ON THE RECORD: Patti LuPone's Far Away Places, Plus a Jerome Kern Revue and Porter/Coward Creation

By Steven Suskin
03 Mar 2013

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I recently devoted part of a column to Rebecca Luker and her salute to the songs of Jerome Kern, "I Got Love." Which is pretty much wonderful. The folks at PS Classics have now brought us two related recordings. The Land Where the Good Songs Go is formatted as a new revue, featuring the songs of Jerome Kern. Noël and Cole is — well, another new revue featuring songs by you know who and you know who.

Both have been devised and arranged by David Loud, most of whose work I have very much enjoyed since he first caught our attention as Zoe Caldwell's long-suffering accompanist in Master Class. But not here, I'm afraid. The Kern evening — recorded on two discs — incorporates 30 songs, most of them from the early part of the great melodist's career. But they are carpentered into one of those six-character plots wherein three couples meet, fight, split up and etc. while singing whatever song can be made — vaguely — to fit. Kern wrote a 1907 song about the newfangled new subway, so a pair of lovers here meet on the subway. Things like that. Combine "Bill's a Liar" — a justly forgotten song from The White Chrysanthemum in 1907 — plus the more-familiar "he's just my Bill" and you've got both a character and a story line.

While Kern enthusiasts can be happy to get a chance to hear some of the obscurities, it is at a cost. Too many of the songs — including some truly wonderful ones — are trivialized; shoehorned in, but not honored. Ms. Luker, on "I Got Love," celebrates Kern. Every song is treated like a glittering bijou. On "Land Where the Good Songs Go," said good songs are treated merely like material, a jukebox-type musical consisting of scratchy 78s.

Loud's Coward/Porter evening — both of these had their professional debut, by the way, as part of the Broadway Close Up series at New York's Merkin Hall — has the same inherent problem. Here they alternate corresponding songs by the two masters; half the cast sings Cole, the other half sings Noël, and they occasionally meet in the middle. The songs — many of which are justly celebrated — serve as pieces of a less-than-intriguing puzzle.

Both CDs display the usual quality of recordings from PS Classics, including fine singers familiar from their many studio albums. On the Kern collection we get Kate Baldwin, Heidi Blickenstaff, Graham Rowat, and Ms. Luker herself. The Porter/Coward features Sara Jean Ford, Euan Morton, Elizabeth Stanley and Barbara Walsh. Appearing on both are Philip Chaffin and Matthew Scott.

Noël and Cole — the songwriters, not the revue — can both stand on their own feet in this, our 21st century. But we don't get many chances to hear lesser-known Kern. All those involved with "The Land Where the Good Songs Go" are saluted for the effort, but the results don't cheer me.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes," "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Broadway Yearbook" series and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's Book Shelf and DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

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