ON THE RECORD: NoŽl Coward's Cowardy Custard and Dorothy Fields Tribute, "Somethin' Real Special"

By Steven Suskin
17 Nov 2013

PS Classics, the theatre-savvy independent label that has given us dozens of theatre-related CDs since 2000, has now turned their attention to Fields. The label started when Tommy Krasker — an established record producer for Nonesuch and other labels — decided to make an album with his partner (now husband) Philip Chaffin, a little-known, big-and-friendly voiced baritone from Louisiana. "Where Do I Go from You?" turned out to be a delight, if slightly homemade; I recall that they didn't even know to assign it a catalogue number. Other singers came along — Jessica Molaskey was an early member of the PS team, with four wonderful solo CDs — and the label grew into one of our most reliable places to get quality theatre music.

Chaffin has run the label with Krasker all along, serving as A&R director. (That's "artists and repertoire," kind of a combination artistic director, casting director and song picker.) He has remained a sometime-singer for the label, with two additional solo albums and occasional participation in PS studio recordings. Dorothy Fields is a perfect match for Chaffin; his strong-but-flavorful voice does justice to the music — (Fields brought out the best in her composers) — while serving up the songs with the twinkle-in-the-eye that Dorothy must have had when she sat writing them.

As is typical with PS, they don't just go for the song hits; Chaffin gives us "I'm in the Mood for Love" and "The Way You Look Tonight" but eschews Fields' other biggest titles in favor of delving more deeply into her work. We also get some virtually unknown songs like the previously unrecorded "Somethin' Real Special" (with Arlen, from the 1953 film version of The Farmer Takes a Wife) and a 1933 non-production song written with McHugh, "Then You Went and Changed Your Mind."

McHugh, Fields' first and perhaps friskiest collaborator, can't compete with her later partners; Dorothy soon started writing with real composers, as opposed to Jimmy-the-songwriter. But the sheer insouciance of "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street" is unmatchable. These two aren't on the recording, but the pair's "I'm in the Mood for Love," "Exactly Like You" and the delightful "Don't Blame Me" are.

PS has splurged on a 28-piece orchestra, led by Jason Moore, and an assortment of nine orchestrators. Among the special treats are Doug Besterman's "Somethin' Real Special," Jason Carr's "Then You Went and Changed Your Mind" and "Diga Diga Doo," and "I'll Buy You a Star" from Jonathan Tunick (who plays the clarinet solo therein).

"Somethin' Real Special" is an all-round delight featuring Dorothy Fields' knowing lyrics, canny tune selection from an assortment of composers, fittingly fine work from the music department and Chaffin's singing.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes," "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Opening Night on Broadway" books, and "The Book of Mormon: The Testament of a Broadway Musical." He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)