By Steven Suskin
23 Sep 2012
Photo by Ari Mintz
The other "improved" songs require a word of explanation. Once Fonda was out of the picture, R&H became convinced that it would help matters to have Wagnerian soprano Helen Traubel play the role of Madam Fauna. Traubel, formerly of the Met (like South Pacific's Ezio Pinza), had enjoyed crossover success with her nightclub act; why not Broadway? It turned out that the star was severely wrong in the role; wags referred to it as "second act Traubel." As a result, everything Traubel sings on the 1955 recording sounds strange. Put Leslie Uggams in the role, which is what the canny folks at Encores! did, and guess what? It all now seems to make sense. Fauna's songs — "Fauna's Song," "Sweet Thursday, "The Happiest House on the Block" — sound like songs, and Uggams makes Pipe Dream seem possible.
She is joined by Will Chase as Doc and Laura Osnes as Suzy. All three perform skillfully and attractively, and are presumably what Dick and Oscar had in mind before Pipe Dream became so damagingly sidetracked. The whole thing sounds pretty wonderful, with Rob Berman and the Encores! Orchestra enveloping us in that glorious R&H sound. The score and the colorful original orchestrations — with Russell Bennett leading a team which included Joe Glover, Don Walker, Hans Spialek and Phil Lang — has been meticulously restored by Bruce Pomahac and his staff at the R&H office.
(Why does one musical need so many orchestrators? In this case, inexperienced director Clurman and first-time choreographer Boris Runanin — working with eagle-eyed producer Rodgers off in the hospital — didn't "set" any numbers during the first three weeks of the rehearsal period. This left only ten days to orchestrate the entire show, forcing Bennett to call in six colleagues to get ready for the first performance in New Haven. Bennett did less than half of the material heard at the premiere; factoring in rewrites and new songs added during the New Haven and Boston tryouts, he ended up with about 60 percent of the show.)
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