Wright-Forrest Concept Album Released Dec. 15; Is Stage Version Next?

News   Wright-Forrest Concept Album Released Dec. 15; Is Stage Version Next?
 
A Bag of Popcorn and a Dream," a newly-minted disc of trunk songs by Kismet songwriters Robert Wright and George Forrest, is hoped to be a staged musical revue, according to producer Walter Willison.
Cover art for new Robert Wright-George Forrest CD.
Cover art for new Robert Wright-George Forrest CD.

A Bag of Popcorn and a Dream," a newly-minted disc of trunk songs by Kismet songwriters Robert Wright and George Forrest, is hoped to be a staged musical revue, according to producer Walter Willison.

"That would be a wonderful dream," conceiver-producer Willison, who works closely with the songwriters as an adviser on their past and new works, told Playbill On-Line Dec. 15. "The project was something we wanted to eventually do for the stage, but in the meantime we thought it would make an interesting and fun CD."

The concept album, made up of premiere-recording songs from nightclubs acts, lesser-known films and stage shows, is scheduled for release Dec. 15 from Original Cast Records.

The cinema-related "Bag of Popcorn and a Dream" is presented as a multi bill afternoon at a movie palace, with songs from various sources broken up into sequences such as "The Newsreel," "The Short Subject," "The Main Feature," "Coming Attractions" and "Exit Music."

The "Prologue" tune, sung by producer-conceiver Willison, is Wright and Forrest's "A Bag of Popcorn and a Dream," written for Jane Froman's popular nightclub act. Willison told Playbill On-Line he hopes the disc eventually generates producer interest and envisions the work as a breezy, stylish stage revue (the album's subtitle is "an intimate bigscreen revue"). All 26 cuts are billed as previously unrecorded. Music direction, arrangements and orchestrations are by Fred Barton.

Performers on the disc include Broadway ensemble players and emerging singers, plus Broadway and cabaret stars. The company includes Karen Akers, Lucie Arnaz, Joan Barber, Jeff Calhoun, Andrew Driscoll, Diane J. Findlay, David Green, Geoffrey Holder, Douglas Holmes, Melinda Hopkins, Simon Jones, Judy Kaye, Marcia Lewis, Sean Lough, Donna Lee Marshall, Kathi Moss, Karen Murphy, Ashley Rose Orr, Rob Sutton and Willison.

Some of the strange or notable tunes on the disc include the recording debut of Grease director-choreographer Calhoun ("Thou Shalt Not Dance"); current Broadway Sound of Music child actress Orr singing a bouncy "I Hate Music Lessons," originally sung by the character Baby Dumpling in the movie, "Blondie Goes Latin"; songs from Wright and Forrest's first stage show in 1940, Thank You, Columbus, which played briefly at the Hollywood Playhouse; songs from At the Grand, the writers' Rome-set version of the Vicki Baum novel, "Grand Hotel," which came before 1989's Tommy Tune-directed Grand Hotel; and songs written for now-forgotten Copacabana nightclub revues.

On the bill:

"A Bag of Popcorn and a Dream" (sung by Willison and "The Concessionaires" foursome, sung by Driscoll, Lough, Sutton, Marshall)

"Southern California Blues" (a song from Froman's act, sung by Judy Kaye)

"Has Madame Had It?" (from At the Grand, sung by Findlay)

"I Hate Music Lessons" (from the film, "Blondie Goes Latin," sung by Orr)

"I Discover New Worlds" (from the stage musical, Thank You, Columbus, sung by Driscoll)

"Pilgrims' Chorus" (from Thank You, Columbus, sung by "The Concessionaires")

"Thou Shalt Not Dance" (Thank You, Columbus, sung by Calhoun, to Lewis)

"Easy Livin'" (intended for an unproduced film, "Millionaires Don't Whistle," sung by Holmes)

"Mr. Navy" (for an unproduced musical of the same name, sung by "The Concessionaires")

"All at Sea" (written for Judy Garland at MGM, sung by Marshall)

