Musicals that Need NEW Recordings for a NEW Life
Broadway cast recordings are the best way we have to preserve great Broadway scores for future generations to enjoy and critique. Some original cast recordings were done in an era where recording session sound quality was hit or miss. In other cases, the score was longer than the two-sides of an LP record could hold, with so much wonderful material excised in order to make the show fit. Whatever the reason, there are a handful of musicals that were given a disservice with their original cast recordings and are deserving of new ones. Here are my suggestions for the musicals I would love to see given this opportunity.
Me and Juliet
No Rodgers and Hammerstein score is a dud even if the show it’s from doesn’t happen to be all that exciting. Intoxicating new recordings of other Rodgers and Hammerstein also-rans such as Allegro and Pipe Dream have made a strong case for revisiting Me and Juliet. What was abridged and tinny in 1953 could be complete and clarion with the advent of modern recording techniques. Me and Juliet has a lush and lively overture (in and of itself worth preserving in its complete form) with an unparalleled whimsy amongst overtures, and imagine songs such as “Keep it Gay” and “Marriage Type of Love” captured in all that Richard Rodgers melodic joy. Close your eyes and open your ears to being able to absorbing with precision some of Hammerstein’s wittiest lyrical musings in “The Big Black Giant” or enjoy some of his corniest in “That’s the Way It Happens.” There is so much to rediscover in this score if only a better recording existed.
The Robber Bridegroom
There is nothing particularly wrong with the original cast recording of The Robber Bridegroom, but it certainly lacks the flair, energy and musicality of the Off-Broadway revival currently running courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company. This inception playing at the Laura Pels Theatre is so full of vivacity and spunk that the score demanded my attention in ways it hasn’t in the past. “Sleepy Man” has always been the most well-known songs to come from the show (rightfully so), but that original recording did little to differentiate the rest of the score, nor did it feature any standout highlights of the Robert Waldman and Alfred Uhry firecracker-country score. From the toe-tapping, in your face “Once Upon a Natchez Trace”, through the comically sultry “The Pricklepear Bloom”, to the cocky but melodic “Love Stolen”, all of it is much more distinct and character driven than one initially thought. A new recording is what this show needs.
Of all the musicals yet to be revived (or perhaps revised), Bloomer Girl is the one I am most –shocked has never happened. Not only does it have a riveting plot (of historical relevance including the Civil War) with many issues that are still topical today (human rights/equality), the Harold Arlen (music) and E.Y. Harburg (lyrics) score is truly divine. Arlen has always been a master of creating intoxicating melody, but he is perhaps at his most hypnotic here. Songs such as “Evelina” and “Right as the Rain” are earworms in the best possible sense, but he also paints with strokes of the melodic brush that give us a perfect sense of time and place. The devilish E.Y. Harburg, never afraid of saying something satirically brazen in his lyrics, is his usual impish, troublemaking self with “It Was Good Enough for Grandma” (a jaunty call for women’s rights) and “The Eagle and Me” (a breezy plea for freedom from slavery). The only reason why this score isn’t more revered than it is stems from that original recording. The voice of Celeste Holm is not particularly a lovely one to hear in a lead, and the sound quality is abysmal. I suspect that there is also more to this already enchanting score that was cut from the original recording for reasons of time.
The odds of the 1951 musical flop Flahooley ever receiving a Broadway revival are very slim, but there is so much to recommend in the Sammy Fain (Music) and E.Y. Harburg (lyrics) score that that it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that people would want to try. What doesn’t help make its case is the original cast album, a recording that captures some very lovely performances (including Barbara Cook), but that also sounds like it was recorded in a mine tunnel. What I wouldn’t give to hear a new cast album of Flahooley. “Here’s to Your Illusions” may be the finest melody that Sammy Fain has ever written and E.Y. Harburg’s sly lyrics are always a treat (especially when you can understand them in their entirety). “Springtime Cometh” is jubilant (and slightly salacious) fun, reminiscent of “Something Sort of Grandish” from Harburg’s Finian’s Rainbow. Every song from this show is either intriguing and/or bewitching and a new recording would help to show off its merits. The plot is so entrenched in the Red Scare of the 1950s and in condemning capitalism that we will probably never see a revival or revisal. But I keep hoping.
That’s my list….Here’s to MY illusions.
What cast recordings do you think would be better served by a new recording?