ON THE RECORD: Ten Reissues from Masterworks Broadway

On the Record   ON THE RECORD: Ten Reissues from Masterworks Broadway
 
The folks at Masterworks Broadway — current proprietors of the old Columbia and RCA labels — seem to be taking their archives seriously.

*

They have launched a website, www.masterworksbroadway.com, which actually takes the trouble to showcase their wares. Blogs, photos, and various goodies turn up; someone is clearly expending time and effort on these original cast albums, which is more than you can say for Sony and BMG, the former custodians of these wares. (Mind you, this doesn't necessarily apply to the people who were running those divisions at Sony and BMG, but to their corporate controllers.)

Many of these CDs have remained in print, at least while existing stock held out. Masterworks has now reissued ten secondary titles, placing them in what they call eco-friendly packaging. That means that they are enclosed in durable cardboard softpacks, with two inner pockets — one for the booklet, one for the CD. The CDs seem to use the most-recent remasterings, with a couple of exceptions (as indicated below). The booklets for the most part reproduce the liner notes from the prior release, although with improved design and on better quality paper. And they are half as thick as the old plastic jewel boxes.

These titles are, of course, already in many collections. But new musical theatre fans do come along every year; hence the market for these reissues. I shall go through them, one by one; if you already have them, then you already have them. (Remember when you would occasionally break down and buy a new copy of a scratchy old LP that you'd worn out from constant play?)

The list is headed, alphabetically at least, by the 1966 Music Theater of Lincoln Center production of Annie Get Your Gun [886976572525], popularly known as "Granny Get Your Gun"; the Annie of the occasion, Ms. Merman, was 58 at the time. (Bruce Yarnell, her romantic interest, was 30.) Even so, this was a reasonably strong production, albeit with material considerably cut down from the 1946 original. Benay Venuta and Jerry Orbach are on hand, too, as Dolly and Charlie; Franz Allers conducts new orchestrations by Russell Bennett. (The 1946 orchestrations had been a rush job, with the original orchestrator fired in New Haven and replacements rushed in by ten different orchestrators — led by Bennett.) I long considered this 1966 Annie the most satisfying one to listen to, until technology enabled the sound engineers to rescue the relatively primitive 1946 cast album. CD is identical to the prior release. Carousel [886976572624], too, was from Music Theater of Lincoln Center — an annual summer series at the New York State Theatre produced by Richard Rodgers himself. John Raitt, the original Billy Bigelow, was 20 years older in 1965 than he had been in 1945 (when he was 27). So the voice is more mature, and some of his keys lowered. Even so, I have always found this to be the preferable Carousel. The original 1945 album has been helpfully remastered, yes; but some of the songs were trimmed to fit on one side of a 78, which is how they were originally released. With Annie this doesn't matter; but Carousel being Carousel — which is to say, one of the finest and well-written musicals of the century — it is more critical to hear the whole thing, as it were. And we get a glorious reading of the original orchestrations by Don Walker (with several assistants), again under the baton of Allers. The Julie Jordan is negligible, someone named Eileen Christy. However we have the delicious Carrie of Susan Watson and the admirable Mister Snow of Reid Shelton. And Jerry Orbach again, in the days between Carnival and Promises, Promises, when he needed the job. Jigger, here, and he adds some helpful humor to his solos in "Blow High, Blow Low." CD is identical to the prior release.

City of Angels [886976573324], the Cy Coleman-David Zippel-Larry Gelbart musical, is the newest recording of the group. (Unlike the other titles, this has been recently out-of-print.) This might be Cy's most satisfying score, musically speaking; he returned to his jazz roots here. City of Angels came along at the tail end of 1989, and I found it to be one of the finest musical comedy scores of the decade; if you sat through the Broadway musicals of the 1980s, you'd realize that's not exactly a ringing endorsement. Even so, City of Angels is great fun, with Gregg Edelman, James Naughton, Randy Graff, Dee Hoty, Rachel York and more. CD is identical to the prior release. 42nd Street [88697657228] was and remains one of the few Hollywood musicals to be successfully upgraded and expanded into a major Broadway hit. The 1933 Warner Bros. film had only a handful of memorable songs. The David Merrick-Gower Champion-Michael Stewart-Mark Bramble production filled out the score with additional songs by composer Harry Warren, turning it into a major stage extravaganza. Jerry Orbach was here again, this time in the lead, along with Tammy Grimes. Come on along and listen to the lullaby of Broadway, indeed. CD is identical to the prior release.

