ON THE RECORD: Patti LuPone in Gypsy and a Parade of Jerry Herman

News   ON THE RECORD: Patti LuPone in Gypsy and a Parade of Jerry Herman
This week's column discusses the 2008 cast album of Gypsy, as well as the Masterworks Digital Jerry Herman Collection, including the first-time-on-CD appearance of Mary Martin in Hello, Dolly!


GYPSY [Time Life M19659]
There is little sense in comparing the new cast recording of Patti LuPone in Gypsy — or any recording of anyone in Gypsy — with the original 1959 Broadway cast album, that being the one with Ethel Merman. Gypsy was written for Merman; the role of Rose was specifically cobbled to fit her, and the material is what it is, to a significant extent, because Merman was originally there. The authors didn't just write a typical Merman role; they took her traits and stretched them, giving her a histrionic workout and challenging her to surpass herself. Which she did (although a certain amount of evidence suggests that she couldn't quite sustain the performance over the long run — or, more probably, didn't care to). But Rose does what she does, the way she does it, in part because it was Merman they had to work with. One need only look as far as composer Jule Styne, whose early training as a vocal coach (with Merman among his clients) enabled him to write to his singer's strength. When he devised those extended notes in "Some People" ("good-bye-I-I-I-I to blueberry pie-I-I-I-I"), he wrote them because of the singer; he didn't give anything of the sort to Judy Holliday in Bells Are Ringing, his prior hit, or to Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, his subsequent hit. Because that's not what Judy or Barbra did; those nine-beat trumpet bleats are pure Merman. Patti sings them, just as Angela, Dolores, Tyne, Bernadette and others have sung them; but the notes are there because Merman was first there. So we shall not start comparing LuPone's Gypsy to Merman's.

But we can compare the new cast album of the current Gypsy to all the other, non-Merman recordings of the score. And in this race, I think that I'm going to place Patti and company at the head of the pack. This, for several reasons. We may as well start with LuPone. The lady is an original, all right, and has been back since the beginning of her career. (I saw her four times in The Baker's Wife — I just happened to be in Boston and Washington, and they kept giving me tickets — and let me say, even back in 1976 she was giving a more than satisfactory performance plus something extra.) Once or twice in the 30-odd intervening years she has been known to sometimes appear to be just a tad mannered, and perhaps some affectations have from time to time entered into the act. But not here, not now. LuPone's Rose is a dynamo; different than Merman's, yes, and I suppose different than anybody else's. Which is as it should be. Patti does not try to be Merman, nor does she try to be Rose LuPone, playing to the fans with a wink and a leer and a slur. This is Rose Hovick, with LuPone lavishing her acting and singing skills on the interpretation. Everything comes up roses, here, nothing comes up Patti. [Disclaimer: I provided the liner notes for this album.]

LuPone is matched, in a manner of speaking, by Laura Benanti. Louise has always been a problematic role; the part calls for someone who can act both the awkward teenager and the worldly ecdysiast, plus sing to us and charm us and strip. Sandra Church, who originated the role, couldn't quite do it; there's a heated exchange of letters from 1959 still sitting in the file, with the Messrs. Robbins and Laurents agreeing on nothing except the fact that the strip didn't work. (One blames the actress, the other blames the actress and the director, and both blame the costume designer and more or less claim collusion by the composer.) Some of the subsequent Louises have done a good job — I quite liked Zan Charisse, and I'm told that Julienne Marie was pretty good — but it always seemed like the problem was in the material. Not with Ms. Benanti up there, it isn't. All the pieces fall in place, as a result of which the final scenes of Gypsy, in this revival, are so much stronger than usual. There's a battle of near-equals going on, between mother and daughter; the strong Louise makes Rose vulnerable in a way that we're unaccustomed to.

