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FOUR CAST ALBUM GURUS HAVE THEIR SAY By Peter Filichia

“Give cast albums as gifts!”

So said Lawrence Maslon when moderating a panel
discussion a few weeks ago at the NYU Skirball Center. So if
you observe Christmas and still haven’t found anything for
your friends and relatives, do take the New York University
professor’s advice.

Nodding in agreement to Maslon’s directive were his three
panelists: Theodore S. Chapin (CCO of Rodgers &
Hammerstein) and two cast album producers: Kurt
Deutsch (THE LAST FIVE YEARS, THE BOOK OF MORMON)
and Thomas Z. Shepard (winner of seven Grammy-winning
cast albums, including COMPANY and FOLLIES IN
CONCERT
).
 
When Maslon asked the panelists which original cast album
had initially stoked their interest, Chapin cited BYE BYE
BIRDIE
. “And I was so impressed that a musical about rock
‘n’ roll had a harp in the orchestra, which you could hear in
the overture.”

BYE BYE BIRDIE was one of many Columbia cast album
produced by Goddard Lieberson. Maslon conceded that Jack
Kapp deserved a great deal of credit for initiating the
concept of an original cast album at Decca with OKLAHOMA!
“That made him the Giotto of cast albums,” he said, “but
Lieberson was the Michelangelo.”

Maslon was also grateful for Lieberson’s 1958 recording of
OH, CAPTAIN! which came into his home because his family
was distantly related to one of the writers. “And,” he added,
“I thought it was three times better than MY FAIR LADY.”

Shouldn’t that endorsement alone make you want to give it
as a Christmas gift? Its star, one Tony Randall, told me that
he’d never forget what Herald Tribune dance critic Walter
Terry said about his attempts to enact James Starbuck’s
choreography: “Randall tortured the air.”

But you won’t be subjected to that agony while listening to
the score provided by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. By the
time the musical opened at the Alvin (now the Neil Simon),
they’d won Oscars for “Buttons and Bows,” “Mona Lisa” and
“Que Sera, Sera.”

Besides, OH, CAPTAIN! has Susan Johnson giving it all she
had with “Give It All You Got.” Alas, there are only four cast
albums on which the much-underappreciated, clarion-voiced
Johnson ever appeared. Aside from THE MOST HAPPY FELLA
(on whose album you can hear her expurgated “Ooh! My
Feet!”), Johnson never had a hit. (Needless to say, BUTTRIO
SQUARE and CARNIVAL IN FLANDERS, in which she
understudied star Dolores Gray, both went unrecorded.)

Deutsch told of one hazard of recording: “Performers who
have been used to projecting out front and loud have to be
reined in. And yet,” he acknowledged with a grimace, “you
don’t want to lose the energy.”
To my mind, one of the most successful examples of that is
the 1967 non-original cast album of HELLO, DOLLY! Pearl
Bailey was the star who perfectly modulated the performance she gave on stage to one that was far more subtle on the recording. All this, mind you, while not shortchanging the energy in the big numbers.
Maslon showed plenty of slides made from pictures in his
book. One collage showed recording sessions involving
Richard Rodgers musicals. Maslon asked Shepard (who had
produced the cast albums of TWO BY TWO in 1970 for
Columbia and REX in 1976 for RCA Victor) what type of man
Rodgers was.

“He didn’t speak much – and he didn’t smile much,” said
Shepard. The audience laughed, for over the years, stories
have often emerged of Rodgers’ cantankerousness. (They
even poured forth from Rodgers’ daughter Mary, who often
spoke frankly that growing up in his house didn’t mean the
family sat around the piano happily singing “Doe, a deer
…”).

So Shepard took pains to establish that Rodgers was ill at
the time; indeed, he suffered a great deal for the last
quarter-century of his life. That he even wanted to write
TWO BY TWO, REX and I REMEMBER MAMA in the ‘70s –
the last decade he would ever see – was a testament to the
love he had for composing.

(He certainly didn’t need the money.)

Time was allowed for questions from the audience. One
young man asked if anyone knew why the CD he had
somehow acquired of an orchestra playing the music from
GEORGY — the 1970 musical version of GEORGY GIRL — was
never completed with vocals. Deutsch gave him he right
answer: “Money.”

Actually, had GEORGY lasted more than four performances
and had been recorded, it would now be available on
Masterworks Broadway. Not because Columbia or RCA Victor
had the rights; Bell Records did. It’s now part of the
Masterworks Broadway family, which is why you can get the
original cast album of GODSPELL here.

And here’s something that those with perfect pitch have
probably noticed. Shepard was unhappy that the busy signal
heard during COMPANY’s opening number was in the wrong
key. Once the CD era began and he was able to remix, he
got it in the right one.

Video was shown from D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary
COMPANY: ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM where, if you looked
closely and quickly enough to get your eye in the precisely
correct corner, you’d see a young Ted Chapin.

He took the opportunity now to admitt he’d “begged” to
witness first-hand the recording of Stephen Sondheim’s
landmark, groundbreaking score. Said Chapin, referencing a
musical that would come to Broadway much later, “I had to
be in the room where it happened.”

Afterward, I ran into Shepard and asked if having Elaine
Stritch return another day to record “The Ladies Who Lunch”
cost a ton of extra money. (Her agonies with the song were
famously documented in Pennebaker’s film.)

Shepard said he believed that it didn’t cost any more –
“but,” he added, “when I recorded SWEENEY TODD, I
wasn’t happy with the way Angela Lansbury had said ‘So it is
you, Benjamin Barker.’ I asked her to come back another day and do it over. Contracts being what they are, she could have literally charged me $10,000 for it. $10,000! But she told me to forget about it. Now THAT’S a real lady!”

By the way, if cast albums aren’t a Christmas option for your
friends and relatives because they have every one of them
(well, all my friends do) you can always give them Laurence
Maslon’s excellent new book BROADWAY TO MAIN STREET:
HOW SHOW TUNES ENCHANTED AMERICA. It was the
reason for the panel in the first place.

Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at
www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at
www.mtishows.com . He can be heard most weeks of the
year on www.broadwayradio.com .