This week's column examines two long out-of-print recordings from the old Columbia label, the soundtrack album of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" and the Julius Monk revue Seven Come Eleven.
I heartily salute Masterworks Broadway for their diligent and admirable program of digging long-lost musical theatre albums out of dusty archives and bringing them back where they belong. That said, I must confess that their two most recent offerings offer little for me. But that's not to suggest that you won't find them interesting, so read on.
"A Little Night Music"
Much has been said of the ill-guided 1978 motion picture version of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's "A Little Night Music." This was certainly an inauspicious time for esoteric movie musicals. Hal Prince, who directed and produced the 1973 musical, helmed the film. Wisely, he brought three of the five leads from the Broadway cast. He also allowed Jonathan Tunick to expand his luscious original orchestrations, which earned the Tony/Emmy/Grammy winner his Oscar. Prince also gave Tunick a bit of screen time, playing — what else? — a musical conductor.
Otherwise, though, "Night Music" was a mess, exemplified by the casting of Elizabeth Taylor in the leading role. A big movie star, yes; but not precisely right for the enchanting Desirée Armfeldt. She was placed opposite two leading men who — while virtually without film experience — knew their roles could only serve to make Taylor look more out of place, especially with Len Cariou (as Frederick) and Laurence Guittard (as Carl-Magnus) singing up a storm. Taylor didn't quite sing up a storm; the new liner notes, by Peter E. Jones, tell us that her rendition of "Send in the Clowns" was snipped together from numerous takes, "fixed" by a second singer, and further helped by a final dubbing section by another whom, we are told, "remains secret to this day." Hermione Gingold's Mme. Armfeldt from Broadway was also present, although her big solo ("Liaisons") was not used in the film. Other significant deletions included "Remember," "In Praise of Women" and "The Miller's Son."