ON THE RECORD: Barbara Cook's "Tribute" and the original Stop the World—I Want to Get Off

News   ON THE RECORD: Barbara Cook's "Tribute" and the original Stop the World—I Want to Get Off This week's column discusses Barbara Cook's new "Tribute" to Wally Harper, and the original West End cast album of Stop the World—I Want to Get Off.
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TRIBUTE: BARBARA COOK [DRG 91493]
When Barbara Cook gets her hands on Harold Arlen's "Out of this World" or "I've Got the World on a String," you simply want to sit back with your remote and play it again and again and again. This is no surprise, really; we've been listening repeatedly to her recordings — both solo and cast — since she started singing for us, back in Flahooley. We now have the 2005 model Cook; the almanac says she was born in 1927, but it sounds like that must be a misprint. Whatever. I suppose that she can't go on singing like this forever. There is a hint of maturity nowadays, yes; it ain't quite the same voice that we heard on the original cast album of Candide. But what did you sound like in 1956, anyway? Listen to Cook's take on Charlie Chaplin's "Smile." Just perfect.

"Tribute," Cook's eleventh solo album on DRG, is dedicated to Wally Harper, who died in October 2004. Wally was a dance arranger (Company) turned musical director (Nine), but over the last 30 years of his life he was best known as Cook's arranger, accompanist, friend and artistic guide.

Harper was also a composer; the 14 songs on "Tribute" include four of his titles. (These include one of his few songs to make it to Broadway, the ineptly titled "The World Must Be Bigger than an Avenue." He wrote this for Debbie Reynolds in her revival of Irene, and it is actually quite workable.) Cook adds three pieces of Arlen to the very many songs of his that she's sung over the years; maybe it's time for DRG to dig through the Cook archives and give us an album of Barbara sings Harold! Cook also gives us three songs from Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which is a perfect match; here's your chance to hear "Make the Man Love Me." We needn't list them all, but it's sure to pique your interest in "Tribute" if I mention that we get "Hurry, It's Lovely Up Here" as well.

Michael Kosarin, musical director of Beauty and the Beast and other shows, has come in as musical director. He has also provided the new arrangements, with a handful leftover from Wally's years. Orchestrations are by Danny Troob.

STOP THE WORLD—I WANT TO GET OFF [Must Close Saturday MCSR 3028]
Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley's Stop the World—I Want to Get Off was a West End success in 1961 and an even bigger hit on Broadway when it opened at the Shubert in 1962. The US Stop the World was a veritable goldmine, with David Merrick's highest profit-to-investment ratio ever. (This might sound surprising, but I've seen the figures. Part of the explanation comes from the fact that he transplanted the show for a mere $75,000 in a day when a Broadway musical could cost more that $400,000.)

A major hit, yes, but I must confess that I've always found the original Broadway cast album rough going. The novelty of the score wore off for me quickly, and I've been all but unable to listen to the thing since long before the Broadway cast album was transferred to CD in 2001. Now, Must Close Saturday Records has released the 1961 London cast album on CD. Same show; same songs; same stars, Anthony Newley and Anna Quayle (who picked up the show's sole Tony Award). So how is it that I find the London cast album about 20 times more enjoyable than the other? In two days I've listened to the 1961 version more times, perhaps, than I've listened to the 1962 version ever.

Go figure. Part of the reason, no doubt, has to do with the sound on the Broadway album, which always seemed to me to have been recorded in the Holland Tunnel. But the London version is far more raffish than the other; the music seems rowdier, and Ms. Quayle is saucier. Some of the material is slightly different, and the U.K. disc includes numerous rude and funny snippets of dialogue. The orchestrations, while credited to Ian Fraser (with three helpers) on both sides of the Atlantic, were apparently souped up for Broadway — no doubt to help fill the enormous Shubert. Perhaps that works against the Broadway album as well. Whatever the explanation, I am surprised to find myself — finally, after all these years — enjoying listening to Stop the World—I Want to Get Off.

—Steven Suskin, author of the forthcoming "Second Act Trouble" [Applause Books], "A Must See! Brilliant Broadway Artwork," the "Broadway Yearbook" series, "Show Tunes," and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached by e-mail at Ssuskin@aol.com.

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