It all started with a phone call from composer Maury Yeston years ago.
Bill Rosenfield, vice present of Broadway A&R for RCA Victor, listened as Yeston said he was working on a musical based on the sinking of the Titanic, and proceeded to play the opening sequence on the telephone for 12 minutes.
"I knew then I very much wanted to record it," Rosenfield said. And that's how he came to sign to do the cast album of the musical, Titanic, which opens April 23. Completely by coincidence, Rosenfield also agreed to record Steel Pier, which opens the following night, April 24, plus Candide, which opens April 29, thus putting hundreds of thousands of his company's dollars on three big rolls of the Broadway dice within a single week.
"We had a great time with [Steel Pier composer] John [Kander] and [lyricist] Fred [Ebb] on Chicago and previously worked with them and Scott Ellis on And the World Goes 'Round, so it was always in the back of my mind to do their next [full-scale Broadway] show."
All three will be released in July as part of what Rosenfield called RCA's "Broadway grand slam month." Recording three huge musicals in the space of a few weeks is not for the faint of heart. "The economics are terrifying but that's how much they cost. Presumably, and hoping, with fingers crossed. they will be sizeable hits."
Both shows have unusual challenges, Rosenfield said. "In most shows, there are enough solo numbers so you can plan out a session in an economical way. You don't have to have the whole chorus there the whole time. But in Titanic there are maybe four songs that don't need the entire company. It's s daunting prospect. But what Maury does better than anybody else is write fabulous chorus numbers that build and build and build. It's one of the things that makes Titanic so exciting."
On Steel Pier, he said, "Glen Kelly the dance arranger and Michael Gibson the orchestrator and [director] Scott Ellis will be sitting in a room trying to figure out just how many dance numbers you put on an album that also has a full complement of songs. That show has 105 minutes of solid music; we've got 75 minutes for a CD and that's it."
Rosenfield said he wants to make the cast albums whether the shows are hits or not. "I value the relationships with the writers and the producers and the authors too much not to make the records," he said.
Both shows are scheduled to record the cast albums shortly after opening: Titanic this Sunday, April 27, and Steel Pier the following Sunday May 4. Once the recordings are made, the money is spent, and the albums will be released, whether the shows are still running or not.
There is a peril to this loyalty: "If I make these records and the shows flop out, what could happen in the future, I won't be allowed by the company to make that kind of commitment."
"The law of averages has been very much with me," he said. "Knock wood."