Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Four From JAY | Playbill

Special Features Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Four From JAY
As I noted some time ago in this space, many of the most famous musical titles of the '40s and '50s had runs of only a year or a year-and-a-half in their original Broadway productions; one that ran much longer was the 1954 The Pajama Game.

As I noted some time ago in this space, many of the most famous musical titles of the '40s and '50s had runs of only a year or a year-and-a-half in their original Broadway productions; one that ran much longer was the 1954 The Pajama Game.

A romance set against a labor dispute but with plenty of comic relief, it featured the debut score of the enormously talented songwriting team of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, whose collaboration would be cut short when Ross died soon after the opening of their second show, Damn Yankees, in 1955. It seems almost unfair when you recall that, in addition to Adler and Ross, Pajama Game, a simple, pure-entertainment show, had on its creative team Harold Prince (in his producing debut), Bob Fosse (in his choreographic debut), Jerome Robbins, and George Abbott.

There are two fine Pajama Game cast albums, the Broadway and West End recordings, plus the soundtrack album from the film, which remains one of the best stage-to-screen transfers. New from JAY is the first complete recording of the score, a double-CD, 90-minute studio set which offers a great deal of previously unrecorded material, including all of the dance music (there's a seven-minute second-act "Jealousy Ballet"), complete versions of many numbers abbreviated on earlier recordings, reprises, the first act finale, the entr'acte, and more.

Four of the principals here--Judy Kaye, Avery Saltzman, Brooks Almy, and David Green--appeared in the 1989 New York City Opera production. The director of that production, Theodore Pappas, is heard here narrating the closing pajama fashion parade. Two veteran Fosse dancers, Margery Beddow and Elaine Cancilla Orbach, are also present.

I doubt that anyone around these days could sing the role of Sid better than Ron Raines does here. With a voice of operatic proportions beautifully scaled to musical comedy style, Raines delivers an amazing "A New Town Is A Blue Town" and goes on to offer gorgeous tone throughout. Kaye is in better form here than on JAY's Annie Get Your Gun; if the role of Babe lies almost entirely in Kaye's chest belt area and doesn't often allow her to show off her higher range, she does quite well. Kim Criswell is vocally overqualified for Carol Haney's role of Gladys, while Saltzman and Green are right for Hines and Prez. The Pajama Game score is my idea of musical comedy heaven--"I'm Not At All In Love" is one of my favorite show songs--and the new recording is highly recommended.

The successful 1983 London Palladium stage premiere of the celebrated movie musical Singin' in the Rain produced a cast recording (First Night Records); the unsuccessful 1985 Broadway production did not. Since Broadway, another version of the show, first seen in 1991 at Music Theatre of Wichita (one of the better regional musical theatre companies), has become popular at theatres around the country, and the new JAY Singin' in the Rain disc preserves the complete score, all of the dance music (including a 13-minute "Broadway Ballet"), some dialogue, and the new orchestrations and arrangements (by musical director Craig Barna) of this version.

The leads are Michael Gruber (most recently in New York as the Tin Man in the Madison Square Garrden The Wizard of Oz), Randy Rogel, Christina Saffran, and Nancy Ringham (the pre-opening-night replacement on Broadway in My Fair Lady '81 and 3 Penny Opera '89). All have played their Rain roles in various productions, and all are fine, with Gruber especially impressive. To be found in the ladies' ensemble is Danielle Carson, leading lady of the Palladium production.

The recording has a nice, big, '50s/'60s Broadway sound, and, as is the case with so many recent JAY complete sets, it will be of particular interest to theatres putting on this version. JAY has likewise preserved (or will soon preserve) the post-Broadway, leased versions of Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and Meet Me In St. Louis.

Leading Men Don't Dance is a revue performed in a couple of Rainbow & Stars engagements by five attractive, strong-voiced male singer-actors who, owing to changing styles in musical theatre, might have been more famous in an earlier period; indeed, a couple of them are now better known as soap stars than as musical comedy heroes. They are George Dvorsky (currently standing by for Douglas Sills in The Scarlet Pimpernel), Scott Holmes, Richard Muenz, Byron Nease, and Ron Raines (the latter the finest voice of the group). Performed by only four men at R&S, the recording makes it five by using both Raines and Muenz, who each appeared in one of the engagements.

Created by Scott Barnes and Nease, this is a full-fledged cabaret act, with cute patter and clever medleys, plus a guest appearance by a woman (Kate Willinger); the material is mostly show songs, with several pieces of special material. Muenz gets to reprise his Most Happy Fella ('79 Broadway revival) "Joey, Joey, Joey"; Holmes repeats his Evita (Broadway replacement Che) "High Flying Adored"; Dvorsky recalls his New York City Opera Brigadoon with "There But For You Go I"; and Raines does "This Nearly Was Mine," which he also sang in a Paper Mill Playhouse South Pacific. Leading Men Don't Dance is a nice idea for a cabaret show, and the men are well-chosen; recorded in a studio before an invited audience, the disc is quite pleasant, although one suspects the show was more fun to see.

A wild off-Broadway success in 1968, Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris was an effective show that now has a lot to answer for, as it led to an endless stream of songwriter-tribute revues passing themselves off as musicals. Brel is no longer any of the things the title says he is, but his work and the revue built around it continue to have a life. In 1968, most of the original off-Broadway cast went over to recreate the show in London, where it was not a success. The new double-CD set from JAY is a recording of a 1995 London revival that played at the Canal Cafe and the King's Head Theatre; the recording includes three songs not on the Columbia original off-Broadway cast album.

On the new recording, the men--Michael Cahill (currently playing the title role in Martin Guerre) and Stuart Pendred--are superior to the women (Liz Greenaway, Alison Egan). And the original recording still has the edge, because its four performers include the show's co-creator, translator, and musical director Mort Shuman, and Elly Stone, for whom the show was created, and who will forever be identified with this material.

Tommy Tune's first solo album Slow Dancin' (RCA Victor) was recorded in March, 1995, and its release was to have coincided with his return to Broadway in Busker Alley that fall. It now comes out October 28 to coincide with the publication of his autobiography Footnotes.

Although his dance skills have overshadowed his singing, Tune has always been a pleasant vocalist. With lush orchestrations by Peter Matz in the style of Gordon Jenkins, and Wally Harper conducting a 30-piece orchestra, the program features standards and mood pieces, with a few show songs ("Wish You Were Here," "One More Kiss," "The Music That Makes Me Dance") thrown in. In "Music That Makes Me Dance," Tune changes "he's" and "his" to "your" and "you," although "Yours is the only music...." doesn't scan as well as "His is the only music..." There's a preview of Tune's next stage appearance, in Irving Berlin's Easter Parade, with "It Only Happens When I Dance With You." The duet with Barbara Cook on "The Way You Look Tonight" is the same track to be heard on Cook's DRG Dorothy Fields disc.

Slow Dancin' is exactly the kind of smooth background listening disc they used to make, perfect for elegant parties and intimate evenings.

-- You can e-mail me at

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