Christmas approaches once more, so here are my favorite Broadway related CDs from 2000.
It was a wild year for musicals. Make that a Wild Party year. Both of the musicals based on Joseph Moncure March's cult classic had their problems, resulting in brief runs. For those listeners interested in contemporary musical theatre, both scores - as displayed on the CDs - merit repeated hearing. The Andrew Lippa/Manhattan Theatre Club version of THE WILD PARTY (RCA Victor 09026-63695-2) was quite impressive. Lippa demonstrated a wide range of styles in his work and came up with winner after winner. He was abetted by three powerful performances, from Brian d'Arcy James, Julia Murney, and Taye Diggs. The Michael John LaChiusa/New York Shakespeare Festival WILD PARTY (Decca Broadway 012 159 003-2) is also riveting. LaChiusa's music is variegated and intriguing, matched by highly effective lyrics. The show itself is now long gone; without the heavy trappings of the production, the score sounds even more rewarding. Both Wild Party CDs are also distinguished by fine orchestrations, musical direction, and singing ensembles.
While it seems odd to term Stephen Sondheim's SATURDAY NIGHT (Nonesuch 79609-2) a "new" musical, the Second Stage production marked the show's New York premiere so I'll count it here. The show, which went unproduced in 1955 and took more than forty years to reach the stage, is a breezy delight. Not up to Sondheim's post-Company standards - how could it be? he wrote it when he was twenty-four - it nevertheless makes an enjoyable listening experience. The cast, led by David Campbell and Lauren Ward, and Jonathan Tunick's orchestrations add to Saturday Night's charms.
Readers might also wish to consider The Full Monty (RCA Victor 09026-63739-2) and/or Jane Eyre (Sony Classical SK 89482), which have arrived too late to be included in this holiday gift list. They will be reviewed in an upcoming column. REISSUES
Decca Broadway has been remastering the classics in its archives, and they've worked extra-special magic with two of their titles. Frank Loesser's GUYS AND DOLLS (Decca Broadway 012 159 112-2), through its several record and CD issues, always sounded especially hazy to me. The new remastering is simply smashing, and Loesser's 1950 score is as fresh and crisp as the smell of the rainwashed pavement. This is one of the all-time classic Broadway cast albums, but it has never sounded so good.
CAROUSEL (Decca Broadway 012 157 980-2) also sounds better than ever. The improvements are not as striking as those on Guys and Dolls, due to the condition of the original session tapes. Still, this is the most moving (if far from the most complete) recording of one of the finest musicals in Broadway history.
Gian-Carlo Menotti's THE MEDIUM (Pearl GEMS 0122) is an opera, so I know that it is out of the range of interest of many readers of this column. But this somewhat grisly Grand Guignol melodrama is riveting musical theatre, so those of you who can see your way past the opera label might well want to give it a try.
NEW RECORDINGS OF OLD MUSICALS
Jay Records continued their "complete recording" series with Frank Loesser's THE MOST HAPPY FELLA (Jay CDJAY3 1306). If the original 1956 Broadway cast album is unsurpassable, this new (and more complete) recording is very much in the same league. Emily Loesser - singing the role created by her mother, Jo Sullivan - gives us a somewhat different but highly effective Rosabella, and two of the other leads also improve on the fine 1956 cast. The lushly orchestrated score sounds very much better using modern-day technology, and Jay has added some cut material that enhances and illuminates Frank's intentions.
A concert version of the unsuccessful 1960 musical TENDERLOIN (DRG 94770) was mounted last spring by Encores! If the show was problematic, the CD fully justifies the idea of disinterring not-so-good musicals. Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick were at the height of their skill when they wrote Tenderloin; they went right on to She Loves Me and Fiddler on the Roof. If the Tenderloin score is not completely successful, it has remarkable spots and is highly enjoyable. Bock and Harnick perfectly complemented each other's talents, and it is a pleasure to listen to such well-considered work. Encores! resident maestro Rob Fisher brings out all the colorful flavors of the score, and the whole thing is a treat.
A WHITE HOUSE CANTATA (Deutsche Grammophon 289 463 448-2) is an abridged version of Leonard Bernstein and Alan Jay Lerner's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. A quick failure in 1976, it has taken all these many years for us to get a recording (albeit a partial recording). And for all its flaws, it is fascinating. It is the only show Bernstein wrote between West Side Story in 1957 and his death in 1990, and much of the music is absolutely glorious.
I can't overlook last season's two big musical revivals, KISS ME, KATE (DRG 12988) and THE MUSIC MAN (Q Records 92915-2). Both have issued well-produced and well-performed CDs, which serve as enjoyable souvenirs of the occasions. However, in my opinion neither approaches the original cast albums. The same can be said for SWEENEY TODD Live at the New York Philharmonic (New York Philharmonic Special Editions NYP 2001/2002). If this isn't Sondheim's finest score, it comes close. This is an exciting and exhilarating performance that surpasses the original in some areas, though the 1979 recording remains the Sweeney of record.
AND LET'S NOT FORGET:
AND ON THE PRINTED PAGE:
The book I most wanted for Christmas, Bob Kimball and Linda Emmet's The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin, has been delayed till next year. Something called Reading Lyrics (Pantheon) unexpectedly arrived the other day, edited by the indispensable Kimball and book editor-turned-musicologist Robert Gottlieb. The idea is to reproduce the words of the 1,000-or-so "best American or English lyrics" from 1900 1975. The trick, of course, is to select the right titles - which the editors admit is highly subjective. But they've got any number of my favorites, from the work of masters (like Ira Gershwin, Hart, Porter, Loesser, and Mercer) to vaguely-remembered wizards (like Lewis & Young, Johnny Burke, Ted Koehler, and DeSylva-Brown-&-Henderson). Also included is a coda of wonderful lyrics by long-forgotten one-hit wonders, with gems like "My Blue Heaven," "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart," "How High the Moon," and "Sentimental Journey." Gottlieb and Kimball prove enthusiastic and adventurous guides to this field that they very obviously know and love; you'll get lost browsing for hours and hours. Reading Lyrics is perfect for anyone who ever asked "How does that song go, again?" If it's from a show or film or the pre-rock pop field, chances are you'll find it in this handsome, seven-hundred page anthology.
- Steven Suskin, author of the new Third Edition of "Show Tunes" (from Oxford University Press) and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. Prior ON THE RECORD columns can be accessed in the Features section along the left-hand side of the screen. He can be reached by E-mail at Ssuskin@aol.com