ON THE RECORD: A New Recording of Stephen Sondheim's Passion and "Judy Kuhn: All This Happiness"

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07 Jul 2013

Rebecca Luker

Luker, besides being a stalwart member of the unofficial PS Classics rep company — our review of her delightful Kern album "I Got Love" is linked here — was a superb Clara in the 2002 production at the Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration. Our favorite Clara thus far, in fact, for reasons which can be heard — instantly, in the first number — on the new recording. Yes, Luker is eleven years older than she was in 2002, and has taken to playing "mother" roles nowadays. She made her Broadway debut in 1988 as a replacement Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, which is to say that she must, logically, be somewhere on the far side of 39. Luker nevertheless makes the perfect Clara, calendar be damned.

Judy Kuhn's Fosca, too, is a holdover from the Kennedy Center production. Kuhn was very good in 2002, but she seemed even better at CSC. Fosca has always been an odd bird, if you will; the actress playing the role is typically obscured to seem drab, ugly and sickly. Kuhn, at the CSC, added to this an "edge" which I don't recall from 2002. There is a harshness which suggests that Fosca's ill fortune was caused not only by her looks but to some extent by her personality. Donna Murphy gave an unforgettable performance in the original production, and Maria Friedman on the London cast album sounds like she must have been just as good. But Kuhn adds a new validity to the picture.

As for the male lead, Mr. Silverman, who was slated to play Maxim de Winter in the Rebecca that wasn't, was a revelation. Finally, someone made sense of the role, making Giorgio an equal to the two women tugging at his proverbial epaulets. (A few thousand New Yorkers had the privilege, two weekends ago, of hearing Silverman as the scenery-chewing Kodaly in the full-orchestra concert of She Loves Me at the Caramoor Festival. It turns out the man is funny, too!)

The recording has another hidden asset in Stephen Bogardus, as Colonel Ricci. I have always found Sondheim's stunning "Flashback" sequence to be the fulcrum of the score, radiating themes (and musical themes) in both directions. I can't say whether Bogardus — a fine singing actor — enhances it, or whether prior Ricci's simply haven't been allowed to stand out. When Bogardus gets hold of Sondheim's tortured waltz and starts singing that "the enemy was love," we get additional passion from Passion.

CSC used a reduced orchestra of nine pieces, which would normally suggest a severe musical loss. In this case, the new orchestration was done by Jonathan Tunick, who (of course) did the original. Cramped onto the side balcony with only 180-seats, the music perfectly filled the space. What's more, music director Rob Berman got full value from the orchestra and the all important singing ensemble. Passion sounded wonderful at CSC, and this carries over to the two-CD album.

Okay, there is one musical moment that fails to replicate what they have in the full version: The climactic orchestral swell at the end of the "No One Has Ever Loved Me" scene. It's hard to do that with no harp and only one trumpet, I'm afraid. But that is a small, 15-second lapse, more than made up for by the passionate glories of this new recording of Sondheim's Passion.

Cover art

Judy Kuhn: All This Happiness [PS Classics]

While awaiting the delayed Passion recording session, Judy Kuhn went into the studio to record an album of her own. "All This Happiness" is the title tune, paying homage to Passion. (The song is here merged with "In Buddy's Eyes," from Follies, which makes an interesting pairing.) Otherwise, the CD is low on show tunes. Rather, Kuhn gives us a collection that hits on pop, jazz, cabaret, blues and more, with arrangements by Dan Lipton leading a three-man band.

Highlights for me, besides the Passion song: "I Love the Way You're Breaking My Heart," an old-time song by Louis Alter and Milton Drake; "Something Cool," a very good café ballad by Billy Barnes that I don't recall having heard before; Cy Coleman & Carolyn Leigh's "The Best Is Yet to Come" and Randy Newman's "Losing You."

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes" as well as “The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations,” “Second Act Trouble,” the "Broadway Yearbook" series and the “Opening Night on Broadway” books. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

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