disc, with a cast of nine sharing the limelight. Valerie Wright and John Scherer make a wonderful couple of misfits in The Mice; Will Gartshore and Rachel Ulanet play the doomed lovers in Lavender Girl; and Christopher Fitzgerald and Donna Lynne Champlin lead Lawnchair Man. Hopefully, we'll see them all in 3hree in New York. Soon.
I AND ALBERT Jay CDJAY 1353
Charles Strouse once told me that he had to battle David Merrick to get payment for his services during the tryout of Hello, Dolly! ("Go ask Gower!" the producer responded. Merrick never asked Strouse and Adams to rush to Detroit; Champion did.) Merrick eventually agreed to pay a royalty; he also optioned Strouse and Adams's next two musicals, both of which he ultimately dropped. Knowing Merrick, I wonder if he simply wanted to punish Strouse and Adams for that Dolly royalty.
Both shows failed, as it happened. Superman was quickly picked up by Harold Prince, who couldn't quite make it work. H. R. H. (as in Her Royal Highness), with a libretto by Jay Presson Allen, never made it to Broadway after Merrick dropped it in 1968. Strouse and Adams moved on to Applause, after which they returned to their Queen Victoria musical. Under the new title I and Albert, and with Mrs. Allen's husband Lewis as producer, it reached London's Piccadilly Theatre on November 6, 1972. Unsuccessfully so, closing after fifteen weeks. Don't cry for Lewis Allen, though; he had a piece of Strouse's next musical, Annie.
Annie's success led to the recording of several unsuccessful Strouse musicals, including this 1981 recording of I and Albert with four of the original leads recreating their roles. I like a few of the songs more than enough to make up for some rather iffy material. "The Victoria and Albert Waltz" — an instrumental — is one of the most delectable pieces by Strouse that I know; it trips along its merry way, light as air. A choral number called "I've 'Eard the Bloody 'Indoos 'As It Worse" is also a joy; the music is closely related to Annie's "The Hard Knock Life," but "Indoos" has a reckless abandon not found in the later song. The title song is charming enough, although "I and Albert" makes a clumsy phrase to sing; and Strouse also comes up with some nice rhythmic tricks in the main section of "The Genius of Man."
For those of you who like old-fashioned Broadway musicals of the 1960s, this album is recommended. Yes, it's technically a British musical of the 1970s, but it was written for — and sounds like — Broadway.
AND OFF THE RECORD Urinetown! The Musical is at present without a recording contract, which is reason enough to suggest you try to catch it live. The score by Mark Hollmann (music and lyrics) and Greg Kotis (lyrics and libretto) is unlike anything you've ever heard before, unless you've heard The Threepenny Opera or The Cradle Will Rock or Promenade. This is wildly slashing satire, and very funny, and the cast includes people like John Cullum, Jeff McCarthy, Nancy Opel, and Ken Jennings. (Cullum is the funniest I've seen him since On the Twentieth Century, especially in a song about killing bunny rabbits).
With a title like Urinetown! The Musical, you've got to be good. It is playing at the American Theatre of Actors, the most lavish (?) new off-Broadway theatre since Hedwig took us to Jane Street, and the limited engagement is scheduled to close May 28. As this column went on-line, I learned that one of the major record labels has wisely snapped up Urinetown!. But you might want to try to go now, anyway. I've never before heard of Hollman and Kotis, but these guys know what they're doing.
-- Steven Suskin, author of "Broadway Yearbook 1999-2000" and "Show Tunes" (both from Oxford University Press) and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. Prior ON THE RECORD columns can be accessed in the Features section along the left-hand side of the screen. He can be reached by E-mail at Ssuskin@aol.com