The 1999 Encores! concert cast album of Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 is finally on store shelves from Decca Broadway after languishing in the vaults.
Karen Ziemba, Ruthie Henshall and Stephanie Pope, who have all portrayed merry murderesses in the Chicago revival, sang and danced a score by Ira Gershwin (lyrics) and Vernon Duke (music) and performed sketches by Gershwin and David Freedman when the period revue was revived by Encores! at City Center in 1999. The recording was made shortly after, and the ladies are all heard on the disc. Mark Waldrop adapted and directed the presentation, using the score and elements of the lavish revue of 1936.
Henshall played roles created by Gertrude Niesen, Pope was in roles created by Josephine Baker and Ziemba played one of a specialty trio (including Bob and Jim Walton) and was seen in sketches.
Director-adaptor Waldrop's cast for Ziegfeld, a little known show to contemporary audiences, also included Christine Ebersole (in roles created by Eve Arden), Howard McGillin (in roles created by Rodney McLennan), Mary Testa (in roles created by Fannie Brice, including Baby Snooks), Peter Scolari (in roles created by Bob Hope), Stanley Bojarski and Kevin Chamberlin (as the sketch comics) and Jock Soto, Jenifer Ringer and Jonathan Sharp as the ballet soloists.
Rob Fisher is musical director. Ziegfeld Follies marked the first time in six seasons that Encores! attempted to recreate a classic American musical revue. Although the impresario's name was attached to the show, another in a series of lavish entertainments meant to "glorify the American girl," Florenz Ziegfeld died in 1932. The 1936 edition was produced by Ziegfeld's widow, Billie Burke Ziegfeld (who played Glinda in "The Wizard of Oz" film in 1939). Original orchestrations by Hans Spialek, Robert Russell Bennett, Conrad Sallinger and Don Walker are being used.
Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 featured music by Duke and lyrics and sketches by Gershwin and David Freedman (a popular revue writer of the day) and served up a song that had a life beyond the show: "I Can't Get Started." The haunting musical number, "Words Without Music," is also known to American music fans, and is heard here.
In the original, sets and costumes were by Vincente Minnelli and Raoul Pene du Bois. It marked the Broadway debut of ballet choreographer George Balanchine (his On Your Toes was also in 1936); and the "modern" dances were by Robert Alton. For the concert revival, Thommie Walsh was choreographer and Christopher Wheeldon was ballet choreographer. The disc preserves the little-known ballet music.
The company also included Timothy Breese, Stephen Campanella, Tony Capone, Nat Chandler, Dottie Earle, Angelo Fraboni, Jennifer Frankel, Will Gartshore, Aldrin Gonzalez, Peter Gregus, Jeffrey Hankinson, Jack Hayes, Amy Heggins, Chris Hoch, Pamela Jordan, Damon Kirsche, Aixa M. Rosario Medina, Wes Pope, Tamlyn Brooke Shusterman, Eric van Hoven, Rocker Verastique, Wendy Waring, Joseph Webster, Deborah Yates.
The 17-track CD includes a 36-page booklet, which has the complete lyrics to the songs, two historical essays and photos taken by Ira's brother, George Gershwin.
The popular Encores! series at City Center in New York City revisits neglected or seldom-revived musical theatre scores and scripts in a conceptual concert form, often with big-name stage talent. The current Broadway revival of Chicago began as an Encores! presentation.
— By Kenneth Jones