ON THE RECORD: A Complete La Mancha and Two New RCA Anthologies

News   ON THE RECORD: A Complete La Mancha and Two New RCA Anthologies MAN OF LA MANCHA Jay Productions CDJAY2 1304
John Yap has released the latest in his series of Masterworks Editions, a cast recording of the 2000 Covent Garden Festival production of Man of La Mancha. Some of the albums in the Masterworks series have been indispensable, like Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones's 110 in the Shade [CDJAY2 1282] and Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella [CDJAY3 1306]. Both shows have too much music for one disc, and the CDs contain fascinating and instructive cut songs. These scores also featured richly-textured orchestrations not fully appreciable on the original Broadway cast albums.

MAN OF LA MANCHA Jay Productions CDJAY2 1304
John Yap has released the latest in his series of Masterworks Editions, a cast recording of the 2000 Covent Garden Festival production of Man of La Mancha. Some of the albums in the Masterworks series have been indispensable, like Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones's 110 in the Shade [CDJAY2 1282] and Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella [CDJAY3 1306]. Both shows have too much music for one disc, and the CDs contain fascinating and instructive cut songs. These scores also featured richly-textured orchestrations not fully appreciable on the original Broadway cast albums.

The score of La Mancha, though, is virtually complete on its 1965 Broadway cast album; all fifteen of the songs are included. (This album was remastered and reissued earlier this year by Decca Broadway [012 159 387-2].) The new, complete La Mancha adds some incidental underscoring and a few stretches of not-very-interesting dance music, along with the complete dialogue. Is this reason enough to run out and get this new release? I think not. The complete show — songs and dialogue — was previously recorded by the 1968 London cast (unavailable on CD). I suppose that people directing or conducting La Mancha somewhere or other might want this new CD-set, but it doesn't really add anything for the musical theatre fan — unlike, again, 110 in the Shade, Most Happy Fella, or Jay's forthcoming One Touch of Venus.

Ron Raines gives a sturdy enough reading, at times sounding very much like Dick Kiley; but Kiley's performance is legendary, and now available in 24 bits. That's not to say that no one else can play the role. Keith Mitchell did the original London company, and Jacques Brel did Paris. Both stars made distinctive Cervantes, although not surpassing Kiley. (The second person to play the role, as it happens, was John Cullum, who played matinees shortly after the show opened in 1965. He was only 35 at the time, surely the youngest to play the role on Broadway. Perhaps he should "impersonate the man" once more?)

Kim Criswell plays Aldonza, a role perhaps not suited to her style. But why listen to Criswell when Joan Diener's soaring and swooping rendition is available? La Mancha is unique among musicals in that the same performer starred in the New York, London and Paris companies. Not coincidental, perhaps; Diener was the wife of director Albert Marre. But this was the role of her lifetime. The excesses of her personal style appear to have been written into the singing role. (While Diener was remarkable, she was apparently not everybody's favorite. When Kiley led the record-breaking 1977 touring revival, he accepted the job on the express condition that he wouldn't appear opposite his original co-star.) There are three Diener renditions of Aldonza on the record shelf, each more interesting than this new one.

All of which is to say, this complete La Mancha is one of the less indispensable titles in Jay's series. But we look forward to what will come next, namely Anyone Can Whistle.

GREAT MUSICALS RCAVictor 09026-63806
BROADWAY DIVAS RCAVictor 09026-63805
Over the past decade, RCAVictor/BMG has issued more than a dozen CD anthologies of Broadway songs (including the "Celebrate Broadway" series and "The Only Broadway CD You'll Ever Need"). For the casual show tune listener, they serve as tasting menus of hit musicals; for the collector, they occasionally offer tidbits otherwise unavailable on CD. Now we have two more, as the Broadway entries in the RCA 100th Anniversary Series.

Great Musicals contains tracks from fourteen "great" musicals, including Hello, Dolly!, Fiddler on the Roof, Guys and Dolls, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, The Sound of Music, Candide, and Les Misérables. This illustrates the difficulty of these anthologies; the tracks from the last five of these titles are not the legendary originals, but later recordings. Columbia Records dominated the original Broadway cast field from the day Goddard Lieberson took over in 1947 until he finally retired in 1976. (After which RCA took control, beginning with a series of exceptional cast albums of exceptional Sondheim musicals.) RCA recorded some important shows during the Lieberson years; most critically, they snared what were probably the three biggest-selling cast albums of the 1960s, Dolly, Fiddler, and Hair. But during this period, Columbia was the label of choice.

This makes RCA's anthology less representative of "Great Musicals," say, than songs from "Great Musicals" recorded at some point by RCA. And some of the shows represented are — shall we say - of questionable greatness. Titanic, Ragtime, and Parade are worthy of attention in some respects, but great musicals?? Conversely, I was glad to find that the CD includes a previously unreleased recording of "Unlikely Lovers" from Falsettoland. (Disclaimer: I co-produced the original production of Falsettoland, but that's beside the point.) This was recorded live (led by Lewis Cleale) as part of William Finn's cabaret evening last January, most of which was released on the excellent "Infinite Joy" [09026-63766].

"Broadway Divas" comes across considerably better, and for the oddest of reasons. Again, the obvious "best" recordings by Broadway's leading leading ladies are on labels other than RCA. Thus, we get "Everything's Coming Up Roses" — but not Merman's rendition. She's represented with a track from the 1966 Granny Get Your Gun, which doesn't show her at her best. Barbara Cook, Patti LuPone and Madeline Kahn are here too, but not in roles they created; the tracks are taken from benefit performances. The happy result of this search for performances in RCA's archives is the inclusion of some relatively obscure performances that might make you want to go out and buy the original CD they came from. Like Liza Minnelli's rendition of "Sing Happy," from Flora, the Red Menace. This is a flawed show, certainly; but Minnelli's performance is the real thing. Or Mary Martin singing "Before I Kiss the World Goodbye." Jennie was a mess of a musical, but Arthur Schwartz's final score is warmly melodic (if spotty); and the song is lovely. Julia Murney is included as one of the Broadway divas — the liner notes explain "I'm being presumptuous and hopeful here" — with her rendition of "Raise the Roof" from Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party. Again, this is an exciting CD that you might have overlooked, and this track should be enough to convince you to go out and buy it.

Barbara Harris is represented with "What Did I Have That I Don't Have," from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, another lesser-known CD that musical comedy fans ought to have. Of most interest, perhaps, is the inclusion of the performance that made a star of Eartha Kitt in New Faces of 1952. "Monotonous" is pretty wild, and instructive in this day of low-octane performances. (This track was previously included on one of the "Celebrate Broadway" CDs.) New Faces is one of the most interesting vintage cast albums still unavailable; as I understand, it has been held up due to contractual difficulties with one of the controlling estates. There is some material on this one that all good musical comedy fans should know, so let's hope that New Faces of 1952 — combined with selected tracks from New Faces of 1956 -— is forthcoming.

Both anthologies have been compiled by BMG's Bill Rosenfield, who provides typically humorous sets of liner notes. These allow him to slip in some questionable choices, like a track from the revival of Once Upon a Mattress. ("Sarah Jessica Parker: Broadway Diva? Well, why not," Rosenfield asks.) But where oh where is Gwen Verdon, who recorded her three Tony Award-winning star turns on RCA? — by Steven Suskin, author of "Broadway Yearbook 1999-2000" and "Show Tunes" (both from Oxford University Press) and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books.