Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Among The Missing

Special Features   Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Among The Missing
Two months ago, RCA Victor released the cast recording of A New Brain, the William Finn-James Lapine musical that played the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre last summer. This week, the same label will reissue (along with the Broadway cast disc of Darling of the Day) the recording of Al Carmines' Off-Broadway musical Promenade.

Two months ago, RCA Victor released the cast recording of A New Brain, the William Finn-James Lapine musical that played the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre last summer. This week, the same label will reissue (along with the Broadway cast disc of Darling of the Day) the recording of Al Carmines' Off-Broadway musical Promenade.

In addition to the label, what do these two recordings have in common? Both can never quite be listed as "original cast recordings," as both are missing at least one principal performer in the show on opening night. In the case of Brain, Christopher Innvar did not get to record his role (and also withdrew from the production) owing to vocal problems; Norm Lewis did the album and subsequently took over the part in the show. In the case of Promenade, the show was recorded two months into the run, by which time the show's leading lady Madeline Kahn, as well as George S. Irving and a couple of other originals, had fled. Kahn's role is sung by Sandra Schaeffer, who was actually the fourth (after Kahn, Pamela Hall, and Marie Santell) actress to play the role of Servant, and who does a pretty good Kahn imitation.

Let's recall some other notable occasions which saw principal performers failing to preserve their performances on cast albums. Howard Da Silva's name springs to mind, for while he did get to record the roles he created in The Cradle Will Rock and Fiorello!, he had less luck with two other major hits. When Oklahoma! was recorded in 1943, Da Silva got to preserve his duet with Alfred Drake on "Pore Jud Is Daid," but not his big solo, "Lonely Room," which was omitted from the recording. When, following the huge success of the album, a second volume was recorded in 1944, Drake stole "Lonely Room," so we will never know what Da Silva sounded like in that dramatic aria.

In 1969, Da Silva took seriously ill during New York previews of 1776; while he made it to opening night, he was out of the show for a couple of months thereafter, and his role of Benjamin Franklin was recorded by the standby who filled in, Rex Everhart (who wound up standing by for the same role in last season's 1776 revival). Da Silva got to make up for this, though, by repeating his Franklin in the film version, and preserving it on the soundtrack album (and of course on the video and laser disc versions).

Julia Migenes, whose career has spanned operetta, opera, musical theatre, film, and TV, is a fine performer; in addition to her beautifully sung Hodel on the original Broadway cast recording of Fiddler on the Roof, her Maria on the Viennese cast recording of West Side Story is sensational, and her luscious rendition of a big solo called "Wenn ich die Zarin von Rusland war" in a '70s musical version of Arms and the Man called Helden, Helden justifies seeking out both the Vienna and Hamburg cast recordings on which she appears. Rags lasted just four Broadway performances in 1986; the recording was made several months after the closing, and when negotiations with the show's star, opera diva Teresa Stratas, broke down, Migenes, who had followed Stratas in several roles at the Metropolitan Opera, was enlisted to take her place on the recording. Migenes' Rebecca is huge-voiced and impassioned, but rather too grand; she misses the simplicity and directness that Stratas -- even with her own huge instrument -- was able to impart to the role. Of course, this should not deter anyone from listening to the Rags recording, particularly now that another musical -- Ragtime -- has come along with striking similarities. Perhaps if I had never heard Stratas, I would be able to enjoy Migenes without reservation; as it is, I find Stratas's Rebecca a glaring gap in cast album history.

Another Rags diva, Judy Kuhn, got excellent reviews and a Tony nomination when she played Amalia in the Roundabout Theater's acclaimed 1993 revival of She Loves Me. While she appeared in the full Roundabout run, she opted to play Betty in the Los Angeles production of Sunset Boulevard rather than continue with She Loves Me when it transferred to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Her place was taken by Diane Fratantoni, and, as the Varese Sarabande cast album was made during the Atkinson run, it was Fratantoni rather than Kuhn who got to preserve the role. While Fratantoni is a good singer, capable of everything the rangy role demands, she does not possess a distinctive, star voice like Kuhn's; there can be little doubt that the Roundabout recording would get a lot more play had it featured Kuhn.

