Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Christine Andreas and Nick & Nora


07 Dec 1997

CHRISTINE ANDREAS: LOVE IS GOOD (After 9)
In addition to beauty and acting ability, Christine Andreas, currently starring as Marguerite in The Scarlet Pimpernel, possesses one of the finest vocal instruments of her generation, a warm soprano with an extremely attractive tone, flexibility, and exemplary pitch. It was first displayed in the 20th anniversary Broadway revival of My Fair Lady, and was subsequently heard to great advantage in revivals of Oklahoma! and On Your Toes, as well as in Rags (for a week or so in Boston) and Legs Diamond (for a week or so of previews, until Andreas' role was eliminated).

CHRISTINE ANDREAS: LOVE IS GOOD (After 9)
In addition to beauty and acting ability, Christine Andreas, currently starring as Marguerite in The Scarlet Pimpernel, possesses one of the finest vocal instruments of her generation, a warm soprano with an extremely attractive tone, flexibility, and exemplary pitch. It was first displayed in the 20th anniversary Broadway revival of My Fair Lady, and was subsequently heard to great advantage in revivals of Oklahoma! and On Your Toes, as well as in Rags (for a week or so in Boston) and Legs Diamond (for a week or so of previews, until Andreas' role was eliminated).

Her return to Broadway has been overdue, and while we wait for the Atlantic cast recording of Pimpernel, we can enjoy her first solo CD, Love Is Good, which offers proof once again of what a fine singer she is. One Pimpernel number -- "Storybook," the waltz Marguerite sings in the second act while in disguise-- is included here, and Andreas does it definitively. There are other show tunes --"On A Clear Day," a combination of "Some Enchanted Evening" and "Younger Than Springtime"-- along with standards ("Fly Me To The Moon") and contemporary items (Billy Joel's "So It Goes," the moving AIDS anthem "Love Don't Need A Reason").

Andreas' most recent stage appearance prior to Pimpernel was in the harshly received London failure The Fields of Ambrosia, but she has remained loyal to the show's authors, and here sings several numbers by its composer Martin Silvestri and librettist-lyricist-star Joel Higgins, who joins Andreas for two duets on the disc (he also co-starred with her on Broadway in Oklahoma! as Laurence Guittard's successor).

Don't fail to investigate Andreas' other recordings: While her Fair Lady cast album has yet to make it to CD, her Laurey in Oklahoma! is the best recorded account of the role, and she's equally fine on the cast albums of On Your Toes and Ambrosia. Her first recital disc, with nice arrangements by producer Silvestri and superior work from orchestrator-conductor Harold Wheeler, makes for lovely listening.




NICK & NORA (JAY)
Nick & Nora opened at the Marquis Theatre six years ago tomorrow; JAY Records recently issued domestically the cast recording of the show, formerly available at a higher price as an import from TER. It's rare these days to see a musical open and close in a week and enter the record books with a run in the single digits; even the worst reviewed book musical of the current Broadway season looks to run well into the new year. The last Broadway musical to run a single performance was the 1983 Charles Strouse-Alan Jay Lerner show Dance A Little Closer; the quickest musical flops of the last few seasons (not counting a case like Whistle Down The Wind, which didn't make it to Broadway in its initial production but may eventually do so) have been The Red Shoes, Metro, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, and another Charles Strouse musical, Nick & Nora, which, after one of the most attenuated, tortuous, and well-publicized preview periods in history, opened on Sunday, December 8, 1991 and folded on Sunday, Dec. 15 after nine performances.

No, I don't intend to tell you that Nick & Nora was a neglected or misunderstood gem (indeed, I believe that very few such bombs were undeserving of their failure). It didn't work from the time it hit the Marquis stage, and the drastic revision and firing of a principal performer (Josie de Guzman) during previews made it slicker but still failed to make it work. With a book by Arthur Laurents that took the celebrated husband-and-wife sleuths Nick and Nora Charles from the stories of Dashiell Hammett and a popular series of MGM films and invented a new murder mystery for them set in '30s Hollywood, Nick & Nora experienced an embarrassing inability to raise its financing, which, considering the classy team of Laurents (who was also directing), composer Strouse, and lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr., indicated that there was something wrong with the material from the word go. And indeed, there was: While Nick & Nora attempted a parallel between the couple's investigation of the death of a scheming bookkeeper and their investigation of their marriage, it remained essentially a whodunit, and the show was done in by a double-murder plot that was confusing, overly complex, and never very gripping; audiences got lost in its convolutions early on, and there was no way that this problem could be solved during previews. The score dealt heavily in a fragmented style that mixed dialogue with song and dance and made it difficult for the audience to pick up on individual songs on a first hearing.

I don't believe that anyone has attempted to mount Nick and Nora in the last six years, but the show continues to exert a certain fascination, for several reasons. It had one of the more glamorous casts of recent musicals: How about Christine Baranski, Faith Prince, and Debra Monk as your supporting women? There was a certain integrity and intelligence in the show that couldn't be entirely wiped away by all of its confusions and disappointments And it was Joanna Gleason's last Broadway musical to date. After her triumph in Into The Woods, it was inevitable that Gleason would be quickly snapped up for a vehicle, and the one she got was unfortunately Nick & Nora. Gleason was unfairly criticized in the reviews, for while her performance may have been a bit hyperactive, it was necessary for her to pull out every trick in her considerable arsenal. She was actually quite good, in no way the problem with the show, and I can't think of anyone who would have been better. As compensation for the show's failure, Gleason found a new husband in its second leading man, Chris Sarandon.

The cast recording is misleading in one respect: It tends to simplify the numbers, eliminating much of the interspersed dialogue and fashioning simpler songs out of what were longer sequences in the show. But this won't be a problem for those who aren't familiar with the score as heard in the theatre, and in spite of this, there is a fair amount to enjoy on the album, even if Nick & Nora isn't one of those grand flop scores (like another Strouse show, Rags). I especially like Monk's "People Get Hurt" and Prince and company in "Men" (although the melody of the latter is too close to that of a duet for the secondary romantic couple in The Merrry Widow). And there are lengthy, complex sequences ("May The Best Man Win," "A Busy Night At Lorraine's") that impress. But there's something intriguing about the whole score, even if it's often the simple fascination of listening to a recording of one of the most famous flops of the '90s. Nick & Nora was a quality disaster, so it's not difficult to predict that, eventually, someone will give the show another stage chance.

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