DO I HEAR A WALTZ? Fynsworth Alley 302 062 126
It was with a certain amount of apprehension that I approached the new recording of Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim's 1965 musical Do I Hear a Waltz?, this being a cast album of last year's production at the Pasadena Playhouse. One understands the reasons new productions of old musicals are usually reorchestrated for smaller bands, but it's hard not to miss the tones and colors you know were there. So let me start by announcing that they didn't decimate Do I Hear a Waltz?! Ralph Burns's excellent orchestrations appear to have been used almost intact; there's a thinner string section and some missing trombones, but this is pretty close to what we're used to.
Improved recording techniques allow far more clarity than before. The shimmering harp is very much in audible evidence; so are the radiant strings, and the hollow-voiced bassoon that pokes wry holes in the implied emotionalism. Steve Orich is the conductor, and he makes most of the score sound — in the words of a song title — "perfectly lovely." Yes, there are places where the pace is too fast for my taste. I can understand the reasons; in performance, parts of the show might have needed a little help. The song "Stay," in its original tempo, has been compared to something that sounded like it belonged on the steppes of Russia. But there's another song called "Take the Moment," and I wish Orich had done so. But these are minor qualms; the score sounds vibrant.
The performances, though, are somewhat mixed. Alyson Reed's Leona is a big plus. Reed is best known to musical fans for her starring roles in the film version of A Chorus Line (as Cassie) and in the 1987 revival of Cabaret (as Sally Bowles) — two unimpressive performances in ineffective productions. Here, Reed is needy and vulnerable and slightly abrasive — a reading that is considerably different than that of Elizabeth Allen, who originated the role. The role, in the original non-musical version, was played by Shirley Booth; Allen played it like she was Mary Martin.
Reed is offset by Anthony Crivello's take on Rossi. Crivello sings nicely, mind you; but Rodgers wrote music fit for a European prince. While you don't have to be Italian to sing Rossi — or Emile de Becque in South Pacific, for that matter — Rodgers consciously planned it that way. These are not musicals like Les Miz, where every character is supposedly French, but the accents are all over the globe; Rodgers in both cases gave his leading men booming arias to illustrate the contrast with his naïve, American leading ladies. That element is missing with Crivello. Carol Lawrence plays Fioria, and I suppose she does very well — so long as you don't compare her to Carol Bruce, who originated the role. Bruce had a jaded, world-weariness that, again, added an element that is missing from this current recording.
There are several tracks here not included on the original cast album, most notably the fairly exciting Overture and "Everybody Loves Leona," which was originally cut during the tryout. I had long been familiar with — and unimpressed by — the song, from the sheet music and an old demo recording. In context, though, it is very powerful, bordering on searing. The battle-scarred Leona strikes out at everyone; she is, after all and as always, alone. With this number restored, Leona begins to resemble the leading character in Sondheim's next musical, Bobby baby of Company. She's everybody's friend but nobody's partner, and she's bitter about it. "Someone Is Waiting," indeed. A second cut number, which is not included in this version, also points towards Company and "Side By Side By Side." "Two by two by two," it goes: "Ev'rybody is arm in arm, two by two. . . and Cookie makes three." The small weaknesses are beside the point; this is a good reading, one that fans of the score will be glad to have. And imagine, hearing a new cast album — circa 2001 — enhanced with the sound of a real live harp!
Do I Hear a Waltz? makes three impressive recent CDs from Fynsworth Alley, the others being first-time-on-CD releases of Working and Subways Are for Sleeping. As most readers are probably aware, this unconventional label has had some recent difficulties; matters are apparently settled (although not necessarily amicably). But that is beside the point; any label that releases recordings like these is doing a good thing for musical theatre.
WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN? GL 115
Opening midway between Hello, Dolly! and Funny Girl was a forgotten musical called What Makes Sammy Run? This was based on Budd Schulberg's well-received 1941 novel about an ambitious Hollywood hustler not unlike David O. Selznick.
What Makes Sammy Run — the musical — was a clumsy affair. Producer Joseph Cates, who had never done a musical, assembled a group of people who had never done a musical either, with predictable results. The score, by pop-composer Ervin Drake, was largely hit-or-miss; some of the lyrics are especially questionable. (Drake returned a few seasons later with the even more problematic Her First Roman, also from Cates.) Schulberg and his brother Stuart tried to write the book; director Arthur Storch tried to make sense of it all. Abe Burrows took over in Philadelphia, tidying things up as much as possible and — in his words — making it "look respectable." What Sammy did have was a strong performance from Steve Lawrence, with attractive support from co-stars Sally Ann Howes and Robert Alda. (The latter had created the role of Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, although he is now remembered mainly as the father of Alan.)
If the show wasn't very good, it has one of those old-fashioned scores that at least sounds rousing (under the baton of Lehman Engel). So much so that Sammy has been fairly high up on the list of long-out of-print-cast-albums-that-we-wished-were-on-CD. The LP was recorded by Columbia, but Lawrence retained ownership and has now issued it through steveandeydie.com. Fans of the 1960s musical comedy sound will be glad to get their hands on Sammy, finally.
The dazzling overture starts things off with a wallop. (Don Walker is the orchestrator of record, but Will Schaeffer did the overture. Walker had a busy year, with She Loves Me, Here's Love, Sammy and Anyone Can Whistle within twelve months.) The highlight of the show — and the only song that gained popularity - is "A Room Without Windows." This is a bossa nova duet for Lawrence and Howes, and a real winner. The arrangement, which features a strong flute solo, is extremely good; I'd guess this was also ghosted, as it doesn't sound much like Walker. Marion Evans, a top arranger who did studio work for Steve & Eydie, did some charts for the show, and "Windows" might well be his. A second ballad, "Maybe Some Other Time," is also pleasing, with another nice arrangement.
Sammy ran 540 performances — almost sixteen months — making it the second longest-running Broadway show to lose money. (Jerry Herman's Milk and Honey lasted 543.) There were major battles between producer and star, ending in recriminations and lawsuits. But that was then; now we finally have the CD. Lawrence sings up a storm; he does an especially good acting job on his opening and closing numbers, "A New Pair of Shoes" and "Some Days Everything Goes Wrong." Howes, who was back on Broadway in 2000 in James Joyce's The Dead, displays her fine voice and is immensely likable. So I'm thrilled to see Sammy back in circulation.
Steveandeydie.com also recently released the almost-as-interesting (though absurdly flawed) Golden Rainbow [GL 309]. Some readers have commented adversely on that CDs liner notes, which looked like they were manufactured on the xerox machine in the basement. For the record, let me say that Sammy has a handsome booklet, somewhat cut down from the original LP (which was a four-sided gatefold with an insert page). The sound quality is not as vibrant as one might hope; the CD seems to lack some of the brightness of the LP. (They apparently worked from the mono version, the stereo masters presumably being lost or damaged.) The show is finally available once more, though, and that's what's important. The new liner notes correct the song listings; in those days, liner notes were often printed prior to the recording session and thus sometimes included songs that didn't make it to the album. Which brings us an interesting piece of trivia. The two songs cut from the Sammy recording, "Monsoon" and "Paint a Rainbow," were production numbers led by a 24-year-old singer/dancer from Argentina. She never again had a principal role on Broadway, although she served in the chorus of five shows (including Follies and Chicago) before moving onto other endeavors. Her name: Graciela Daniele.
-- Steven Suskin, author of "Broadway Yearbook 1999-2000," the forthcoming "Broadway Yearbook 2000-2001," "Show Tunes," and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books.