When Strava, a social network for athletes, did some research on peoples’ New Year’s resolutions, it found that the best laid plans of men and women are usually abandoned by January 12th.
Statistics also show that people who join gyms and then don’t show up to use the exercise equipment waste $1.8 billion a year.
Are you one of them? Or are you one who promised to give up M&Ms – until you went to the supermarket, saw that big bag marked “Sharing Size” and muttered “I’ll be the judge of that …”
Me, too: guilty as charged. So this year I’ve made a New Year’s Resolution that I know I can keep: I’m listening to original cast and studio cast albums in chronological order, starting with the forties when such recordings started in earnest.
I won’t tell of every score I’ve heard thus far, but I will relate a few thoughts that have occurred to me:
PAL JOEY (1940): People say that some shows and songs from yesteryear are “dated.” Let’s instead say that they put us in a time machine that allows us to see what was then on the public’s radar. So Melba in “Zip” reveals that novelist William Saroyan, columnist Walter Lippmann and the eleven-week old revival of CHARLEY’S AUNT were much in the news.
“Zip’s” lyric “I don’t want to meet Zorina” is most intriguing, given that Hart had worked with the great ballet star (first name: Vera) nineteen months earlier in I MARRIED AN ANGEL. Are we to infer that they didn’t get along and Hart wanted us to know that she wasn’t worth getting to know?
LADY IN THE DARK (1941): Danny Kaye originated “Tschaikowsky” in which he named an inordinate number of composers in lickety-split time. Good for Masterworks Broadway for including his recording on the 1963 studio cast album as a bonus track. Still, having Adolph Green do the song for the new recording was an inspired choice, for he was an avid classical music fan (as you know from “It’s a Simple Little System” in BELLS ARE RINGING). The love he had for each of the song’s composers comes through as loud as the conclusion of The 1812 Overture by the afore-named Tschaikowsky.
BY JUPITER (1942): Thanks to the 1967 off-Broadway cast album, we were introduced to the fetching “Jupiter Forbid.” Hart suggests that it was the ancient Greek way of saying “God forbid.” Jupiter, what a jaunty melody!
Would Hart have chosen that idea and title “Life with Father” if a play by that name wasn’t a big hit then? LIFE WITH FATHER, on its way to becoming Broadway’s longest-running show, well-outlived Hart. However, have you noticed that few produce it anymore while Hart’s work lives on and on and on?
OKLAHOMA! (1943) was the first original cast album to have impact, but I chose the 1964 studio cast album just for a change. It stars John Raitt, who’d played Curly many times before this session; Florence Henderson, who recorded it during her run on Broadway as the lead of THE GIRL WHO CAME TO SUPPER (and a few years before she became Carol Ann Martin Brady); and Phyllis Newman, whom we recently and sadly lost, as Ado Annie. They’re so accomplished that hearing this variation on the immortal score hits the spot.
The innovation of stereo spurred this recording. Home listeners became automatic audiophiles who’d greet their guests by saying “Come here! Stand here in the living room! No – not there! Here!” so they could hear every nuance of separation from two speakers.
Stereo was a factor in recording SONG OF NORWAY (1944) when in 1958 Jones Beach Theatre presented the third-longest-running musical of the forties.
Robert Wright and George “Chet” Forrest had taken melodies by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg and embellished them with their own touches. Those who know HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING will find a familiar musical phrase here: Grieg’s “Piano Concerto in A minor” is the melody Finch hears during the show’s first-act finale when he thinks of “Rosemary.”
You want to know how slapdash some “original cast” albums were in their infancy? On the first recording of ON THE TOWN (1944), Mary Martin sang Gabey’s two big songs – and she wasn’t even in the show! Decca felt that Martin didn’t have to be to make the cut(s).
Nancy Walker got to record two of her songs; co-bookwriters-and-lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green only had one. All were much busier on Memorial Day, 1960, when cast album guru Goddard Lieberson decided to memorialize the show with a fuller recording.
One song, “Do-Do-Re-Do,” was recorded but had to wait until a 1971 reissue (when the show was revived on Broadway) to make it to vinyl. Another, “I Understand” (with its excellent character development), was released even later. Luckily, they’re both on the compact disc.
Over the years, most musical theater enthusiasts have told me that the best cast album of CAROUSEL (1945) came from the 1966 revival. No argument! Comparing it to the original issue, one sees that John Raitt – who always was the first to admit that he was more a singer than an actor – had had twenty-one years to deepen the character — and did. Meanwhile, his voice hadn’t suffered at all.
I discussed ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1946) in great detail last week, so let’s move on to STREET SCENE (1947). Was there anything that Kurt Weill couldn’t do? When he was still in his native Germany, he wrote German (THE THREEPENNY OPERA). When he emigrated to America, he wrote American (LADY IN THE DARK). And when the chance came to write grand opera, he did it in grand fashion.
STREET SCENE begins with a song called “Ain’t It Awful, the Heat?” No, the heat in this score is wondrous – ain’t, um, isn’t it?
Thirteen years after FINIAN’S RAINBOW (1947) opened, it got a revival and a new recording. Again, stereo was the motivating factor, but this second set with Biff McGuire and Jeannie Carson turned out to be superior to the original.
This production was slated to have the usual two-week run that City Center offered all its revivals. McGuire and Carson (neé Shuttlebottom) had to be delighted that it moved to Broadway – and then disappointed that it played only that same length of time there.
But ultimately, they had to be grateful that they did the show, though, for fewer than six months after the closing, McGuire and Carson were married – and are still together more than fifty-nine years later. If this isn’t love, what is?
Conversely, Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy had already been wed eleven months by 1957 when they recorded BRIGADOON (1947). The Lerner-Loewe classic suffered from a terribly abridged cast album that was ballad-heavy. Where were the comedy numbers? Right here on the Jones-Cassidy disc, thanks to Susan Johnson, who almost steals the show from the stars. Nice to have this recording that was made a decade later (or one-tenth of a day in Brigadoon time).
I hope to make good on this New Year’s resolution by the time Brigadoon comes around again. I’ll be telling you how I’ve been doing from time to time through 2020. Happy New Year – and good luck with your own New Year’s Resolutions. If you join me in mine, I’m sure you’ll be glad you did.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at