ON THE RECORD: Menotti's Saint of Bleecker Street, "Lost Broadway and More" and Julian Slade

News   ON THE RECORD: Menotti's Saint of Bleecker Street, "Lost Broadway and More" and Julian Slade Listening to the first CD appearance of Gian-Carlo Menotti's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Saint of Bleecker Street; Michael Lavine's collection of obscure show tunes, "Lost Broadway and More"; and two early Julian Slade musicals.

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The Saint of Bleecker Street [Masterworks Broadway]
Opera composer Gian-Carlo Menotti (1911-2007) first found himself on Broadway in 1947 when a chamber production of two one-act operas — The Medium and The Telephone — was unexpectedly transferred to the Barrymore. Opera on Broadway was highly uncommon then and now, but the artistic success and six-month run resulted in a new opera specifically written for Broadway, The Consul. Which opened in 1950, also at the Barrymore. (Coming between the two Menotti bookings was that T. Williams play about Blanche, Stanley and Stella.) The Consul earned considerable acclaim, with Menotti taking home both the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

This double success translated into a commission from NBC for a television opera, telecast on Christmas eve of 1951: Amahl and the Night Visitors. Which had an impressively large audience for the time, and was rebroadcast annually until 1965. Menotti's next opera was another Broadway original, The Saint of Bleecker Street, which opened Christmas week of 1954 at the Broadway. And which won Menotti another matched set from the Critics Circle and Pulitzer people. And which Masterworks Broadway has finally brought to CD.

(For the record, Menotti wrote one additional Broadway opera: Maria Golovin, which David Merrick produced at the Martin Beck in 1958. Five performances and out, ending Menotti's visits to Broadway.)

I am an especial fan of The Medium, which is grandly chilling and grand fun. (The Medium, that is, not The Telephone.) I have over time developed a fondness for The Consul, which — being a Cold War exercise — does not have the peaks and chills of The Medium. The Saint of Bleecker Street, though, is new to me; I've never heard this recording. I have heard the 2002 cast album of the Spoleto Festival production, which I found less than compelling. The original Broadway cast album is compelling, in the manner of The Medium. Annina is the Saint of Bleecker Street, a sickly young girl of Little Italy who sees religious visions and bears the marks of the stigmata (which is to say, wounds on the hands corresponding to those of the Crucifixion). Michele, her older brother, is both outcast to the Italian-American community and an atheist; he rejects the notion that Annina can perform miracles, accusing the Church of exploiting his ailing sister. Nobody, needless to say, ends up happy.

The leading roles are sung by David Poleri, Gloria Lane and Gabrielle Ruggierio. The only one I'm familiar with is Ms. Lane, who plays Desideria. (She makes a late entrance, early in the second act; has a couple of flashy arias; and gets herself killed on stage. Hence, second star billing.) Menotti fans will know Lane from The Consul, where she played the secretary at the consulate. She also turned up in this column, last month, singing Nettie in the Masterworks Broadway reissue of the 1955 studio cast recording of Carousel.

Also on hand, as the priest Don Marco, is Leon Lishner — the sinister Secret Police agent in The Consul, and King Balthazar in at least ten telecasts of Amahl and the Night Visitors. John Reardon is in the chorus, while the character ("A Young Man") singing a not-inconsequential solo in the opening number is none other than Reid Shelton, 20-odd years before he became Warbucked.

Lost Broadway and More: Volume 3 [Original Cast Records]
I am always happy to hear rarely-recorded, rarely-heard show tunes. In addition to the items that turn up as bonus tracks on reissues, or on studio cast albums, or on songwriter anthology albums, there have from time to time been albums collecting an assortment of songs from here and there (such as the invaluable "Lost in Boston" series). Michael Lavine, the music director who has amassed one of the most important collections of theatrical sheet music in captivity, has assembled "Lost Broadway and More," featuring what the label calls "Michael Lavine and Friends." These include S. Harnick, a delightfully grandish friend to have.

The results might well thrill seekers of obscure Broadway; they don't quite do so for me. Perhaps it's the song selection, which includes samples from failed shows like Strip for Action, The Yearling, Nowhere to Go But Up, Barefoot Boy with Cheek, Something More, and even Merrily We Roll Along. But not much that I wanted to play a second time. Most interesting of the lot are "This Is My Beloved" from Are You With It?, a lowbrow WW II-era hit; "I'm Afraid I'm in Love," a "Sheherazade"-derived ballad from Dream With Music, a massive WW II flop; and "I Never Dream When I'm Asleep" from Love for Judy, included by Lavine as a special tribute to the late Hugh Martin. Completists will want to hear these songs. Once, at least.

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Must Close Saturday, the U.K. specialty label, has continued their parade of cast albums from Julian Slade/Dorothy Reynolds musicals with Wildest Dreams [MCSR 3049] and Hooray for Daisy! [MCSR 3050]. Now that I've had the chance to hear a half-dozen Slade scores, I find that the only one I happily return to is Free As Air.

Wildest Dreams, Slade's final collaboration with Dorothy Reynolds (of Salad Days et al), is somewhat mild. One song, "Girl On the Hill," is particularly lovely, in the same vein as the equally catchy "Follow That Girl" (from the musical of that name). As for Hooray for Daisy!, be advised that the leading lady is a cow. I mean, a cow.

(Steven Suskin is author of the recently released updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's Book Shelf and DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

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