Vincent Youmans' 1932 romantic musical, Through the Years, his last full score written for Broadway, gets a world premiere recording release on the web Sept. 28 and in stores Oct. 2, from the ps classics label.
A cast headed by soprano Heidi Grant Murphy (New York Philharmonic's Sweeney Todd) and Broadway's Brent Barrett (Chicago, Annie Get Your Gun) went into the recording studio the week of July 9. The supporting roles for producer Tommy Krasker's recording are filled by Hunter Foster (Urinetown, Grease!), Jennifer Cody (of Urinetown and Manhattan Theatre Club's The Wild Party); Philip Chaffin (of the ps classics disc, "Where Do I Go From You?"); and a full chorus. Aaron Gandy conducts. Members of the Youmans family were in attendance at the recording sessions.
The recording is available beginning Sept. 28 on the psclassics website, and goes on sale in stores nationwide on Oct. 2, producer Tommy Krasker told Playbill On-Line.
"Aaron Gandy, a conductor and Youmans scholar, brought the show to me," producer Krasker said. "I didn't know the score at all, but I was instantly taken — part operetta, part musical comedy, it seemed to me the best of both worlds. It was full of beautiful melodies interwoven throughout the score, and I thought it would make a wonderful recording. The title song was Youmans' favorite of all his melodies."
Through the Years covers a 40-year time span and has been called "Kern-like" by historians who note that both composers were interested in long musical scenes and recurring musical ideas that felt like nods to operetta. (Kern's Show Boat also similarly follows two generations of history.) The Ireland-set show (with book by Brian Hooker, lyrics by Edward Heyman) begins in 1914 and follows Kenneth and Kathleen, who plan to wed. Kathleen's guardian, John, objects to the marriage because of past problems between the families. In Act Two, John recalls the past, when he was betrothed to Kathleen's aunt, Moonyeen. In Act Three, five years have passed since 1914. The casting involves doubling and dual roles. The musical is based on a play by Allan Langdon Martin called Smilin' Through.
"In researching it, I found a great quote from the original New York Times review, where the critic called it 'felicitously melodic, and in its mood, design and organic unity, far ahead of its predecessors,'" Krasker said. "Those were exactly the qualities I found so appealing. And it was so warm and romantic. The show had been a huge flop in 1932, and one of the clear reasons, even back then, was that Youmans had decided to produce it himself, and in his eagerness, had overproduced it. The show is a chamber operetta, very intimate, with just six principals, but as seen originally, it was a big lumbering spectacle. Aaron wanted to take the original orchestration, which was scored for a symphony orchestra — that's even how it was billed in the program — and reduce it down to what the show seemed to call for: a chamber group of 15. He had about 10 charts adapted by late January when we did a playthrough with some of our favorite musicians; their enthusiasm matched our own — several of them thought the score had echoes of Debussy and Faure — so we decided to move forward."
Two hits emerged from the 20-performance flop: "Drums in My Heart" and "Through the Years." Two numbers are being restored for the single-disc album: One song that was cut in rehearsal, and another cut following the opening, Krasker said.
The tracks are:
"Prologue: Through the Years" (Heidi Grant Murphy)
"Kathleen & Kenneth's Call" (Heidi Grant Murphy & Philip Chaffin)
"Kathleen Mine" (Philip Chaffin)
"Invitation" (Hunter Foster and Chorus)
"You're in Love" (Heidi Grant Murphy and Chorus)
"Kinda Like You" (Jennifer Cody & Hunter Foster)
"I'll Come Back to You" (Philip Chaffin, Heidi Grant Murphy and Brent Barrett)
"How Happy Is the Bride" (Brent Barrett and Chorus)
"Through the Years" (Heidi Grant Murphy)
"It's Every Girl's Ambition" (Jennifer Cody and Female Chorus)
"You're Everywhere" (Brent Barrett & Heidi Grant Murphy)
"Finaletto Act II" (Brent Barrett & Heidi Grant Murphy)
"Ghost Music" (Orchestra)
"The Road to Home" (Hunter Foster and Female Chorus)
"My Heart Alone" (Heidi Grant Murphy)
"Kinda Like You" reprise (Hunter Foster & Jennifer Cody)
"Drums in My Heart" (Philip Chaffin and Chorus)
"Finale Ultimo" (Brent Barrett, Heidi Grant Murphy, Philip Chaffin and Chorus)
"The leading lady called for a lyric soprano with a strong coloratura." Krasker told Playbill On-Line. "I had just worked with Heidi Grant Murphy in the New York Philharmonic's Sweeney Todd, and thought of her immediately. She struck me as one of those rare, gifted artists who's as comfortable singing Broadway as singing opera. I sent her a note, followed it up with three songs, and she signed on at once. As her leading man, I approached Brent Barrett, with whom I'd worked last on Strike Up the Band 10 years ago. Brent, again, heard the songs and said yes."
Producer Krasker is known for producing the treasured-by-fans Gershwin recordings of Strike Up the Band, Pardon My English, Girl Crazy, Oh, Kay! and more. Barrett sang the leading man on the Krasker-Nonesuch-Roxbury Strike Up the Band discs. Still a producer for Nonesuch, helming discs by Audra McDonald, Mandy Patinkin, Dawn Upshaw and others, Krasker also runs his own label, ps classics, meant to focus on underheard singers, obscure shows and classic show music.
The first two releases of ps classics, "Philip Chaffin: Where Do I Go From You?" and "Windflowers: The Songs of Jerome Moross," are available at www.psclassics.com and in stores.
— By Kenneth Jones