John McGlinn, Conductor and Musical Theatre Archivist, Dies at 55

News   John McGlinn, Conductor and Musical Theatre Archivist, Dies at 55
John McGlinn, a conductor and musical archivist who devoted himself to finding and recording the restored scores of early works of the American musical theatre, was found dead in his apartment on Feb. 14. It's believed the cause of death was a heart attack.

In 1987, he helped bring to the public's attention the incredible discovery, in a Seacaucus, NJ, warehouse, of the original versions of the scores of many Broadway shows, written by the likes of Kern and Gershwin. Many of these original versions had been presumed lost. "It's like opening the tomb of King Tut," he said at the time. "There are major works here that had been presumed lost forever; shows that were never revived and were assumed to have vanished off the face of the earth."

One of Mr. McGlinn's first albums was a recording of Gershwin overtures and dance music using their original orchestrations. It was released by EMI in 1987. After that, he made recordings of the complete scores (with original orchestrations) for Show Boat, Anything Goes, Brigadoon, Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me, Kate and Sitting Pretty, an obscure show by Jerome Kern, a composer in which he took a particular interest.

The recordings were exhaustive; the Show Boat album was comprised of three discs and three-and-a-half hours of music (including cut songs, variants, revival music, film music and more). It is treasured by fans of the groundbreaking Kern-Hammerstein show, which is considered to be the launch of the modern American musical. A single disc of that McGlinn recording was also released, representing the score as it would have been heard on opening night in 1927.

The New York Times wrote that the expansive recording "may or may not make the case for this Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein 2d musical as a nascent American opera. But it does establish it as an even more moving, serious and beautiful piece of musical theatre than most of us previously realized."

Early in his career, in 1982, his interest in Kern brought him to the Houston Grand Opera for a revival of Show Boat. On that production, he acted as a musical editor in restoring the original orchestrations. (Very often with early musicals, the orchestrations for the original production were thought to be of little worth, and were lost or discarded after the show ended.) He also did some work for Ira Gershwin on original orchestrations for several Gershwin projects and worked with orchestrateor Hans Spialek on the 1983 Broadway revival of On your Toes. His other studio recordings "Broadway Showstoppers," "Kurt Weill on Broadway" and "Jerome Kern Treasury" showcased obscure and well known songs from many Golden Age shows, letting modern listeners hear them as originally intended, with the cream of today's theatre talent (Brent Barrett, Judith Blazer, Judy Kaye, Rebecca Luker, Davis Gaines and more).

Where else but on a McGlinn disc would you hear long sections of Kern's Sweet Adeline, or Weill and Ira Gershwin's The Firebrand of Florence? He also recorded Kern film music and overtures, Porter overtures and dance music, and Warner Bros. movie-musical songs ("The Busby Berkeley Album") — with complete dance music.

Mr. McGlinn — noted by the New York Times for "his ferocious tenacity as an historical scavenger" — took his dedication to early musicals to various corners of the entertainment world. He conducted original 1925 No No Nanette at the Carnegie Recital Hall, and made several radio appearances with the BBC Symphony Orchestra for BBC Radio-3. He conducted Cole Porter's Gay Divorcee at Weill Hall in 1993. He also conducted revivals of Brigadoon and HMS Pinafore for New York City Opera.

On many of his recordings, he made vocal cameos. On Show Boat, he was a pianist at the Trocadero, when Magnolia is auditioning for a job.

Mr. McGlinn is survived by two sisters and a brother.

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