Life Begins at 8:40, featuring songs by composer Arlen and lyricists Gershwin and Harburg, got its first performance in 75 years on March 22, in a concert in Washington, DC, presented by the Music Division of the Library of Congress.
The album is produced by PS Classics co-founder Tommy Krasker. Aaron Gandy conducted a 24-piece orchestra and a principal cast of Broadway and recording veterans, including Kate Baldwin, Philip Chaffin, Christopher Fitzgerald, Montego Glover, Rebecca Luker, Brad Oscar, Faith Prince, Graham Rowat and Jessica Stone. The cast — including a chorus of 16 — then reassembled in a New York studio the following week to preserve the score on disc.
The show's best-remembered songs are "Fun to Be Fooled," "You're a Builder-Upper" and "Let's Take a Walk Around the Block." The restoration of Life Begins at 8:40 was supervised by Larry Moore. Elizabeth Auman of the Library's Music Division and Robert Kimball, artistic advisor to the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trusts, oversaw both concert and recording.
Krasker told Playbill.com, "I think the recording is going to surprise a lot of people. Down in DC, watching Aaron put the cast and orchestra through their paces, I know I was surprised. I'd always thought of Life Begins as a formative Arlen score. Not a 'minor' one, as a 'minor Arlen score' is pretty much an oxymoron. But formative — it's early in his career. But what struck me in DC is how joyous it all is; it's one knockout tune after other. Yip Harburg later noted that Arlen wrote music that 'suggested the introvert' — I think that's how he said it. His tunes were haunting and bewitching, but not typically joyous. Life Begins is. It's Arlen's most ebullient score."
The track listing is as follows:
2. Life Begins (at Exactly 8:40 or Thereabouts)
3. Spring Fever
4. You're a Builder-Upper
5. My Paramount–Publix–Roxy Rose
6. Shoein' the Mare
7. Quartet Erotica
8. Fun to Be Fooled
9. Prologue to "C'est la Vie"
10. C'est la Vie
11. What Can You Say in a Love Song? (That Hasn't Been Said Before?)
12. Let's Take a Walk Around the Block
14. All the Elks and Masons
15. It Was Long Ago
16. I'm Not Myself
17. I Couldn't Hold My Man
18. Life Begins at City Hall The recording, made possible by The Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trust for the benefit of The Library of Congress, includes a great deal of unpublished and unrecorded material from the show, making it a find for musical theatre fans. The show's sketches were by various writers, including Gershwin and Harburg. Gershwin and Harburg's sketch "C'est La Vie" is included on the recording.
"As with most musicals of the period, many of the original performance materials from Life Begins at 8:40 were scattered and lost following the Broadway run," according to Library of Congress notes. "Miscellaneous manuscripts were part of the spectacular 'Secaucus [NJ] warehouse find' in the 1980s; those materials are now in the collections of the Music Division of the Library of Congress. Other elements of the show were housed in the Shubert Archive in New York City. These were the basis for reconstructing the original piano-vocal score and orchestra parts."
Life Begins at 8:40 originally opened on Aug. 27, 1934, at New York City's Winter Garden Theatre, under the auspices of the Shubert brothers, and ran for 237 performances. The original cast included Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger (pre-dating their work in Arlen and Harburg's "The Wizard of Oz"), Luella Gear and Frances Williams. The orchestrations were by Hans Spialek, Robert Russell Bennett and Don Walker.
The Library has previously collaborated with PS Classics on its Songwriter Series, with CD releases of writers singing their own compositions, including "Hugh Sings Martin," "Charles Sings Strouse," "Jonathan Sings Larson" and "Howard Sings Ashman."
The Library of Congress is home to the George and Ira Gershwin Collection, "the world's preeminent resource for the documentary legacy of the Gershwin brothers." According to the Library, "it contains a wealth of materials that provide insight into their careers and personalities, including manuscripts and printed music, photographs, correspondence, business papers, scrapbooks and iconography. A permanent tribute to the Gershwins and their work, the Gershwin Room features George's piano and desk, Ira's typing table and typewriter, self portraits of both brothers, and a selection of musical manuscripts from Gershwin stage and screen shows such as Lady Be Good, Funny Face, Girl Crazy and Of Thee I Sing."
Many of the Library's resources can be accessed through www.loc.gov and via interactive exhibitions on a personalized website at myLOC.gov.
Founded in 2000 by Tommy Krasker & Philip Chaffin, and a four-time Grammy nominee (for its cast albums of Assassins, Nine: The Musical, Grey Gardens and Company), PS Classics celebrates the heritage of Broadway and American popular song through its award-winning cast recordings; solo albums by such luminaries as Maureen McGovern, Victoria Clark, Jessica Molaskey and Christine Andreas; and recordings drawn from rare sound archives, including "Sondheim Sings." Its most recent releases include solo albums by Liz Callaway, Rebecca Luker and Kate Baldwin, and Broadway cast recordings of Finian's Rainbow and A Little Night Music. Visit www.psclassics.com.