Boyd Gaines, too, brings numerous strengths to Herbie. Everyone tells us that Jack Klugman was wonderful in the role, but this is hard to judge from the original cast album; Herbie has very little to sing — once again because the role was fitted around Klugman, who couldn't sing. But with LuPone, Gaines and Benanti, we get a trianglular tug-of-war that enhances the whole but has only been implied in the past. And the strippers. Well, the strippers have almost always been good, thanks to the material that Laurents, Sondheim and Styne gave them. Put three accomplished musical comediennes up there with those lines and those costumes and those props, and they are sure to rock the house. In this case we have Alison Fraser, who has always been good at directing a line and a leer; Marilyn Caskey, who finds a new and very funny way to be electrifying; and Lenora Nemetz, who makes such a comedic goldmine out of Miss Cratchitt, the secretary with the telephone, that we are still laughing at her when she starts to bump it with the trumpet. A cameo is assigned to Mr. Laurents, delivering the "you ain't getting 88 cents from me" line that was proffered by Mr. Sondheim back on the 1959 album.

The rest of them are all fine, including Tony Yazbeck who gives Tulsa more flavor than is usually the case. The other major asset of the cast album is the handling of the music. Patrick Vaccariello has what might be Broadway's finest set of orchestrations ever to work with, from Sid Ramin and Red Ginzler. He seems to have dug in and taken advantage of every flash of color the orchestrators provided him with. Just listen to the overture; every flavor is brought out, every special bit of sparkle is recognized and encouraged. Vaccariello does not do everything the way it was done in 1959; there are changes in tempo here and there, some of them quite noticeable. But he has clearly studied the original cast recording, the better to understand the composer's intentions; and he makes sure that this new Gypsy replicates the musical excitement of the original.

(A note to all those readers — all five of them — who notice such things: on this recording, the opening bars of the overture have been restored to the way they are supposed to be. That is to say, those reinforcing chords under the opening trumpet fanfare that seem to have first appeared in the Bernadette Peters production, and which are presently heard in performance at the St. James, have been omitted. Yes, this figure was written on the original orchestral score; but Styne, presumably with the orchestrators in full agreement, cut them at the orchestra rehearsal before the first performance in Philadelphia in the spring of 1959. The chords add something momentous to the opening bars, perfectly suited to a fanfare heralding an ultra-grand motion picture. But the rough-and-ready Gypsy is not supposed to sound like a grand motion picture, which is presumably why Styne insisted on removing them. And why I'm glad they are not retained for this recording.)

What can you do to make a cast recording extra special when it is the fifth full-scale Broadway production of the show in question? You can go back and dig up the material that was cut in 1959, and which — seeing as how it is the work of Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim — holds more than tangential interest. What we get here are "Mother's Day" and "Tomorrow's Mother's Day," two alternate versions of a number for the younger girls, neither of which was used; "Nice She Ain't," a number for Herbie that Mr. Klugman did not feel equipped to sing; "Who Needs Him?" a number for Rose to sing when Herbie walks out which was written early on, and which pretty clearly doesn't belong in the finished show; and "Three Wishes for Christmas," a production number intended for the Minsky's salute to Christmas at the end of the strip. (Mr. Laurents changed this years ago to a salute to the Garden of Eden, calling for less scenery, less bodies and less costumes). These songs are sung here by the performers who play the roles for which they were intended, which is to say Ms. LuPone, Mr. Gaines, and the girls; Mr. Yazbeck steps in to sing the Christmas song, quite amusingly. Jonathan Tunick has provided fresh new orchestrations for these numbers, and fittingly so as he learned the craft of orchestration from Ginzler; he still uses some of Red's writing tools, which he inherited back in 1962. (Ramin, meanwhile, remains Ginzler's No. 2 fan, and will enthusiastically admit that Red taught him much of what he knows.) So what we get from Tunick are new charts that are very much in the style of the originals.

One of the cut charts, and no doubt the most interesting of them, is a leftover by Ramin and Ginzler. This is the full, original version of "Small World" which incorporated a second song, "Mama's Talking Soft," and ended with the two in counterpoint. This was very much part of the show as they moved into the Erlanger in Philadelphia (which is why it, unlike the other cut numbers, was fully orchestrated). When they tried it at dress rehearsal on the set, though, they ran into an insurmountable problem; it was staged with the girls looking down on Rose and Herbie from a high platform. June, it turned out, was afraid of heights; with no quick fix apparent, and with time at a premium and tensions high, it was decided to just cut the girls' section of the quartet and that was that. So we now finally get to hear the number, 49 years late, as originally written and orchestrated.

