9 TO 5 [Dolly 925-Butterfly]
Let us suppose that you are in the process of musicalizing a popular movie remembered for, among other things, a catchy-and-instantly-recognizable title tune. Yes, you can take that title tune and turn it into a big, scene-setting, all-stops-out opening number; this will presumably get things off to a lively and energetic start. What's more, you're likely to remind the audience of just how much they enjoyed the movie. (If the audience, in general, didn't enjoy the movie, it's unlikely that you'll be musicalizing it for Broadway. Or is it?) But, then what do you do? I mean, for the next two hours.
If the stage score is better than that catchy-and-instantly-recognizable title tune, or let us simply say as entertainingly pleasing as that catchy-and-instantly-recognizable title tune, then you may breathe easy. Otherwise, you are likely to find that you have done precisely what you mustn't do in a Broadway musical: peak at the opening and then fall off a proverbial cliff. 9 to 5, the new musical that reached town after a problematic West Coast tryout and found an equally troubled reception here, does just that. 9 to 5 is one of those brash comedy musical comedies which has followed on the heels of Hairspray. There is a place for musicals of this sort, certainly; a tip-top comedy musical comedy is irresistible, and not to be taken likely. (How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Promises! Promises! remain high on my personal list of the funniest nights I've spent on Broadway.) 9 to 5, alas, does not follow in those illustrious footsteps, nor even Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or Legally Blonde.
It has become a cliche for us to unseal our new CD, break off that security tape (and sometimes a fingernail in the process), and proclaim: gee, it sounds much better than it did in the theatre. Not this time, it doesn't. Ms. Parton — Dolly Parton, that is, the country-Western singer/writer who crossed into mainstream stardom with her performance in the 1980 film "9 to 5," not coincidentally receiving an Oscar nomination for the catchy-and-instantly-recognizable title tune — has written the score and apparently served as the sparkplug for the whole shebang. Parton is a celebrated and record-setting songwriter in her field, and a good one. But the songs for 9 to 5, except the aforementioned "9 to 5," don't exactly enhance the theatrical experience.
Comparisons might be in order with Mel Brooks, of all people. Mr. Brooks does not have the musical experience of Ms. Parton; but what he demonstrated, in The Producers, was the ability to write musical comedy songs. Nothing that will cause the ghosts of Styne, Comden, Green and Loesser to tremble in their silver slippers, of course; but within the context of Bialystock & Bloom, and within the context of the two hours we spent in the St. James, those songs positively heliuminated — to coin a new word — The Producers. The Parton songs of 9 to 5 might be better songs, some of them, but they don't heliuminate the show. They don't actually deflate it, either. It's difficult to deflate a balloon that is only partially filled. Especially when half the helium is expended on the catchy-and-instantly-recognizable title tune in the opening spot. PS: If we were maintaining an honor roll, we would enroll Ms. Alison Janney here and now; and we would issue a special citation to Mr. Marc Kudisch for triumphing over the material handed him.
LEROY ANDERSON: Orchestral Music 5 [Naxos 8.559382]
Leroy Loves Goldie, I suppose you might say. Goldie being Goldilocks, the 1958 musical comedy that starred Elaine Stritch for a brief run at the newly-converted Lunt-Fontanne. (This was the show wherein the proprietors realized that their theatre — incorporating the vestiges of Charles B. Dillingham's venerable old Globe — had no orchestra pit. Forcing them to blast one out of the cement.) Leroy was Leroy Anderson, a highly successful composer of light orchestral music. You know, the sort of stuff that symphony orchestras would program to keep the less-sophisticated patrons happy by counterbalancing all those long-haired classics. Anderson's biggest hits include the still-familiar "Sleigh Ride" and "The Syncopated Clock." Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops just loved programming Anderson, but the very concept of light symphonic music seems quaint nowadays. George Abbott, for many decades the King of Musical Comedy, was always on the lookout for new composing blood and occasionally took a chance with one of those concert hall-types. First came Leonard Bernstein, with the 1944 musical On the Town; he turned out to be well suited for Broadway. Next came Morton Gould, with Billion Dollar Baby (in 1945), which was something of an artistic success. In 1952, Abbott turned to Anderson for a musicalization of the comedy hit My Sister Eileen with no less than Rosalind Russell in the lead. But Anderson's score, written with lyricist Arnold Horwitt, was rejected by Abbott and Russell; I've never found anyone who actually heard it, but it was found to be grossly unacceptable. Anderson and his songs were left sitting on the curb, and so went Leroy's best shot at Broadway. (Abbott called in Bernstein along with Comden and Green —lyricists of both On the Town and Billion Dollar Baby — and the trio, in less than a month, wrote Wonderful Town.)
