ON THE RECORD: Latouche Revisited and Vintage Kern

News   ON THE RECORD: Latouche Revisited and Vintage Kern TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE (Original Cast Records OC-4444)
John Latouche (1914-1956) was one of those exotic Broadway types who did some very good work, over the course of about fifteen years, but never quite made it commercially. His work is generally intriguing and intellectual, and he left behind exceptional scores for two neglected - and wildly different - musicals, Cabin in the Sky and The Golden Apple. (Neither of these shows have been properly recorded, unfortunately, and both cry out for slots at City Center Encores!)

TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE (Original Cast Records OC-4444)
John Latouche (1914-1956) was one of those exotic Broadway types who did some very good work, over the course of about fifteen years, but never quite made it commercially. His work is generally intriguing and intellectual, and he left behind exceptional scores for two neglected - and wildly different - musicals, Cabin in the Sky and The Golden Apple. (Neither of these shows have been properly recorded, unfortunately, and both cry out for slots at City Center Encores!)

Latouche's work and life were celebrated in last winter's York Theatre revue Taking a Chance on Love. Erik Haagensen devised an ingenious framework that served to introduce the all-but-unknown "Touche" to audiences. The show incorporated more than thirty of Latouche's songs, and there are more good ones which were not used.

Latouche is best remembered, theatre-wise, for the company he kept. His most important collaborations were with two of the more intriguing composers of his time, Vernon Duke and Jerome Moross. He also worked - briefly, but significantly - with Duke Ellington and Leonard Bernstein. Taking a Chance on Love is especially welcome for providing us with nine Duke tunes and eight by Moross, many of which are not otherwise available on CD. The Bernstein selections will be a surprise, too; there is a lyric to the composer's evocative title theme for the motion picture On the Waterfront, and an early version of what was to become "Oh, Happy We" in Candide. Latouche was one of several lyricists on that project, although he died before the show opened. (Years earlier, by the way, he had been announced as the original lyricist of On the Town, with the book to be written by Comden and Green.)

Taking a Chance on Love is performed by a cast of four, with Eddie Korbich doing an impressive job as the lyricist. He is joined by Terry Burrell (who does well on the Cabin in the Sky songs), Donna English, and Jerry Dixon. This disc is handsomely packaged, moreso than past releases on the Original Cast label.

Listeners with an ear for "serious" Broadway sounds will find taking a chance on Latouche well worth their while.

MELODIES OF JEROME KERN (Harbinger HCD 1804)
Jerome Kern started writing show tunes in 1904, and breathed his last in 1945. In some ways, he originated the sound of 20th century musical theatre. His work, though—other than the 1927 score for Show Boat and about a dozen other songs—is surprisingly unknown today.

With his playfully tricky harmonies and unexpectedly refreshing melodies, Kern was the pied piper for a whole generation of songwriters. (As a partner to music publisher Max Dreyfus, of the Harms and Chappell publishing companies, Kern was truly the leader of the pack.) His Princess Theatre of musicals of 1915-1919 inspired a whole generation. Two Harlem teenagers, for example, heard Kern's groundbreaking work and decided to go directly into musical comedy. George Gershwin and Richard Rodgers both did, too, and within a decade became Kern's friendly competitors.

Melodies of Jerome Kern was the final entry in the fabled Walden Records series of songwriter salutes. (Actually, it is a combination of two different Kern discs, both originally released in 1955.) These records were made on a proverbial shoestring for a label headed by Edward Jablonski, who has gone on to become our pre-eminent expert in the work of George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, and Irving Berlin. (He also became biographer and trusted confidante to the latter three, relationships which grew out of the fine work he did on the Walden albums.)

The series is noted for the rescue of what Jablonski termed "undiscovered, or unaccountably ignored, songs by our popular song writers," and by and large they did a marvelous job. (Ben Ludlow's arrangements for half of the selections on this set are a little too rooted in the fifties for my taste - a minor cavil - but John Morris does his customarily fine job on the others.) The singers include David Daniels (of Plain and Fancy), June Ericson, Warren Galjour, Jay Harnick (kid brother to Sheldon), and Christina Lind.

Some of the songs might sound quaint, initially, to modern-day listeners; but that's because those of us who grew up on the Broadway musicals of the golden age are accustomed to Kern's innovations. Listen closely, though, and you'll find the same of wonderful touches that intrigued Gershwin and Rodgers and the rest of the boys.

You'll also find some truly great songs. Jablonski wisely avoided Show Boat and the other big hits, so this disc contains many songs which are less familiar. Three are standard classics, but I'm always glad to hear "All the Things You Are," "I'm Old Fashioned," and "The Way You Look Tonight." There are also numerous gems which show tune fans should know, like "Why Was I Born?," "Don't Ever Leave Me," "In the Heart of the Dark," "All in Fun," and film songs like "All through the Day," "Pick Yourself Up," and "A Fine Romance." There are also three songs that I never fully appreciated before: "Go, Little Boat," a deceptively simple lullaby with intriguing melodic tricks, and two sheerly poetic stunners, "The Folks Who Live on the Hill" and "The Sweetest Sight That I Have Seen." The latter two are emblematic of one of the hidden strengths of this album: Ten works by the pre-Rogers Oscar Hammerstein, presenting the lyricist at his gentlest and most lyrical. Harbinger Records has given us eight of the ten LPs in the series, my favorite, perhaps, being The Music of Harold Arlen (HCD 1505). Still to come is a two-CD combination of Walden's Ira Gershwin and Arthur Schwartz albums. This will include Nancy Walker's impeccable rendition of the Duke-Gershwin "I Can't Get Started" (with updated and gender-specific lyrics provided by Ira), so it's something to look forward to.

Steven Suskin, author of the new Third Edition of "Show Tunes" (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