ON THE RECORD: Vintage Fred Astaire Recordings from The Early Years at RKO, Plus "Lost Broadway and More"

By Steven Suskin
19 Jan 2014

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Lost Broadway and More Volume 5: Comden/Green/Styne

Composer Jule Styne was known for the stream of melody that positively poured out of him. Let other piano-pounders struggle and fret over their wares; Jule had tunes to spare. So much so that if this one or that one didn't please his collaborators (or his audience), no matter; he just pounded out another.

This takes us, in a roundabout manner, to "Lost Broadway and More Volume 5: Comden/Green/Styne." I, for one, am always glad to hear lost showtunes. We know how the scores in question ended up, in most cases. How fascinating it can be to hear the songs that got away!

You would think. But looking through the cut songs of Jule Styne, you find that there was perhaps a reason that he was quick to discard the ones that didn't immediately find favor. Easy come easy go, perhaps, in this case applies. Styne was a remarkable music man, but it seems he needed an editor. (The score of Funny Girl, Styne's longest-running musical and the only one to hit the 1,000 performance mark, contains 15 songs. There are another 18 — at least — in the discard pile; and take it from me, there's not one in the bunch that you need to hear twice.)

So what happens when you put together an album of "lost" Jule Styne tunes? You get plenty to listen to, but not much to set the pulse racing. This edition of "Lost Broadway" is not entirely Styne; four of the two-dozen tracks come from other composers. Conversely, there are seven non-Comden & Green items. (The liner note, oddly enough, mentions the other lyricists but prominently specifies that "all lyrics are by Betty Comden and Adolph Green." But then, they also refer to "the smash hit show Fade Out - Fade In.")

There are a few songs that stand out, yes. Most striking of the lot is "You Interest Me," a smoky and haunting piece from A Doll's Life (with music by Larry Grossman). "Alone in the World" from Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol (with lyrics by Bob Merrill) is a pleasingly gentle ballad, and "I'm Laying Away a Buck" from Glad to See You (with lyrics by Sammy Cahn) is a novelty that's new to me. Also present is the lively "When the Weather's Better," which was intended to be the theme song of Hallelujah, Baby! So much so that the overture starts and ends with a fragment of it, even though the song was cut. (The weather they were referring to, in this enjoyable but muddled race relations musical from 1967, was the civil rights temperature of the times.)

"When the Weather's Better" might also launch a discussion of Broadway logos informed by discarded songs: The predominant feature of Hilary Knight's upbeat artwork is a "weather's better" umbrella. Another such case is also present on the album: if you ever wondered why the heroine is on roller skates in the logo for Funny Girl, you'll find the answer here. The artwork is usually designed and printed long before the tryout, of course, hence the vestigial traces.

"Lost Broadway" features musical direction by Michael Lavine, who has dedicated many years to comprehensively collecting and carefully preserving a vast quantity of showtunes lost (and showtunes in danger of vanishing). He has assembled a cast of 24 for the CD, far too many to mention. It's easy, though, to single out Marc Kudisch's performance of "You Interest Me" and a few clutch contributions from Brooke Moriber.

(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.)