Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Jerry and Tyne

Special Features   Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Jerry and Tyne
Instead of CDs this week, a commercially released videotape and a recent radio broadcast.

Instead of CDs this week, a commercially released videotape and a recent radio broadcast.

I do wish that the last 15 years had seen more new Jerry Herman musicals than tributes to Herman's past glories, but that hasn't been the case. Since La Cage aux Folles in 1983, all we've had in the way of new Herman is last year's TV musical Mrs. Santa Claus. In the meantime, there have been Jerry's Girls (in two versions, the first with Carol Channing on tour, the second on Broadway with Chita Rivera and Dorothy Loudon); Herman's own Rainbow & Stars cabaret act (with guest singers) which has been recorded and continues to get performed around the country; and a June 30, 1993 gala tribute at the Hollywood Bowl.

The latter event first aired as a live pay-per-view attraction, and was subsequently shown on the PBS Great Performances series. Now it has been issued by Varese Sarabande on video in both VHS and the new DVD systems, both reasonably priced, under the title Jerry Herman's Broadway at the Hollywood Bowl.

Don't get me wrong: I love Jerry Herman's work. But his Broadway output is just seven full scores, so the various Herman tributes tend to repeat the same numbers and in some cases the same routines featuring those numbers. While the cast of the Hollywood Bowl salute is a respectable one, it should be noted that certain names that appear on the front of the box--Liza Minnelli, Paul and Linda McCartney, Angela Lansbury--are seen only in brief, pre-taped, spoken greetings. In fact, Lansbury's absence is conspicuous, particularly when Herman's other great-lady star, Carol Channing, is present throughout and as outgoing as ever.

Highlights include Bea Arthur recreating "The Man in the Moon" from Mame (and I don't care that she blows a note); Channing's introductory comments and descent down the stairs in full Dolly drag (what a shame that she only warbles a few lines, and that the Dolly! title number, never seen in its entirety on TV, could not have been recreated for the occasion); George Hearn in "Movies Were Movies" and his own "I Am What I Am"; Karen Morrow's "I Don't Want To Know"; Morrow, Florence Lacey, and Lorna Luft in "Wherever He Ain't"; and Davis Gaines in "Song on the Sand." There is nothing sung from Milk and Honey, The Grand Tour or A Day in Hollywood (not to mention Herman's off-Broadway ventures, including the book show Madame Aphrodite), although there are four orchestral sequences (Herman expert Don Pippin leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic) that feature a few of the many missing tunes. Leslie Uggams, Rita Moreno, Lee Roy Reams, and Michael Feinstein also figure prominently. Shown after almost every number is Herman in his seat, and his emotional, heartfelt reactions to all of the performances go a long way toward making the proceedings appealing. Musical theatre fans will want this pleasant collection, but I can't say that it's brimming with deathless performances, and I can't help but wish that it featured a few more original cast recreations.

Tyne Daly's musical theatre career demonstrates that one can be a sensational musical star even if one can't sing like Ethel Merman, Patti LuPone, or Elaine Paige. Not that Daly can't sing: All the notes are there, they're strong ones, and she has no problem with pitch or rhythm. Daly's shortcoming as a singer is an unreliable technique that sometimes causes her to dry up and have difficulty negotiating from note to note. Sometimes just about everything is working for her vocally (her recording of Hildy in On The Town and her BBC Radio 2 broadcast of Call Me Madam), and other times her singing is a more mixed bag (her DRG Madam cast recording) or distressing (her Broadway Gypsy cast recording).

I believe she is somewhat spooked by the recording studio, and tends to sound better in live performance; every time I saw her play Rose in Gypsy, she sang infinitely better than she does on the recording.

Even with her vocal shortcomings, Daly, thanks to her warmth, acting ability, bountiful personality and sense of musical comedy style, can be one of our most stellar musical theatre performers, even if her particular qualities mean that she must choose her roles carefully. I've followed her musical career very closely and loved her in Gypsy, Queen of the Stardust Ballroom (a Long Beach Civic Light Opera revision of Ballroom), On The Town (she's even better in the commercially available video version of the concert), and Call Me Madam. While the first and last of those titles are Merman shows, and Daly had triumphs with both, they were '50s titles, suited to Daly's age and manner. I would not have expected her to take on Merman's 1934 role of Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, but now she has, for her second appearance in the BBC Radio 2 series of musicals.

As expected, she's her usual warm and winning self, and excellent in the dialogue. She finds her way around the rather rangy music well enough, but it's not an ideal role for her, mainly because Reno comes and goes and really lands only in the songs. Daly here is without the support of a strong character to play and lengthy scenes to act, and because she's not a drop-dead singer like LuPone or Paige, Reno doesn't suit her as well as it did them (like LuPone and Paige, Daly is heard in the Lincoln Center Theater version of the book and score).

Nor is Daly's thickish sound quite right for the quicksilver Reno. Still, it's fun to hear her do a part she's unlikely to play on stage, and I'm delighted that she continues to pursue musical roles. Daly's next one will be Ruth in Wonderful Town, a part she was supposed to have played for New York City Opera and that she will play in November for the Los Angeles Reprise! concert series. I'd also like to see or hear her in Shirley Booth's roles in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Juno.

The highly farcical and decidedly visual action of Anything Goes makes it a piece less suited to the radio than others in the series. Tim Flavin, the American who won acclaim in the West End On Your Toes revival and has remained in England ever since to appear in such shows as Kiss Me, Kate and Crazy For You, is a good choice for Billy Crocker, but I would have liked to hear John Barrowman, who replaced Howard McGillin opposite Paige in the London production of this version of Anything Goes (Barrowman was Daly's Kenneth in the BBC Madam). David Soul, best known for TV's Starsky and Hutch two decades ago, has of late moved into musicals (he's the Narrator on the Australian cast recording of Blood Brothers and was Zach in the BBC Radio 2 A Chorus Line) and makes a good Moonface; Ann Wakefield, Maisie in the Broadway The Boy Friend in 1954, is Mrs. Harcourt; and the best performance is given by Simon Jones as Lord Evelyn.

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