ON THE RECORD: Holiday Gift List of 2009

By Steven Suskin
30 Nov 2009


Our list of original Broadway cast album reissues usually consists of reissues of reissues, remastered and supplemented with bonus tracks but basically a new CD to replace a CD you had already bought. This year, we have not one but six first-time-on-CD items on our list. What's more, these are six musicals long sought by collectors; there's not a one of them which is unnecessary. For people who find things of these sort necessary, that is. (The year also saw various reissues of LPs that had already been on CD, but none of them make the cut.)

Where to start? Let's go in chronological order, so as not to play favorites.

LET IT RIDE [Arkiv RCA-05086] was a lousy 1961 musical, but we must always keep in mind that lousy 1961 musicals were frequently more tuneful than most of what we get nowadays. Let It Ride was subpar, in the first place; in the second place, it opened the same week as How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying and Milk and Honey. The score by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, on furlough from Hollywood, is undistinguished but makes for fun listening. One song, "Hey Jimmy Joe John Jim Jack," is very good; another, "Just an Honest Mistake," is delicious corn. George Gobel and Sam Levene both sing their hearts out, giving it their all. Which ain't, I'm afraid, that much.

ANYA [Kritzerland KR 20012] was George Abbott's attempt at a traditional operetta. Robert Wright and George Forrest had found great success adapting tunes by Grieg into Song of Norway (1944) and tunes by Borodin into Kismet (1953). In 1964 they took Guy Bolton's play Anastasia, mixed it with strains from Rachmaninoff, and crossed their fingers. Nobody came, and Anya quickly went. The cast album, though, reveals a lush and flavorful affair with numerous songs that I find highly pleasing. Orchestrator Don Walker helps a lot; so does star Constance Towers and character comedians Irra Petina and George S. Irving.

Blacklisted screen director Jules Dassin, finding himself with two international box office hits ("Never on Sunday" and "Topkapi") returned to his Broadway roots in 1967 with a remake of the former. Muse (and wife) Melina Mercouri came along, but her considerable star power was not enough to float the ill-assembled ILLYA DARLING [Kritzerland KR 20012]. The score by Greek composer Manos Hadjidakis is atmospheric, though, and nicely buoyed by the orchestrations of Ralph Burns.

An attempt was made to transplant the crowd-pleasing elements of The Sound of Music to a colored orphanage in Manhattan during the Civil War for MAGGIE FLYNN [DRG 19123]. Shirley Jones tends to all these adorable children, see. The Race Riots of 1863 were supposed to have relevance during the Vietnam draft-dodging summer of 1968. Not so, it turned out, but Maggie Flynn had Jack Cassidy, some talented children, a perky if somewhat hackneyed score, and lots of spirit.

JIMMY [Arkiv RCA-05093] was a big budget musical from a band of amateurs, led and bankrolled by Hollywood's Jack Warner (who had been retired from the company he'd founded with his brothers). New York's dapper Mayor James J. Walker had been more flashy and exciting than his successor, Fiorello H. LaGuardia, so Jimmy would naturally be more flashy and exciting than the Pulitzer/Tony-winning Fiorello!, right? Wrong. Leading ladies Julie Wilson and Anita Gillette make the cast recording of this 1969 musical fun listening, though.

Every element that worked splendidly in the ambitious and unheralded Man of La Mancha collapsed in that work's ambitious and heralded follow-up, CRY FOR US ALL [Kritzerland KR 20013-6]. Composer Mitch Leigh wrote his second-most interesting score, with quite a bit in its favor. The show, however, was top-heavy and turmoil laden. Robert Weede and Joan Diener sure sing that score, though.

And on the Non-Cast Recording Stack. . .

Michael Feinstein and Cheyenne Jackson joined together at Feinstein's at Loew's Regency last June for a smashingly good three-week gig, MICHAEL FEINSTEIN & CHEYENNE JACKSON: The Power of Two [Harbinger HCD 2504]. Not only was it musically swingin', Feinstein and Jackson used creative song selection to break down some doors and leave audiences cheering. "The Power of Two" captures the act on CD, making for exhilarating listening.

Rebecca Luker presents us with REBECCA LUKER: Greenwich Time [PS Classics PS-985], a collection of favorite songs she has accumulated over the years. With items like Maury Yeston's "Unusual Way," Jule Styne and Carolyn Leigh's "Killing Time," and John Kander's new "Summer with You," this is a very special collection indeed.

Kate Baldwin, who has had the good sense to come to Broadway in the vibrant new revival of Finian's Rainbow at the St. James, has taken the opportunity to delve into the songbags of that musical's two songwriters, Burton Lane and Yip Harburg, for KATE BALDWIN: Let's See What Happens [PS Classics PS-986]. While we await the forthcoming Finian cast album from PS Classics, Ms. Baldwin's CD entertains us with songs from Glocca Morra and environs.

Fans of composer Georgia Stitt, lyricist Marcy Heisler, and actress Kate Baldwin (again) will find them all reaffirming their talents with ALPHABET CITY CYCLE [PS Classics PS-978], a five-song, 20-minute "Song Cycle for Soprano, Violin and Piano." This one could easily fall through the cracks, but I find it interesting on several levels and thereby add it to our holiday list.

Among the numerous CDs I have yet to get around to are two that I feel I should mention before the calendar turns to 2010. Both come from a new record label, Yellow Sound Label: ALAN CUMMING: I Bought a Blue Car Today [YSL 566463] and CHITA RIVERA: And Now I Sing [YSL 566473]. Having seen (and favorably reviewed) Mr. Cumming perform these songs at last winter's American Songbook, and Ms. Rivera doing the same more recently at Birdland, I can vouch for both. Fans of either (or both) are sure to enjoy either (or both).

(Steven Suskin is author of "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations" as well as "Second Act Trouble," "Show Tunes" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com)