Classic Albums of Working, Desert Song and Call Me Madam Get Digital-Era Release
By Kenneth Jones
The Masterworks Broadway label will open its vault and release three albums this summer: the original 1978 Broadway cast recording of Working, a 1950 recording of Dinah Shore singing Call Me Madam with members from the original Broadway troupe, and the 1959 studio-cast recording of the operetta The Desert Song.
This is part of Masterworks' mission to expose fans to "classic cast recordings previously unavailable in the CD era."
The recordings will be available as downloads through all major digital service providers and as disc-on-demand with the original cover art, via Arkivmusic.com and Amazon.com. All releases will be accompanied by new album pages and photos on MasterworksBroadway.com.
Here are the releases at a glance, with notes from Masterworks:
Released July 10: Based on the book by Studs Terkel, Working (1978) tells the story of average working people through original songs written by Stephen Schwartz (who also directed the show), James Taylor, Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead. Terkel described the production as a celebration of the "ordinary" people whose lives are unsung. Though Working ran for a total of 24 performances, it was nominated for six Tony Awards including Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical and Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Steven Boockvor and Rex Everhart). The cast also included Joe Mantegna and Lynne Thigpen, plus Bob Gunton and Patti LuPone (later of the original Broadway cast of Evita). Working continues to be revised and performed throughout the world and was adapted for an episode of PBS' "American Playhouse" in 1982.
Released Aug. 14: Call Me Madam "is a pure adrenalin shot of circa-1950 zeitgeist, a screwball comedy pulled from the headlines with impeccable timing," according to Masterworks. The show (inspired by the real-life Washington, DC, hostess Perle Mesta) was conceived as a vehicle for Broadway star Ethel Merman, and reunited her with Irving Berlin, composer-lyricist of her blockbuster 1946 hit Annie Get Your Gun. A hot ticket when it opened on Oct. 12, 1950, at the Imperial Theatre, Call Me Madam had a creative team that included director George Abbott and choreographer Jerome Robbins, with casting supervised by Abbott's new young assistant, Harold Prince. The cast included an Oscar-winning leading man (Paul Lukas), "the bright new presence of Russell Nype as Mrs. Adams' lovelorn attaché and — as Merman's underutilized understudy — the young Elaine Stritch." The capitalization for the entire show came from NBC and its record division, RCA Victor. "Unfortunately a big problem loomed as Merman was under contract to Decca Records who refused to release her to star in what was sure to be a hit record," according to Masterworks. RCA Victor turned to one of its hottest singers, Dinah Shore, to step into Merman's shoes for the original cast recording. It rose to No. 6 on the Billboard album chart but by the late 1950s, it had been deleted from the catalog. "The recording got an LP reissue in 1977 but it disappeared again until this Masterworks Broadway release." This is the first and only authorized CD version of RCA Victor's Call Me Madam digitally remastered from the original tapes.
Released Sept. 11: The Desert Song, Sigmund Romberg's classic 1926 musical/operetta with lyrics Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel, is brought to life in this 1959 Living Stereo recording. The studio cast — singing the yarn of North African adventure and heroes in disguise — features Metropolitan Opera opera star Giorgio Tozzi, Kathy Barr and Peter Palmer (Li'l Abner). Legendary maestro Lehman Engel provided new arrangements and served as musical director for the recording. Long unavailable in any format, this is the first release of the 1959 Studio Cast recording of Desert Song in the digital era.
Masterworks Broadway is a label of Sony Masterworks.
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