Robert Goulet in Kiss Me, Kate and Brigadoon [Masterworks Broadway]
Back in the mid-1960s, at a time when major corporations like Kraft Foods, Bell Telephone and Hallmark still sponsored nationwide television spectaculars, Armstrong — "Manufacturers of Floors, Ceilings, Wall and Floor Care Products" — decided to get into the act with abbreviated telecasts of two classic Broadway musicals starring Robert Goulet. Goulet was approaching the peak of his career, having followed his dynamic Broadway debut — singing "If Ever I Would Leave You" to Julie Andrews in Camelot — with a pop recording career, a budding film career and his own adventure TV series during the 1965-66 season.
Thus, the time seemed right for Goulet to appear in a TV adaptation of a Broadway musical, and Lerner & Loewe's Brigadoon was selected. (Goulet and partner Norman Rosemont, under the name Rogo Productions, had just spent the year co-producing On a Clear Day You Can See Forever with Lerner.) Brigadoon was telecast by Armstrong October 15, 1966 and won an Emmy for best musical program, which seems to have convinced Armstrong to bring back Goulet in Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate March 25, 1968. The latter was taped while Goulet was starring at the Broadway in The Happy Time, for which he would win a Tony Award for Best Actor.
Soundtrack albums were released, although these were oddball items. "Limited Edition Collector's Item" they were labeled, "not available in record stores." As I remember, they were available as premiums from your friendly Armstrong dealer, at stores that sold floors, ceilings, walls and floor care products. The two albums, which have been relatively unheard over the years, have now been unshelved from the Broadway Masterworks archives — they were originally manufactured by the special products division of Columbia — and combined on a new release. Fans of Goulet will be glad to get their guy singing all those glorious show tunes, although fans of Kiss Me, Kate and Brigadoon will not find much here to make them foreswear the original cast album of the former or the three fine albums of the latter (being the 1947 original cast, the 1957 Shirley Jones/Jack Cassidy studio cast recording and John McGlinn's complete 1991 recording).
Kiss Me, Kate, which is first on the recording although filmed later, is a strange affair. Goulet makes a likely Fred/Petrucchio, vocally anyway; humor was never his strong point, and a commanding Petrucchio with a full array of musical comedy ammunition is going to get a lot further with the material. (The role was created by Alfred Drake, who matched his brilliant baritone with a lot of ham; the role was patterned after Alfred Lunt, who also knew how to act.) Playing Goulet's shrewish wife was Carol Lawrence, the original Maria in West Side Story and by this point in time real-life wife to Goulet. Jessica Walter plays Lois, to the Bill of "special guest star" Michael Callan (also from the original West Side Story, where as "Mickey Callan" he played Riff). The two gangsters, who in the course of the proceedings brush up their Shakespeare, were played by stage veteran Jules Munshin and TV-comic Marty Ingels. Completing the West Side Story triangle was choreographer Lee Theodore, who as Lee Becker was the original Anybodys. Paul Bogart directed, with musical direction and arrangements by Jack Elliott.
Through the vagaries of downloading, the first of the 29 tracks I heard were "I Hate Men" and "Always True to You in My Fashion" — which turn out to be the very most unfortunate items I could have started with. "I Hate Men" is a perennial favorite in performance, thanks to Porter's mixture of pseudo-Elizabethan music with a harshly shrewish lyric and the opportunity for slam-bang staging. (One suspects that Stephen Sondheim's "Worst Pies in London" were fermented here.) Elliott adds then-contemporary electric guitars, and it sounds like just what you might imagine it sounds like. More damaging is that the point of the song — purposely and almost violently mismatched music and lyric — is lost, leaving a gleefully sustainable joke-of-a-song without its joke. "Always True to You in My Fashion," too, gets a pop-rock overhaul presumably for audiences who wanted something modern-sounding but not too modern; this was well into the age of Aquarius, but Lawrence Welk-friendly. (Some, but not all, of Porter's lyrisc are cleaned up, like when Lois sings "how in heck can you be jealous when you know baby I'm your slave.")
Things are at their best when they let Goulet let rip with "I've Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua" and "Where Is the Life That Late I Led," two numbers that are presented more or less as Porter intended them. "Wunderbar," from Goulet and Lawrence, also works well (with an amusingly schmaltzy arrangement). Elsewhere, most of the songs are presented in '60s style; this works all right with Goulet's reprise of "So in Love," but otherwise makes this recording sound far more dated than the original 1948 cast album.
Brigadoon is less tricked up and, not coincidentally, more effective. This one presumably had author Lerner in consultation, which surely restrained studio fixings (although the show was severely truncated to fit a 90-minute slot). Setting the tone for the production — or the recording, at least — is the presence of Sally Ann Howes as Fiona. Howes starred in the 1953 London premiere of Lerner & Loewe's Paint Your Wagon, was the first replacement for Andrews in the Broadway production of My Fair Lady, and played Brigadoon in the 1962 City Center revival. Thus, her TV Fiona is imminently stage-worthy. Goulet follows suit, although some "pop" slips into his renditions of the big ballads. "Almost Like Being in Love" is amusingly set; Bob starts off with a somewhat juiced-up version, but when Sally Ann comes in for her half they immediately slip back to the Broadway version. This also happens, to a lesser extent, with "Heather on the Hill."
Outside of Goulet, director Fielder Cook (who won an Emmy for his efforts) and conductor/arranger Irwin Kostal seem to have stayed always true — in their fashion — to the original; such items as "Come to Me, Bend to Me," "I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean" and "Waiting for My Dearie" retain the flavor of the show. The cast included Peter Falk in the non-singing role of the hero's best friend Jeff; Marlyn Mason — soon to star in How Now, Dow Jones — as Meg (albeit without her solos); Thomas Carlisle doing very nicely as Charlie Dalrymple; and ballet star Edward Villella in the featured dancing role of Harry Beaton (which he had performed with Howes at City Center, with the original Agnes de Mille choreography).
Howes and, occasionally, Goulet provide the highlights of this Kiss Me, Kate/Brigadoon twofer, but listeners unfamiliar with these two indispensable scores are warned that they won't get much of a sense of them from this recording.
(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes," "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Opening Night on Broadway" books, and "The Book of Mormon: The Testament of a Broadway Musical." He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)