Lionel Bart wrote music and lyrics for but six produced musicals, all within a ten-year span. Oliver! was an instantaneous international success, Broadway's biggest British-born hit between Chu Chin Chow and Evita. The two that followed Oliver!, Blitz! and Maggie May, were both West End hits of the non-exportable variety. The final pair, Twang! and La Strada, were twin disaster on either side of the Atlantic. The mercurial Bart went into a decline of pills and booze and destiny, and nothing more issued from his music box.
Bart emerged from the world of fifties British rock 'n' roll, where he wrote tunes for Tommy Steele and others. The Oliver! score, which is no doubt well-known to the reader, can be used to illustrate the varied song types he used in his musicals. There are the strongly emotional ballads ("As Long As He Needs Me," "Where Is Love?"); the knockout rousers ("Consider Yourself," "Food, Glorious Food"); and more traditional musical comedy songs ("You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two," "I'd Do Anything"). These titles are mentioned only to give the reader an idea of the variety of the score of Blitz!
Blitz! opened on May 8, 1962 — which is to say, before Oliver! made it to Broadway. The show might be described as Abie's Irish Rose set against the burning of Atlanta; in more specific terms, it was Carrie's Cockney Alfred set against the Blitz. This presumably had a strong impact, as the World War II attacks were still a very recent London memory. The show inevitably suffered from comparison with Oliver!, which was already well into its record-breaking 2,618-performance run. The specificity of the setting, along with the accents of the characters and the outsized running costs, worked against the prospects for trans-Atlantic transfer. Even so, Blitz! played a respectable 568 performances. The cast album is mighty delicious, with Bart displaying the same scope as in his earlier hit.
This was a massive musical, with a stageful of scenery (from design genius Sean Kenny), actors and songs. Not having seen the show, I can imagine how it might have been a somewhat overloaded entertainment. The original cast CD, which has now been re-released by EMI, offers no less than 22 tracks. (The original LP was supplemented during the run of the show with another record, containing three songs that didn't fit on the first. This combined and complete Blitz! was first issued on CD in 1991.)
This is the spot where I list the songs I like, except there are too many of them. Using the Oliver! model from above, we can single out the ballads ("Far Away," "The Day After Tomorrow"), the knockout rousers ("Down the Lane," "Who's This Geezer Hitler?") and the musical comedy entries ("I Want to Whisper Something," "Opposites"). But this list leaves out "Another Morning," "Mums and Dads," "Who Wants to Settle Down?" and more. So let's just say, Blitz! is as enjoyable a pre-Webber West End score as you're likely to find.
INSIDE U.S.A. [Sepia 1056]
Composer Arthur Schwartz and lyricist Howard Dietz set a new standard for the sophisticated Broadway revue with Three's a Crowd (1930) and The Band Wagon (1931). Their collaboration, which brought forth such stunning songs as "Something to Remember You By," "Dancing in the Dark" and "Alone Together," lasted less than a decade, after which they moved onto other partners (with lesser success).
The last of their successful revues had been the 1935 travelogue At Home Abroad, starring Beatrice Lillie. Schwartz and Dietz reunited in 1948 for another travelogue, the stateside Inside U.S.A. (The title was borrowed from John Gunther's book of the same title, although the resemblance ended there.) The show, produced by Schwartz himself, proved a moderate success, with Lillie joined by Hollywood's Jack Haley. A dispute between ASCAP (which represented the writers and publishers) and the phonograph recording industry threatened to spill over into a ban, so RCA Victor and Columbia both recorded selections from the show before rehearsals began.
Victor featured the two stars, supported by studio singers. Lillie recorded three songs, "Come, Oh Come (to Pittsburgh)," "At the Mardi Gras" and "Atlanta." (This last, which was cut from the show, saluted that city's famous penitentiary to a Chattanooga Choo-Choo beat: "Robbed a jewelry store, so I'm heading for — Atlanta!," where they "charm you and dis-arm you.") Haley sings two, one of which is the ever-so-charming "Rhode Island Is Famous for You." ("Pencils come from Pennsylvania," Dietz tells us, along with "vests from Vest Virginia" and "minks from Wy-o-mink.")
The song destined to be a hit was recorded by RCA recording-artist Perry Como; his "Haunted Heart" hit the charts, climbing to #20. Columbia featured Buddy Clark and Pearl Bailey (who sings "Blue Grass" and "Protect Me"), neither of whom was otherwise connected with the show. Because both sets of recordings were made in the last days of 1947, the theatre orchestrations by Russell Bennett and Don Walker were not yet written, and thus are not used.
Sepia has filled out the 14 tracks with an additional 11. One of the very first attempts at an original Broadway cast recordings was a 20-minute selection from The Band Wagon, featuring Fred and Adele Astaire. Schwartz and Dietz have a few introductory lines, and Schwartz plays the piano for "White Heat." These recordings, which have been kicking around since forever — well, since 1931 — are a delight. They sound as clean as we are likely to get them, and demonstrate the pre-Hollywood Fred (who is considerably more of a clown than the Astaire we know).
Three tracks from the 1953 film The Bandwagon are also included, featuring Astaire, Nanette Fabray and Jack Buchanan. Additionally, there are three highly listenable tracks from a 1953 studio album, conducted by Jay Blackton. "High and Low" features George Britton and Edith (Edie) Adams, ten weeks after she opened in Wonderful Town. "I Love Louisa" and "New Sun in the Sky" are performed by Harold Lang, who was just then starring in a revival of Pal Joey. —Steven Suskin, author of the forthcoming "Second Act Trouble" [Applause Books], "A Must See! Brilliant Broadway Artwork," the "Broadway Yearbook" series, "Show Tunes" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached by e-mail at Ssuskin@aol.com.