Gypsy, like the recent South Pacific, is being released in two versions; an alternate release, with bonus tracks, is available from Barnes & Noble. In the case of South Pacific, this was a somewhat questionable move; why not just put all the tracks on the regularly available CD? Gypsy presents a different situation. They recorded everything they had, including the songs that weren't used in 1959. With too much material for one CD but not enough to warrant a 2-disc set, they took most of the actual show plus all of the cut materials and fit them onto one 79-minute CD. What to do with the eight tracks that remained? The recent example of South Pacific at Barnes & Noble provided an answer. Unlike with South Pacific, though, Barnes & Noble gives you a two-CD Gypsy set for your money, not an alternate single-CD version. The eight tracks on the second CD include, most prominently, the Entr'acte, the Exit Music, and the final scene between Rose and Louise following the "Rose's Turn" number (which, with Ms. LuPone and Ms. Benanti, is well worth listening to). Also on hand, and happily so, is an additional visit with Ms. Nemetz's characterization of Miss Cratchitt as well as several stretches of scene change music. Which makes the extended Barnes & Noble version of more than casual interest.

Jerry Herman Digital Collection [Masterworks/Arkiv]
Masterworks Broadway has seen fit to celebrate their catalogue of Jerry Herman musicals by preparing a grand digital release of nine Jerry CDs. They have pegged the event to the 25th anniversary of the opening of La Cage Aux Folles, but no such landmark is necessary. It's always time to listen to a show tune, and it's always time to recirculate items from the catalogue. The Messrs. Rodgers, Hammerstein, and Sondheim are well represented in the catalogue, but Masterworks has loads of Styne and Loesser and their ilk sitting on the shelf. Let us hope that this Herman splurge is only the start of something. Before we get to the specifics, let us explain that this is a digital collection, with the nine albums available for download from the various on-line digital providers. For readers who like to get real, honest-to-goodness CDs they can hold in their hand, this collection is simultaneously available from the on-line retailer ArkivMusic. If you prefer to shop at your local record store, or what passes for your local record store, you are out of luck.

Leading the parade, of course, is Jerry's biggest hit, Hello, Dolly! And not just the original Broadway cast album, represented here by the "Broadway Deluxe Collector's Edition" which was remastered, expanded and released by BMG in 2003. Among the other eight items are the 1965 London Cast Album, starring America's own Mary Martin, and the 1967 Broadway replacement cast album, starring Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway. Which makes for a lot of Dolly.

Carol Channing played Dolly over and over and over and over again, over the decades. For me, she is the one and only Dolly; but then, I was fortunate enough to see her ten days after the Broadway opening. My father read the overnight reviews on the train, walked up to the St. James from Penn Station, waited until the box office opened at 10 AM, and nabbed a pair on the aisle for my 11th birthday. Which is how you got theatre tickets in those days before phone sales, credit card sales, discount codes, on-line sales or you name it. You went to the box office, joined the line around the corner, and walked away with those brightly colored cardboard ducats. $9.40, with no restoration charge.

People who saw Carol do Hello, Dolly! in 1964 or 1966 or 1978 or 1995 saw the same performer but not, exactly, the same performance. Dolly, in those first days, was an absolute splendiferous riot (and as a bonus, it included that uproariously colorful, if expendable, "Come and Be My Butterfly" number). Carol seemed to be making it up as she went along, with the most outlandish things emerging from that outsized personage promenading across the stage. And mind you, before the original cast album was released those dulcet baritone tones were astonishing. I have rarely seen anything quite like Carol as Dolly in January 1964, and no subsequent Dollys — including those with Ms. Channing herself in the red dress — have measured up.

