Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: A Varese Sarabande Trio


09 Apr 1998

CINDERELLA
About two years ago, Varese Sarabande issued a Peter Pan disc offering selections from various musical versions of the Barrie play. The choices are even wider for the new Varese disc devoted to adaptations of "Cinderella," as that tale has been the basis for countless stage, film, and TV musicals, some of which feature no character of that name but simply follow the rags-to- riches outlines of the story.



CINDERELLA
About two years ago, Varese Sarabande issued a Peter Pan disc offering selections from various musical versions of the Barrie play. The choices are even wider for the new Varese disc devoted to adaptations of "Cinderella," as that tale has been the basis for countless stage, film, and TV musicals, some of which feature no character of that name but simply follow the rags-to- riches outlines of the story.

Seven versions are represented here: Rodgers and Hammerstein's TV musical (also adapted to the stage); the animated Disney film; the live action movie The Slipper and the Rose (songs by the Sherman Brothers); the London musicals Cindy-Ella (which featured a black cast) and Mr. Cinders; Into The Woods; and Prokofiev's ballet score.

The company is the usual Varese mixture of young Broadway talent (Susan Egan, Christiane Noll, Jennifer Piech, Crista Moore) and lesser known performers (Farrah Alvin, Alet Oury, Stacy Sullivan). Two singers are heard in material they delivered on the New York stage: Crista Moore, who took the title role in the New York City Opera's local stage premiere of the R&H Cinderella, charms with "In My Own Little Corner," while Pamela Winslow, one of Woods's Broadway Cinderellas, does "On The Steps of the Palace."

There's nothing wrong with the singers here; what's more in question is the need for such a disc, particularly when it includes six numbers from the much- recorded R&H version, surrounded by other material available elsewhere. Like the Peter Pan disc, it's probably most valuable as a children's introduction to the ways in which a single story can receive a variety of different treatments. Otherwise, I'd have to recommend it chiefly to those who (unlike myself) have replayed that Pan disc since '96.


JUDY KAYE: SONGS FROM THE SILVER SCREEN
Judy Kaye's performance as Emma Goldman in the Broadway Ragtime demonstrates that talent, warmth, and presence can make a great deal out of a role not given much stage time. Kaye has long been one of the most versatile of contemporary musical theatre women -- not many people have excelled as Aldonza, Mrs. Lovett, Carlotta Guidicelli, Lily Garland, Annie Oakley, Sally Durant, the Merry Widow, and Dinah in Trouble in Tahiti -- although she hasn't found as many Broadway roles as she deserved.

But she's been a frequent visitor to disc, heard in recreations of vintage musicals, classical material, operettas, and solo albums. Her first solo disc, Where, Oh Where: Rare Songs of the American Theater (Premier), included gems like "Wind Flowers" from The Golden Apple, "I Wish It So" from Juno, and even songs from Christine and Shangri-La. Her second Premier disc, devoted to the work of Harold Arlen, was even better.

Her first Varese Sarabande solo recital, Diva By Diva, saluted great musical theatre women, from Merman to Cook, Martin, LuPone, Gray, Peters, Stritch, Fabray, etc. Her new Varese disc offers a nod to women who sang in screen musicals, and pays tribute to Doris Day, Betty Grable, Alice Faye, Jane Powell, Ann Miller, Barbra Streisand, Dolores Gray, Marlene Dietrich, Irene Dunne and others. Kaye's fellow Los Angeles Ragtime player Jason Graae joins her for a medley of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire evergreens, and Carmen Miranda also gets a medley.

Kaye is seemingly incapable of bad singing, and she's in fine fettle here, demonstrating her usual taste and class. It's a shame that she has never gotten the chance to star in studio recordings preserving such major unrecorded scores as Love Life (Davis Gaines, John McGlinn and Kaye were set to roll on that one until Angel pulled the plug) and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But at least she can be heard in everything from Magdalena to Babes in Arms, plus the solo discs.


THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS
For some time now, various labels have taken considerable pains to produce newly remastered and restored soundtrack discs of movie musicals. There's no question that such CDs sound vastly better than the original LP releases, and they also tend to include abundant bonus material. For me, though, the whole idea of soundtrack albums has changed ever since the video revolution; while in many cases a cast album of a Broadway musical is the only record we have of the score and the performances, we live in a time where movie musicals, from the classic to the deadly, are readily available on video and cable airings. The bonus material notwithstanding, I don't quite see the point anymore of merely listening to an hour-plus disc taken from a film soundtrack when one could just as easily watch the same numbers on video.

That said, the new Varese Sarabande soundtrack disc of the 1954 film There's No Business Like Show Business is very well done. As compared to the original Decca soundtrack LP, it's in stereo, includes a great deal of additional material (including some bits not in the released film), and has Marilyn Monroe's vocals; because of a contractual problem, Monroe could not be included on the Decca release, so the great Dolores Gray was brought in to provide sinuous and very enjoyable renditions of Monroe's three songs.

Show Business was a corny family saga built around the Irving Berlin catalogue, with Berlin fashioning three new numbers. It was also something of a follow-up to the success of the Call Me Madam film, another Berlin project with Ethel Merman and Donald O'Connor. I've always treasured Show Business and forgiven it its sentimental excesses for one simple reason: It gave Merman one of her largest and most enjoyable film roles. Listening to the beautifully remastered new disc, it's Merman's singing and personality that justify the whole shebang. Varese has been kind enough to include a "hidden" track at the end of Merman's unadorned, unaccompanied rendition of the title song, and it makes one realize anew that there's just no one like this around today.

While I still wouldn't give up the old Decca LP -- Merman and Gray together on one disc! -- the new issue, with handsome packaging that includes some eye-catching off-camera shots, is an admirable job.

-- You can contact me at kenmanbway@aol.com