Since No, No, Nanette blazed into town in 1971, Broadway has been overrun with revivals of just about every hit musical you can name. And then there's Little Me, which as far as I can tell is the only flop musical to have been revived. (The even less-successful Candide has been revived too, but in substantially rewritten versions.) Little Me has now received two full-scale revivals, like Candide, all of which have failed, like Candide. But enough about Candide.
One can easily explain Little Me's resilience: It features one of the brashest musical comedy scores of its era (by Cy Coleman), exceptionally clever and artful lyrics (by Carolyn Leigh), and an hysterically slap-happy book (by the pre-Barefoot in the Park Neil Simon). One can also explain its repeated failure, but this column is not the place. Suffice it to say, the Roundabout's 1999 revival was misconceived, miscalculated and mistaken.
Which leads to the question: How good can the cast recording of such a production possibly be? Especially when one of the glaring faults of the production was in the music department. Sure, they needed to reduce the instrumentation for economic reasons; but they chose to start from scratch, rather than scaling down Ralph Burns's orchestrations. Big mistake, as the original charts are easily among the best of their kind. (Bob Fosse worked with Burns on the original Little Me and barely took a step without him for the rest of his life, and for good reason). You listen to the anemic opening bars of this new recording's Overture, and wonder why not just put on the sparkling 1962 recording (on RCA)? Or the 1964 London cast recording (on DRG), which includes eleven extra minutes of the score, including the stupendously zany Burns/Coleman version of Fosse's "Rich Kids Rag." For what it's worth, this seventy-two minute new recording has been padded with roughly twenty minutes worth of Neil Simon's jokes, which are mostly very funny. Although how many will wear thin after four or five or eight listenings?
Actually, this new version does have its attributes, mainly in the performance by Faith Prince. The Roundabout folk (with Coleman and Simon in attendance) decided to combine Little Me's two female leading roles into one. This proved a thankless assignment for Prince, who was simultaneously performing material written for a bubble-headed, 20 year old sexpot and a quick-tongued, seen-it-all sexagenarian. She did everything well, against the odds, battling the obstacles placed in her way. On the CD, though, Prince is able to just stand in front of the microphone and entertain us, and she certainly does! This material has never been performed by a star of Prince's caliber and talent, and she makes the most of it (notably on "Poor Little Hollywood Star" and "The Other Side of the Tracks"). The combined roles make this CD very much a one-woman show; Prince is heard, in song or dialogue, on eighteen of the CD's twenty-two vocal tracks. (Co-star Martin Short sings only six songs, his usual charm somewhat hidden behind the accents and affectations of his seven characters.) Fans of the stars or of this particular production will no doubt rush to get this CD. But why else, I wonder, would anyone choose this musically-diminished disc over the other two?
P.S.: Composer Cy Coleman's liner notes boast that "the score boasts at least five standards," and while I am truly a great fan of the piece I can't for the life of me think of more than one.
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