Those who only know Donna Murphy from Passion and The King and I may not be aware of her flair for madcap comedy, which was lavishly demonstrated in the amusing 1991 off-Broadway musical Song of Singapore. The show also allowed her to show off her remarkable skills as a jazz/scat singer. Unfortunately, Murphy had vocal problems during the run and left the company; by the time DRG made the cast album, Jacquey Maltby was playing Rose, the band singer with memory problems, and posterity was thus deprived of hearing Murphy's uproarious star turn, as good as anything she has done since.

Because of her exclusive contract with RCA, sultry songstress Abbe Lane was not permitted to participate in the Columbia cast recording of the 1958 Oh Captain!, an unsuccessful show that also boasted Tony Randall and Susan Johnson in the cast and a delightful score by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. Eileen Rodgers, who would go on to record her own roles in Fiorello!, Tenderloin, and Anything Goes, substituted for Lane on the cast album, but Lane recorded two songs (including her spicy solo "Femininity") on an RCA recital entitled The Lady in Red.

In a similar instance, Irra Petina was unable to participate in Decca's cast album of the 1944 Broadway hit Song of Norway, and her place was taken by the label's Kitty Carlisle; Petina made an album of Norway songs (both those she sang in the show and others) for Columbia, and she is joined on it by Robert Weede, who was not in the production.

A related situation: Because Decca would not release Call Me Madam star Ethel Merman, and because RCA had somehow been willing to pick up the cast album rights to the show without securing the services of its raison-d'etre diva, the Madam cast album has popular RCA vocalist Dinah Shore in Merman's place. Merman did, of course, record an entire album of Madam, but it's not a very theatrical disc and doesn't follow the show arrangements or exact song distribution (with Merman sounding the way she does, though, it's nonetheless a must).

Similarly, a 1950 Columbia studio cast recording of Pal Joey starring Harold Lang and original Vera Vivienne Segal led to both performers starring in a hit 1952 Broadway revival, the Capitol cast album of which could not have their services owing to the earlier album. But Segal and Lang at least got a more full-length and/or theatrical preservation than Lane, Petina, or Merman got in the above-noted instances.

Speaking of Merman, her 1946 Broadway smash Annie Get Your Gun had a supporting romantic couple named Winnie and Tommy, who sang the songs "Who Do You Love, I Hope?" and "I'll Share It All With You." Decca's original Broadway cast recording preserves one of the Winnie-Tommy numbers, but, perhaps to save money, Robert Lenn and Kathleen Carnes (probably Decca studio singers) are heard in "Who Do You Love, I Hope?," rather than Betty Anne Nyman and Kenny Bowers, who introduced the song at the Imperial.

The saddest instance under examination here is that of the RCA Grand Hotel cast album. The show was over two years old when it finally got recorded, and by that time leading man David Carroll was gravely ill. The label was aware of the situation, so Carroll was invited into the studio to set down his numbers prior to the recording date; he died there, having recorded virtually nothing. Brent Barrett, who played the Baron on Broadway, the national tour, and in London (and is currently starring in the Broadway Chicago) is excellent on the recording, but one wishes that Carroll had gotten to preserve his final role. The incomparable voice of Carroll is, of course, heard on the album, in a bonus track taken from his cabaret performance of "Love Can't Happen" a year earlier.

There are several other instances of performers missing on cast albums. To cite only a few:
When the short-lived Carmelina got recorded after it closed, leading man Cesare Siepi declined to participate, and was replaced by Paul Sorvino. The Tap Dance Kid was recorded almost a year into its run, and Jimmy Tate and Gail Nelson are heard on the cast album rather than originals Alfonso Ribeiro and Hattie Winston. The Olympus on My Mind cast recording features neither the original Actors Outlet nor Lamb's Theater company, but rather members of each, replacements, and Joyce DeWitt from a stock production. Liv Ullmann didn't get to preserve her only Broadway musical role on the I Remember Mama album (Sally Ann Howes sings in her place), but then that recording is a studio cast, with only George Hearn and George S. Irving repeating their Broadway roles. And while the original 1965 London cast recording of the delicious Divorce Me, Darling! finds leading lady Patricia Michael singing three of her songs, a note on the sleeve warns that "Due to the indisposition of Miss Patricia Michael, the part of Polly in 'No Harm Done' and 'Together Again' is sung by her understudy, Miss Jenny Wren."

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