"In the Shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain" (from "The Copacabana Revue of 1943," sung by Holder and Barber)

"Chapultapec" (from the Copa, sung by Lucie Arnaz)

"See Rome and Live!" (from At the Grand, sung by Moss)

"I Lost My Love in London" (unused, The Ziegfeld Follies of 1942, sung by Jones)

"I'm Going Moroccan for Johnny" (from the Copa, sung by Barber)

"Fall in Manhattan" (from "The Copacabana Revue of 1943," sung by "the Concessionaires")

"I've Got a Date With New York" (from the Copa, sung by Murphy)

"The Love Life of a Sailor" (for Mr. Navy, sung by Holmes)

"Hit the Ball" (from unproduced revue, Barney Gerard's Follies of the Day, sung by Lewis)

"Lonely Little G-String" (from Barney Gerard's Follies, sung by Findlay)

"Do Not Disturb" (from At the Grand, sung by Akers)

"Domesticity" (unused, from Kean, sung by Kaye and Green)

"Inevitable" (unused from Kean, sung by Kaye)

"Crescendo" (from At the Grand, sung by Willison)

"Let a Little Love In" (from the new Wright and Forrest musical, Whirlygig, sung by Lewis)

Finale: "A Bag of Popcorn and a Dream" (Willison and "The Concessionaires")

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Wright, 84, and Forrest, 83, split their time between New York and Florida and are actively involved in several projects, said Willison.

The writers met when they were 14 and 15 in Miami, FL, and began penning songs (they share music and lyric credits). They played and wrote for nightclub performers, went to Hollywood and wrote for MGM and penned classically-tinged scores for Broadway's Song of Norway (based on Grieg themes, 1944), Kismet (based on Borodin, 1953), Magdalena (written with Villa-Lobos, 1948) and an African-American version of Kismet called Timbuktu! (1978), directed by Geoffrey Holder, who sings on the "Bag of Popcorn" disc.

A biography of the pair is in the works.

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On Nov. 24, OCR released Anastasia, the Musical, a spruced-up revised version of the 1965 Broadway flop, Anya. Based on themes of Rachmaninoff, the musical has been known under the titles Anya (1965), A Song for Anastasia (1967), The Anastasia Game (1989 in Lowell, MA and 1990 at the University of Michigan) and was recorded in 1992 with members of the 1989 Lowell troupe using the title The Anastasia Affaire.

The Lowell cast included Judy Kaye (Ragtime, Phantom of the Opera), Steve Barton (Phantom of the Opera), Len Cariou (Sweeney Todd), Willi Burke and David Green (OB's Luv). In addition to those cast members, the 1992 recording used George Lee Andrews (A Little Night Music), Marcy DeGonge Manfredi (Cats), re-release producer Walter Willison (Two by Two) and opera star Regina Resnick.

The original disc was recorded for release on the Bay Cities label in 1992 and was only out a few months before the company folded and supply dried up.

In 1998, certain tracks of the 1992 recording were sweetened using Sean Lough, Donna Lee Marshall and Rob Sutton in choral parts. The chamber musical accompaniment is on two pianos.

The new Anastasia CD also offers "premiere recording" bonus tracks of Wright and Forrest songs from At the Grand (1958) and its later version, Grand Hotel (1989), Kean (1961) and the P.G. Wodehouse inspired, Betting on Bertie, with lyrics by the 90 year-old Wodehouse. That show has only been seen in workshop stagings.

Willison, who was in the original cast of Grand Hotel and intimately knew the backstage story of Tommy Tune bringing Maury Yeston in to inject songs into the Wright-Forrest score, told Playbill On-Line (Nov. 24) that Grand Hotel fans will likely be especially interested in both Anastasia and A Bag of Popcorn.

Willison is a Broadway tenor nominated for a Tony Award for playing Japheth in Broadway's Two by Two (singing "I Do Not Know a Day I Did Not Love You").

-- By Kenneth Jones

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