Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Jerry Herman on Disc, Part 1

News   Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Jerry Herman on Disc, Part 1
In honor of the commencement this week of Broadway previews for An Evening With Jerry Herman at the Booth Theatre, a two-part look at composer-lyricist Herman's musical theatre career as documented on disc.

In honor of the commencement this week of Broadway previews for An Evening With Jerry Herman at the Booth Theatre, a two-part look at composer-lyricist Herman's musical theatre career as documented on disc.

PARADE: The first commercially available cast recording of a Herman show is Kapp's LP of the off-Broadway revue Parade, which had a three-month run in 1960. As yet unissued on CD, the disc remains a key collector's item. The melody of the opening number, "Show Tune," was recycled for Mame's "It's Today"; while "Show Tune" and "Two A Day" made their way into various editions of Jerry's Girls, virtually nothing else from this charming score has had a life. Some of this is owing to topicality: In "Maria in Spats," star Dody Goodman appeared as Callas, begging for a booking at the Palace now that she has been banished from so many opera houses. Goodman is joined by Charles Nelson Reilly in "Jolly Theatrical Season," a tongue in-cheek salute to the grimmer aspects of recent (The World of Suzie Wong, J.B., Juno) stage fare.

But such ballads as "Your Hand in Mine," "The Antique Man," "Another Candle," and "The Next Time I Love" are worthy of reinvestigation by cabaret performers. The latter two were performed in Parade by the sultry Fia Karin -- anyone know what became of her?

Parade was directed by Herman, and he is present on the album as one of two pit pianists.

MILK AND HONEY: Herman's Broadway debut was Milk and Honey, the 1961 musical play set in Israel, and Herman's score is his most atypical. While it has its fair share of jaunty material (tailored to adorable Molly Picon) and a powerfully assertive title song, it's most notable for the radiantly romantic, fairly operatic material for former opera singers Robert Weede (in his second Broadway musical, following The Most Happy Fella) and Mimi Benzell. "Shalom," "There's No Reason in the World," "That Was Yesterday," "Like A Young Man," and "Let's Not Waste A Moment" are as lovely as anything Herman has ever composed. The RCA Victor CD is required listening. HELLO, DOLLY!: Herman's Madame Aphrodite opened off-Broadway just two months into the run of Milk and Honey, and was a fast flop; no recording was made, although the La Cage aux Folles song "A Little More Mascara" used the melody of Aphrodite's "Beautiful." But Herman's next project was most definitely recorded -- again and again.

Not much need be said about the 1964 original Broadway recording of one of the all-time Broadway blockbusters, Hello, Dolly, as I can't imagine anyone taking the time to read this who isn't familiar with it. With Carol Channing the perfect embodiment of the eccentric, warm Mrs. Dolly Levi, and a terrific supporting company, the RCA disc is a fundamental '60s musical theatre document. And the score is a total delight, equally choice in its production numbers and sentimental and comic songs. In terms of Herman's oeuvre, the only drawback is that the show has just 11 songs, and three of them ("Motherhood," "Before The Parade Passes By," "Elegance") are not entirely -- or at all -- by Herman.

Not until Sunset Boulevard would there be a show with such a parade of star ladies, so it was inevitable that many of them would be given their own recordings. In a virtually unprecedented move, RCA issued another Broadway album when Pearl Bailey and an all-black company took over the production in 1967, and it's a treat, with Bailey easily one of the finest vocalists to take on the role, and a strong Mrs. Molloy from Emily Yancy. The only problem is that the recording - which naturally sticks to the songs-- can barely indicate what a riot Bailey was in the show.

Varese Sarabande recorded what appears to be Channing's final Dolly! run during its pre-Broadway tour in 1994. Including some material not on the earlier Broadway sets (notably "The Waiter's Gallop"), the recording is enjoyable, and it's nice to have documentation of Channing's Mrs. Levi 30 years after the first recording. But the supporting cast, while perfectly acceptable, lacks the kind of vivid personalities -- David Burns, Charles Nelson Reilly, Sondra Lee -- the original boasted.

Other Broadway Dollys were documented in partial form. Martha Raye was among the finest of them, and a double-LP Legends set called simply Martha Raye includes live performances of four of the numbers; Raye's jazz-inflected, improvisational style does wonders with the music, and no one ever did "Before The Parade Passes By" better. Ginger Rogers and company performed "Parade" on the Ed Sullivan Show, and that rendition was transferred to the Curtain Calls/Silver Screen LP Ginger Rogers.

The greatest voice that ever came near the role belonged to the final Broadway Dolly, Ethel Merman. Unfortunately, the only commercial preservation of her performance was a 45 (sold at the theatre during her run) of the two songs -- "World Take Me Back" and "Love Look in My Window"-- restored to the show to take advantage of the star's vocal prowess. On the Bar-Mike label (named after Merman's grandchildren Barbara and Michael), the performances are accompanied only by piano, so, while the disc is a must for collectors, it's necessary to seek out live tapes made during Merman's run to hear her, in all her glory, in her final Broadway role.

That other first lady of musical theatre, Mary Martin, headed the Drury Lane, London company, and the RCA recording (still not on CD) of that production is one of the crispest and most appealing accounts of the score, with Martin's charm and star power leaping right off the disc. Her supporting company includes Loring Smith -- original Vandergelder of the Broadway production of The Matchmaker, the play upon which the musical was based -- and the Molloy of Marilyn Lovell, later the wife of Peter Matz and a regular in the L.A. S.T.A.G.E. benefits.

Martin's West End successor was the delicious Dora Bryan, who also took Channing's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes role in the West End. Bryan was given a full E.M.I./HMV LP, featuring her stage co-star Bernard Spear and a studio company, and because of Bryan's very amusing star turn, the 1966 disc is worth seeking out. A 1965 Music For Pleasure LP starring Beryl Reid (who never played the role) and the wonderful Patricia Routledge as Molloy is the only notable entry of a bunch of British studio recordings.

There is, of course, the soundtrack to the film version; Barbra Streisand's vocal abilities were duly noted by giving her a rangier opening song ("Just Leave Everything To Me") and adding "Love Is Only Love," cut from Mame. Whatever one thinks of the film and Streisand's performance, her singing is pretty spectacular.

As you would expect, there is a slew of foreign-language cast recordings; the most curious is a three-LP Russian set which is orchestrated and performed in such a way as to make the score barely recognizable. The best foreign Dollys are the effervescent French Annie Cordy (recently reissued on CD) and Israel's warm and wonderful Hana Maron. The German cast recording (Tatjana Iwanow) was issued in this country by Columbia. And recently available here is the cast album of a '90s Mexican production starring that country's first lady of musicals, the always zesty Silvia Pinal.

BEN FRANKLIN IN PARIS: With Herman riding high from Dolly, he could afford to be magnanimous and contribute two songs during the Philadelphia tryout of what would prove to be a moderately attractive failure, Ben Franklin in Paris. While Herman was not credited in the program with "To Be Alone With You" and "Too Charming," they were his, the first quite lovely. The 1964 Capitol cast album was reissued on CD by Broadway Angel. Ten years later, Herman would write a vehicle for the wonderful star who did everything he could to carry Ben Franklin, Robert Preston.

Next week: Mame, Dear World, Mack and Mabel, The Grand Tour, La Cage aux Folles, Jerry's Girls, and more.

Final note: Forgot to mention in last week's review of the new JAY Sweet Charity that the previously-unrecorded "Coney Island Waltz" was recycled by Cy Coleman for the melody of Barnum's "Love Makes Such Fools of Us All."

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