In his tenure at the Varese Sarabande label, Kimmel produced 106 theatre related CDs, including shows such as the 1994 revival of Merrily We Roll Along and the 1996 revival of I Do! I Do!, and the L.A. cast recording of Ruthless!. The label also offered such solo artists as Sally Mayes, Twiggy, Rebecca Luker and the late Laurie Beechman, and special compilations like “Unsung Musicals” and “Lost in Boston.”
But Varese found their show catalogue less profitable and manageable than their film and classical endeavors, so they halted that line "and got out of the Broadway business," as Kimmel puts it. Kimmel bought out the vast majority of the theatre-related disks he created there. He’s started the new label, Fynsworth Alley, to put out show-related CDs and also help move the back-catalogue of Varese Sarabande disks he produced.
According to spokesperson Lex Leifheit (reached Aug. 29), the site is "ready to go. It'll feature a regular column called `Ten Questions,' the first being with Stephen Sondheim — appropriately enough, since the premiere album for Fynsworth Alley will be `The Stephen Sondheim Album.' Also, there's an interview with Dorothy Loudon (who sings `I'm Still Here' on the Sondheim disk) and various other surprises."
As reported previously, the "The Stephen Sondheim Album" will be released Oct. 1, though visitors to the website can pre-order it beginning Sept. 1. (Those who join the site's free "club" will get the release a week early.) A compilation of Sondheim songs (similar to a Varese release devoted to Stephen Schwartz). Sondheim fans should find the release of special interest, since it includes a song the composer wrote when he was 19. "I Must Be Dreaming" was penned for the musical All That Glitters and, according to Kimmel, has never before been recorded.
Here's the full line-up for the Sondheim disk:
"Make The Most of Your Music" (Follies - added in 1987 London production) Brent Barrett
"Everybody Says Don't" (Anyone Can Whistle) Liz Callaway
"Broadway Baby" (Follies) Lea DeLaria
"Losing My Mind" (Follies) Dame Edna Everage
"A Moment With You" (Saturday Night) Theresa Finamore and Andrew Lippa
"Sorry-Grateful" (Company) Guy Haines
"Children Will Listen" (Into the Woods) Ruthie Henshall
"Giants In The Sky" (Into the Woods) Brian d'Arcy James
"Anyone Can Whistle" (Anyone Can Whistle) Jane Krakowski
"With So Little To Be Sure Of" (Anyone Can Whistle) / "Who Could Be Blue?" (Follies - cut song)
"I'm Still Here" (Follies) Dorothy Loudon
"You're Gonna Love Tomorrow" (Follies) / "Not A Day Goes By" (Merrily Roll Along) Christiane Noll
"It Wasn't Meant To Happy" (Follies cut song) Michele Pawk
"Another Hundred People" (Company) Alice Ripley
"I Must Be Dreaming" (All That Glitters) Emily Skinner (This track is on the internet CD only.)
"So Many People" (Saturday Night) Tami Tappan.
Spokesperson Leifheit told Playbill On-Line (May 5) the new website was necessary as a way of counteracting the difficulty of marketing theatre related disks in the usual way. “You put out some of these records,” said Leifheit, “and it’s available at the Lincoln Center Tower Records and nowhere else in the country. A website changes that picture.” In a statement, Kimmel said his plan was to create, “a full-service internet presence...to offer our CDs to the most people in the easiest way possible.”
Spokesperson Patty Freedman noted that the site would also offer live chats with its recording artists, as well as a discount club membership for releases. Recordings produced by Kimmel at Varese Sarabande will also be available for purchase. An hourlong Broadway showtune radio show — not just of Fynsworth tracks — will also be part of the website. There will be three Real Audio webcasts each week, all of them archived and available for anytime listening.
Other expected releases will include an Emily Skinner solo album, which will be recorded Aug. 25. That disk will include three duets with Skinner's Side Show co-star Alice Ripley, including "Ballyshannon" from James Joyce's The Dead and a medley of Gypsy's "You'll Never Get Away From Me" and "Together Wherever We Go."
Speaking of The Dead, producer Kimmel told PBOL he'd been actively seeking to record the original cast album of that musical, currently having its first post-Broadway mounting on the West Coast. Prospects don't look good, though. "That show is too expensive to record. And I think it's been the same story with every label that's been interested. We talked to the producers, and I agreed to put up a certain amount of the budget I felt we could afford. They wanted to get the other part of the budget themselves. It was a considerable sum. That was seven weeks ago, and I haven't heard from them since.
"You'd think cast albums wouldn't be as expensive as they are," continued Kimmel. "But you factor in the cast, the band... it's much more expensive than the compilation and solo albums." Kimmel estimates the cost of an average solo artist CD to run in the $35,000 range, while the Sondheim album topped $50,000. Other upcoming albums include a jazz trio version (The Trotter Trio) of The Fantasticks — all instrumentals, with co composer Harvey Schmidt guesting at the piano on one track, as well as solos from Brent Barrett (Chicago) and the aforementioned Alice Ripley. (The latter is also recording a rock album on another label but will do a showtune disk for Fynsworth.) A Richard Rodgers compilation, similar to the Sondheim disk, is also in the works.
But why the internet venture? "The reason Varese rarely made a huge amount of money," Kimmel told PBOL back in May, "is that stores can return 100 percent of what they don't sell. Whereas with the `net, we press what we need and we sell it. The point of the venture is to reach the 3000 or so people who bought every album I ever produced at Varese; now they'll come to website and buy it. Three months later, they can come to retail stores, too, but those disks won't have the extra bonus tracks. We do want to entice the hardcore collector mentality."
Asked about the status of the Varese recordings, Kimmel said, "Out of the 106 albums, I produced there, I'd say 92 or 93 are theatre related. Of those, I'll probably end up with 70. We would re-press them when they needed to be re-pressed, and we'd do the booklets jointly with Varese, which will likely remain the distributor for store copies. Varese will also be the store distributor for Fynsworth CDs, too."
Before coming to Varese Sarabande, Kimmel wrote and directed “The First Nudie Musical” (a film starring Cindy Williams...remember?) and appeared on several sitcoms and variety shows.
-- By David Lefkowitz