How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying [886976572723], I'll admit, is one of my most influential musicals; I saw it when I was nine, and I still haven't quite gotten over it. This is not Frank Loesser's finest score, perhaps, but it works amazingly well as satirical musical comedy. (In the original 1961 production, that is; when it was revived in 1995, the creative staff didn't seem to understand the jokes and they all but ruined it.) The original cast album is startlingly good, if you ask me. Bobby Morse runs the show, with Rudy Vallee, Virginia Martin, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Sammy Smith keeping the comedy cylinders sparking. Great orchestrations, too, by Red Ginzler, with conductor Elliot Lawrence earning a Tony Award back in the days when they gave musical directors Tony Awards. This reissue does not include the (mostly so-so) bonus tracks used on the 2003 Broadway Deluxe Collector's Edition, nor — apparently — any remastering done on that occasion.

The first of the Rodgers & Hammerstein revivals produced by Music Theater of Lincoln Center, the 1964 The King and I [886976573126] is in my opinion the least of them. Seems to me this one just came out on CD fairly recently, at which point I explained in this column why I find it inferior to other recordings of the score. Rise Stevens and Darren McGavin star, supported by the Tuptim of Lee Venora and the Lady Thiang of Patricia Neway. This CD does include Trude Rittman's ballet "The Small House of Uncle Thomas," though, which is usually omitted. CD is identical to the prior release. Jerry Herman followed Hello, Dolly! with Mame [886976572822], starring Angela Lansbury, which I found to be quite grand at the time. I remain of that opinion, and very much enjoy the original cast album. We still "need a little Christmas," don't we now? Masterworks gives us the remastered 1999 release, which includes five demo recordings with Mr. Herman at the piano.

Another perennial favorite is the original Broadway cast album of Oliver! [886976572921]. This is slightly fuller, orchestrally, than the earlier British cast album, and for me the most satisfying of the versions I have heard (although there are certainly a lot of recordings of Oliver!). Clive Revill and Georgia Brown head the 1963 cast, under the baton of Don Pippin (who won a Tony Award for his efforts, one season before they disbanded the musical director award). Again, this reissue does not include the bonus tracks used on the 2003 Broadway Deluxe Collector's Edition, nor — apparently — the remastering done on that occasion.

Before Oliver! came to town with all those little boys, there was Peter Pan [886975620128]. Mary Martin, of course, played the boy who loved to crow but wouldn't grow up. While she was not a pre-teen boy at the time, the role works especially well for her — principally because the songwriters (Moose Charlap and Carolyn Leigh on the one hand, Styne-Comden & Green on the other) wrote the songs specifically to suit. Which is why Peter sings that "Mysterious Lady" song, which is not what a diligent songwriter might logically conceive for the character of Peter Pan. This one — with Cyril Ritchard as dastardly Hook (and Sondra Lee as the trusty Tiger Lily) — remains a delight. CD is identical to the prior release. Rounding out the collection is 1776 [886976572327], one of those sleeper hits that come along from time to time. A star-spangled patriotic musical that at the same time presented a bravely outspoken anti-war, anti-administration statement, 1776 managed to please both camps and offend neither. That's what you can do with craft, skill, a gripping story and high entertainment value. William Daniels, Ken Howard and Rex Everhart (replacing the ailing Howard Da Silva) lead the cast, with support from Ron Holgate, Virginia Vestoff and even Betty Buckley. Peter Howard leads Eddie Sauter's exceptional orchestrations. CD is identical to the prior release, although the booklet omits the German, French and Italian translations that they saw fit to include in 1992. Leading one to wonder just how many copies of 1776 they sold in the German, French and Italian markets?

(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 can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

Today’s Most Popular News: