MARIA FRIEDMAN: Now and Then [Sony Classical 82876-81427]
Just when Maria Friedman ought to be entertaining Tony voters with her performance in The Woman in White, she is instead offering a highly entertaining cabaret act, at the Café Carlyle, and launching a new CD.
The Carlyle show consists entirely of Sondheim; the CD doesn't. The album takes its title from the Michel Legrand/Jeremy Sams song "Now and Then" (which is quite a strong piece, by the way). The album title might just as well be referring to the recordings themselves. Most of the tracks were first released in the U.K. in 1995, on a Carlton CD simply titled "Maria Friedman." Three songs from that disc have been removed, with two newly recorded ones in their place (and they are both stunning). I am of the firm belief that if you haven't ever heard it, it's as good as new; if this new CD is good, why waste time separating the then from the now?
Friedman is an exceptional performer, as anyone knows who has heard her work on the U.K. cast albums of Passion, Lady in the Dark, The Woman in White and others. She knows how to sing, she knows how to act, and she knows how to interpret songs. "I Happen to Like New York" is jubilant, while "Paris in the Rain" is evocative of – well, Paris in the rain. Rodgers and Hart's "My Romance" needs no soft guitars, the lyric tells us. Friedman uses only a solo guitar, to good effect. (I would normally cite the guitarist, but he or she is uncredited.) Freidman's take on Arlen and Gershwin’s “The Man that Got Away” packs an emotional wallop, despite an arrangement that seems inclined to ignore Harold’s musical intentions.
Friedman starred in the U.K. Sunday in the Park with George, where she did not sing "Finishing the Hat." She does so here. This appears to be one of Sondheim's most personal songs, and Friedman gives us a riveting portrait of the inner artist. "Broadway Baby" seems to be a Friedman specialty, reappearing regularly in her cabaret acts. She positively purrs the song, ever hopeful, until she takes off at the tag with an enormous, and apt, finish.
The first of the aforementioned new tracks is Charles Chaplin's "Smile" ("though your heart is breaking"), the theme from Modern Times, which fills you with warmth amidst despair. This one has an extremely effective arrangement by Joseph Thalken, intermixing hints of Chaplin's "Eternally" (the theme from Limelight) and featuring a plaintive, but uncredited, cello. The other new track is "Children and Art," from Sunday in the Park, accompanied by the composer on a lone piano. Friedman and Sondheim, as we by now know, make quite a combination. * * * *
DRG has continued its series of reissues of original Broadway cast albums with two worthy, early-60s titles from the old Capitol catalogue. These items have previously been heard on CD, in one case on at least three different labels; they have been remastered, although prior releases featured reasonably cleaned-up audio; and they reproduce the original Capitol liner notes, as opposed to the considerably more informative notes included with the Angel reissues. It is assumed that some readers already have these cast albums on CD; they will not find anything new here. If you don't have these in your collection, though, it might be time to go out and add them.
Golden Boy [DRG 19079]
Golden Boy was one of those star vehicles done in, to some extent, by the demands of the star Sammy Davis (and his hangers-on). The show underwent a thorough overhaul on the road; more than one person involved has stated that it actually got worse along the way. The problems were numerous, starting with the book. First-time librettist Clifford Odets wrote the adaptation of his 1937 play, but died before rehearsals began. After opening without any librettist on hand, William Gibson – another first-timer – took over midway through the tryout, bringing director Arthur Penn along.
The musical result was two somewhat mismatched scores by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, with some serious (and seriously stunning) numbers in the art song vein mixed with standard (and at times obvious) musical comedy numbers. "Night Song," "Lorna's Here," "Golden Boy," "While the City Sleeps," "I Want to Be with You" – these are some of the best theatre songs of the year, a year which also heard Hello, Dolly!; Funny Girl; and Fiddler on the Roof.
Golden Boy also has one of Broadway's jazziest sets of orchestrations ever, from Ralph Burns. Big band-arranger Burns brought a new sound to Broadway; savor the sax solo in "Lorna's Here," the trombone solo in "While the City Sleeps" and more. (Additional orchestrations came from Larry Wilcox and Jim Tyler, the latter providing Sammy's evocative "Night Song.")
Strouse's music contains some of the very finest, and most complex, writing of his career. The songs, the exciting performances by Davis and Billy Daniels, and the orchestrations make a strong case for Golden Boy on your Broadway CD shelf.
The Boys from Syracuse [DRG 19085]
There are several available recordings of Rodgers & Hart's 1938 hit The Boys from Syracuse, including a conscientious 1953 studio album (featuring Jack Cassidy); a 1963 Off-Broadway version, with a small-sized orchestration by Larry Wilcox; a later London version, with full orchestration by Ralph Burns; and a 1997 Encores! reconstruction of the original 1938 charts (by Hans Spialek, Maurice de Packh, Menotti Salta and others). Given the existence of recorded versions of the Spialek and Burns charts, it seems unlikely to favor the Off-Broadway set. But I do. This pint-sized production was a bright, lively and surprising hit. The sterling Rodgers & Hart score sounds absolutely delicious. The song list – "Falling in Love with Love," "You Have Cast Your Shadow on the Sea," The Shortest Day of the Year," "This Can't Be Love," "Sing for Your Supper" — is the same as on the other albums, but these evergreens have never seemed better or greener.
Ellen Hanley, the doomed first wife in Fiorello!, was top-billed; the unparalleled Karen Morrow is very much in evidence as Mrs. Dromio; Stuart Damon and Clifford David play the twin heroes; and there are prime assists from Julienne Marie and Cathryn Damon. All told, this is a Syracusian holiday, from Rodgers, Hart and Abbott.
Larry Wilcox was perhaps the best of the Broadway orchestrator-ghosts. His name is closely linked with Burns, who called him in on Funny Girl, Sweet Charity, Do I Hear a Waltz and more. In late 1962, Burns was unavailable for the road tour of No Strings, which given the difficulty of the reed parts necessitated considerable rewriting. He passed the job on to Wilcox. The Off-Broadway Syracuse followed soon after, with Ralph again giving Larry the assignment. The success of the revival resulted in a full-scale West End edition, with Burns getting the job back.
Wilcox has a number of full-scale Broadway musicals to his credit, including Walking Happy, The Yearling, Singin' in the Rain and Pousse-Cafe. (The latter, with a haphazard Duke Ellington score, features some exceptional orchestrations – including a frenzied overture marked by trumpet writing on a level with the overture to Funny Girl.)
But Wilcox had personal problems, which resulted in self-sabotage. For example, take Seesaw and what followed. When Michael Bennett took over the show during its 1973 tryout, Wilcox came in and reorchestrated almost the entire score. (This was presumably the result of an emergency call from Cy Coleman to Ralph Burns, who sent Larry instead.) Wilcox received no credit, but it earned him the assignment on Bennett's next musical: A Chorus Line. Wilcox began the show, but quickly alienated composer Marvin Hamlisch. Six other orchestrators rushed in and did a pretty nifty job, all told. (Some of Wilcox's work remains in the Montage, the extended sequence that includes "Hello, Twelve," "Mother" and "Gimme the Ball.")
At any rate, Wilcox's version of The Boys from Syracuse is bright and exuberant. The score itself is a delight, no matter which recording you hear. Me, I always tend to come back to this Off-Broadway edition (which seems to have an expanded orchestra for the recording). If you don't know Syracuse, you might well want to give it a try.
— Steven Suskin, author of the newly released "Second Act Trouble" [Applause Books], "A Must See! Brilliant Broadway Artwork," "Show Tunes," and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached by e-mail at Ssuskin@aol.com