Mary Martin played the role in the International Company, which opened in London in December 1965. (Producer David Merrick had garnered international headlines six weeks earlier by taking Mary and the show for a surprise visit to play for the U.S. troops in Vietnam.) Ms. Martin, by 1965, was 52 years old. While she had only recently been playing that teenager Maria in the 1959 musical The Sound of Music, she was no spring chicken. The coyness that had already been creeping into her performances is very much apparent in her Dolly, and for me it takes away from the character (who is supposed to be "damned exasperating," not a kittenish descendant of Peter Pan). Be that as it may, the London Hello, Dolly! is the only one of the nine items in this Jerry Herman Celebration that is herewith making its CD debut; the LP was long retired, and methinks for good reason. But collectors need to collect, and Mary Martin fans need more Mary Martin. The star is supported by Loring Smith, who created the role of Horace in the first place, opposite Ruth Gordon in Merrick's 1956 production of Thornton Wilder's comedy The Matchmaker. Pearl Bailey is something else again. As has been oft-related, Merrick took a four-year-old show that was beginning to flag and turned it into Broadway's biggest hit all over again by replacing the tired and dusty production (then starring Betty Grable) with a remarkably energetic new company starring Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway. Bailey was quite remarkable, all told, and I can understand people who never saw Carol — or who only saw Carol in later years — wondering how anyone could match dear sweet Pearlie Mae. I myself found her performance to be uproariously enjoyable in the theatre. The recorded performance, though, leaves me somewhat colder. Ms. Bailey seems to be having a high old time of it on the album, but she is somewhat more Bailey and less Dolly. Calloway too, in his limited spots, seems to be out on a spin of his own. Countering this is Emily Yancy, giving the finest rendition of Irene Molloy (the milliner with those ribbons down her back) that I've either seen or heard. Yancy never developed the career that she might well have deserved, but she was extremely good in her two major Broadway roles: as Seena in the Bernstein-Lerner 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and opposite Dick Kiley in the record-smashing 1977 revival of Man of La Mancha.

The other prize of the Bailey album is a far more complete rendition of "Dancing" than we get on other recordings. This was a totally dazzling number in the theatre, with a good part of the dazzle coming from Peter Howard's dance arrangement. Like his peers, Peter could take a two-minute song and weave it into an extended sequence. ("Dancing," in the theatre, ran about 7:15.) Unlike the other arrangers, though, he saw it as his job to always keep the composer's melody prominent. The Bailey recording doesn't give us the whole thing, but we get a better idea of what it was than on the other recordings. On the other hand, Bailey's version begins with a full Dolly overture (arranged and orchestrated by Glenn Osser) that is, all told, pretty lousy. The Broadway Dolly was performed without an overture; Gower Champion cut it during the tryout, replacing it with a mere stretch of the title song (as heard on the Channing and Martin recordings). Two other authorized overtures have been written and used for subsequent productions, but the one on the 1967 recording—which was apparently commissioned by RCA to (hopefully) bring extra value to their third recording of the score in four years — sounds very much unlike Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly!

Reigning over the other items in the group is Angela Lansbury in Mame, which gets my vote as the most satisfying and enjoyable recording of a Herman musical. Also on the list is the original cast album of Dear World, as previously released by Sony but with an added track of the composer playing "And I Was Beautiful" (and very nicely); The Grand Tour, which had only a limited release back in 2002; La Cage aux Folles; and "Jerry Herman's Broadway," the 1992 album with Don Pippin leading a full orchestra in Herman hits. Finally, we have the original cast album of Herman's first Broadway musical, Milk and Honey. Which, oddly enough, was also released just two months ago by DRG. Clearly, someone in the licensing department got confused. As best I can tell, listening to both recordings with separate ears, they use the remastered version from the original BMG release. (All of these CDs, with the exception of the first-time release of the Mary Martin, seem to use existing versions. The Arkiv versions that I examined reproduce the earlier liner notes, although in simplified form.) As for the overall Herman oeuvre, the major item that is missing in this celebration is the indispensable Mack & Mabel, which resides in a different catalog.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Second Act Trouble," "Show Tunes" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com)

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