By Peter Filichia
All right, so Elvis Presley wasn’t a Robert Goulet fan. That much could be inferred after the so-called King took out one of his many guns and assassinated a television set on which he saw Goulet performing.
But I’d like to think that when Elvis became trigger-happy that he wasn’t watching either the October 15, 1966 broadcast of Brigadoon or the March 25, 1968 airing of Kiss Me, Kate. This new album offers both scores in one package.
Even the most dedicated musical theater aficionado may have missed these recordings the first time around. Because the broadcasts were shown on “Armstrong Circle Theatre” — sponsored by Armstrong Flooring — the albums were only available at outlets where the company’s products were sold. Now we get a chance to hear two more showcases of Goulet in his prime.
Indeed, the ’60s was the decade when Goulet came of age and into his greatest popularity. At the start of the decade, he suddenly found that he was an overnight Broadway star thanks to Moss Hart’s casting him as Lancelot in Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot. Many a listener wished that he was addressing her (or him) when concluding “No, never could I leave you at all” at the conclusion of the immediate classic, “If Ever I Would Leave You.”
Then at the end of the decade, Goulet was nominated and won his one and only Tony Award; astonishingly, he wasn’t even nominated for Lancelot. In Kander and Ebb’s The Happy Time, he sang gloriously while portraying a freelance itinerant photographer. That was apt, for in those days, Goulet was as pretty as a pretty picture. There’s good reason why Bebe in A Chorus Line, when recalling her teenage years, cried out “Robert Goulet! Robert Goulet! Oh, my God! Robert Goulet!”
It wasn’t just his chiseled chin, piercing eyes, brooding good looks and his million-dollar smile (now $7,246,327.16 adjusted for inflation). Goulet sang with a confidence that made confidence sound easy, and yet never came across as smug. His voice was distinctive; if you’d turned on your radio and he was in the middle of a song you’d never heard before, you immediately knew that the singer was he. Has any crooner ever sounded as crisp?
That’s the word: crisp. And he was as cool as a cool cucumber in a brand-new refrigerator crisper when playing Fred Graham/Petruchio in Kiss Me, Kate and Tommy in Brigadoon (or “the Scottish musical,” for those of you who are on the suspicious side).
Although Goulet was a marvelous singer, he wasn’t just about getting out the sound; getting into the character’s head was as important as getting into his vocal cords. In Kiss Me, Kate, note the way he seems to italicize the word “more” when claiming that love is “more than “Wunderbar.” The way he rolls the “R” in “Jungfrau” is in the hammy manner befitting legend-in-his-own-mind Fred Graham. When Goulet insists that “raising a bit of hell” is preferable to marriage, he underlines the line in a way that stresses “And don’t we all know it?”
As for Brigadoon, Lerner and Loewe probably coveted Goulet in a production even before the auditioner had his first Camelot callback. As Tommy, can’t you hear him? Goulet’s pinpoint-perfect enunciation was was made for the score’s big hit, “Almost Like Being in Love” – especially when he hits that joyous “Alive!” at the end of the verse.
In this song, incidentally, Lerner followed Oscar Hammerstein’s policy of making just-meeting potential lovers both cautious and conditional. So in the tradition of “Make Believe,” “People Will Say We’re in Love” and “If I Loved You,” Lerner didn’t have Tommy say “I’m in love!” which would have been trite. Goulet’s full-out attack on the number makes clear that Tommy had shed the “almost” some time earlier.
But this album is not all Goulet, all the time. These are studio cast albums that offer virtually all of Kiss Me, Kate (with Goulet’s then-wife Carol Lawrence playing Lilli Vanessi/Katherina) and much of Brigadoon (with Sally Ann Howes as his Fiona).The Kiss Me, Kate tempi are brisk, lively, merry and bright: allegro. Considering the breakneck pace, you’d swear that biochemist Albert Peterson had slipped conductor Jack Elliot some Speed-Up. Ray Charles – the choral director, not the singer – was intent on hiring enough singers to fill at least five rows of a full stage. Their sound is more reminiscent of The Hi-Los (if you remember that ‘50s close-harmony group) rather than an ensemble from a Broadway musical.
Despite that Eisenhower-era approach, Charles’ intent for the rest of the score was “bringing into the ‘60s.” One can even hear a bit of “Goldfinger” in the arrangements and a flute that alternates between jazz and Renaissance Fair. There’s a pulsating feeling to Lawrence’s “I Hate Men” and to Jessica Walter’s “Always True to You in My Fashion” that makes each sound more like a 45 r.p.m. cover than a musical theater selection. “Were Thine That Special Face” loses almost all semblance of a beguine and becomes a straightforward ballad. These wildly different orchestrations will strike many as a welcome change; others will insist on playing the disc at a dull party to get some laughs.
When Jessica Walter first mentions Dick in “Tom, Dick or Harry,” the way that she says the word makes clear that she doesn’t have anyone named Richard on her mind. She got away with it. While television hadn’t yet embraced the type of profane language that cable would later introduce, Cole Porter’s lyrics endured less laundering in this broadcast than they did the famed 1953 film. “According to The Kinsey Report,” a line in “Too Darn Hot” was considered too darn hot for the movie, but not for 1968 television. True, Lois’ question of Bill was devalued into “How in heck can you be jealous?” but in “Brush up Your Shakespeare,” we were still told that declaiming a few lines of Othella (sic) would make women “think you’re a helluva fella” — probably because of the thella-hella-fella rhyme. But “Coriolanus,” with an emphasis on the final two syllables, is not to be found.
Some lines and words were changed seemingly arbitrarily and undoubtedly by someone else; Porter had died three-and-a-half years before the broadcast. “Gangster sister” became “sinister sister” and “L.B. Mayer,” dead for more than a decade, was replaced by “dragon-slayers.” “Why Can’t You Behave?” has a lyric change at the end that’s very telling and very nicely sets up a later song. Listen for it.
Howes is a lovely Fiona, but making an equally strong impression is Thomas Carlisle as Charlie Dalrymple, who’s betrothed to Fiona’s sister Jean. Here’s a “Whatever Happened to …” candidate, for Brigadoon was only Carlisle’s second network appearance – and his last. However, my buddy William Oser pointed out to me that Carlisle returned to his native England, where he did plenty of operetta and musicals, and was a Sadlers Wells star. Note his pleasant Scottish tenor that he uses quite well on “Come to Me, Bend to Me.” My buddy William Oser pointed out, Even if Carlisle didn’t do well by it, younger musical theater aficionados would find it worth hearing because it will remind them of a song that’s currently being heard in a wildly popular Broadway musical. As Sondheim wrote in A Little Night Music, “I’ll give you three guesses” and “reduce it to two.” But even that’s one too many.