Following this disappointing non-debut on Broadway, Anderson was enlisted for a second musical. Goldilocks was a gentle valentine to the days of the silent film; the show's co-librettist/co-lyricist/director, Walter Kerr, was a top theatre critic of the day who loved silent movies. The show underwent a not-untypical series of problems — beginning with the withdrawal of producer David Merrick — and disappeared into the annals of musicals that coulda but just didn't work. But Leroy Loved Goldie, as above stated. Anderson didn't have much time to orchestrate the show when it was being written. (Given his musical prominence, he was nevertheless given co-orchestator billing, in first position, with Phil Lang — although there were four uncredited guys writing charts, including the estimable Russell Bennett.)
Following the show's demise, Anderson prepared a second, full orchestration of the show with a smaller string contingent; this might well have been for the stock & amateur version, which I don't suppose has gotten much use. Anderson then went and made symphonic versions of many of the numbers, for use in the concert hall and on his popular recordings for the light classic market. It is these arrangements that make up 40-odd minutes worth of "Leroy Anderson: Orchestral Music 5," a release within the "American Classics" series from Naxos.
Goldilocks is a fun score, with plenty to recommend it. One need only hear the first track on this new CD, though — a rendition of the overture — to make you want to pull out the original cast album [Sony SK 48222]. This track is labeled "original version, orchestration by David Ross." That is to say, it seems to be a symphonic version expanded from the overture used on Broadway. This more or less retains the routine (although with some alterations) of Lang's overture, recasting them for a larger orchestra. Anyone accustomed to the Broadway album will immediately miss the crisp sparkle — and the immense fun — of that recording. This one sounds sedate; what's more, all that Broadway drum writing sounds positively eerie in this symphonic setting.
The other 12 selections are presumably orchestrated by Anderson, although some seem to heavily borrow from the Broadway charts (such as Bennett's "Lazy Moon" and Lang's "Pussy Foot" — which with its dance extension is quite a treat on this recording). This is perfectly suitable, mind you; the theatre orchestrations are property of the composer, so he is totally within his rights to use them. Some of the ideas within the orchestration might well have originated with Anderson, anyway. The most interesting among the tracks, to me at least, are the dance items that do not appear on the cast recording. These were devised by Laurence Rosenthal, who also most probably composed the sections that do not incorporate song material. "Lady in Waiting Ballet," originally orchestrated by Lang, is pure joy; Rosenthal and choreographer Agnes de Mille took a line of lyric about Sir Walter Raleigh and turned it into a fanciful fantasia. "Town House Maxixe," which helped nab a supporting actress Tony Award for Pat Stanley, is also quite charming; again, Anderson's chart seems to rely heavily on the Broadway orchestration, this one by Bob Noeltner (who also orchestrated the atmospheric "Pirate Dance" — and had provided orchestrations for de Mille back in Brigadoon). Also on hand is the "Pyramid Dance," based on the somewhat overly busy "Heart of Stone."
Included in these symphonic renderings are three songs with vocals attached, "Save a Kiss," "Shall I Take My Heart and Go?" and "Who's Been Sitting in My Chair?" (the only three full songs that Anderson orchestrated for the stage version). The latter is taken at a fast pace which robs the song of much of its gentle charm. Oh, well. Kim Criswell and William Dazeley do the singing.
The recording, under the direction of Leonard Slatkin, features the BBC Concert Orchestra. (Rounding out the CD is Anderson's 11-minute "Suite of Carols.") It's fine to hear another take on Goldilocks, and I'm glad to get the extensive dance and ballet music (especially the "Lady in Waiting Ballet"). But the overall result is to make you want to put on the original cast album. And if this new recording impels listeners to finally discover that 50-year-old recording, they shall be amply rewarded.
(Steven Suskin is author of "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations" as well as "Second Act Trouble," "Show Tunes" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com)