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ONCE ON THIS ISLAND: A Revinylization By Peter Filichia

Back in 1990, it missed its chance by a matter of months.

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND opened in October of that year. By
then, original Broadway cast albums were no longer issued
as long-playing records (or LPs, as they were more
commonly known).

The Tony-winning CITY OF ANGELS, which had released its
original cast album in March, 1990 – primarily on CD and
cassette – was the final long-playing original Broadway cast
album.

Or so we thought.

Now that we have the luxury of hindsight, we can say that
CITY OF ANGELS was the last long-playing original
Broadway cast album for quite some time. Over the last few
years, many have been manufactured and released. Some
have been reissues (the CHICAGO revival; HAIRSPRAY);
some have been new recordings (KINKY BOOTS; Bette
Midler’s HELLO, DOLLY!) issued in tandem with CDs and
downloads.

Now ONCE ON THIS ISLAND — the maiden Broadway effort
from the eventual Tony-winning librettist-lyricist Lynn Ahrens
and composer Stephen Flaherty – joins the ever-burgeoning
roster in this era of an LP renaissance.

Perhaps spurred by the Tony-winning revival that’s currently
on Broadway, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND has been given the
vinyl treatment. It’s available in a two-record set.

No, nothing has been added. But, as Scott Farthing, Vice President of Sony Masterworks Broadway acknowledges, the show’s requiring two records “mainly has to do with running
time. In the CD era, folks started taking advantage of being
able to include up to 79 minutes on a disc. We keep an LP
side to a max of 26 minutes to ensure the best sonic
quality.”

Yes, the sound of music is why most people are returning to
– or discovering – vinyl. By virtually all accounts, what
emerges from your speakers sounds warmer than what
comes out when either a CD or a download is played.

You’ll definitely hear the difference on ONCE ON THIS
ISLAND’s soulful songs, such as “Forever Yours,” in which Ti
Moune, a native peasant lass, professes her love for Daniel,
a highborn young man whom she’s rescued after an
accident. In the song, he returns her love.

But in the equally haunting “Some Say” (warmly captured
here) we see his true feelings for Ti Moune (however, not
until he’s kept us guessing for many lines).

There are eight selections on the first record. If you know
the show (and if you don’t, you’ve missed a dandy), you can
easily infer that it starts with “We Dance,” as the people of
the French Antilles show how they regroup after a terrible
storm. Record One concludes with “Ti Moune,” in which our
heroine’s parents show how much they care about her and
warn that she’s undoubtedly headed for heartbreak.

The second record has eleven selections. It starts with
“Mama Will Provide,” in which Goddess Asaka promises to take care of Ti Moune; it concludes, of course, with the joyous finale: “Why We Tell the Story.”

In olden days, whenever an original cast album was released
on two long-playing records, the packaging usually meant a
gatefold jacket – meaning two jackets joined together at the
spine. CANDIDE ’74, COLE, COWARDY CUSTARD and plenty
of others were packaged this way. (I’m still wondering why
JACQUES BREL and JEROME ROBBINS’ BROADWAY were
instead housed in cumbersome boxes.)

Way back when, gatefolds were the most luxurious and
cherished albums. Collectors usually associate them with
Columbia Records, which issued fifteen between early 1960
(THE SOUND OF MUSIC) and late 1964 (BAJOUR). But RCA
Victor actually beat that august company into the gatefold
race by using that format in 1955 when it released SILK
STOCKINGS, Cole Porter’s final stage musical.

So for those who were alive and well during the gatefold
era, this new ONCE ON THIS ISLAND will bring back fond
memories. For those who were born well after CDs came
into the world, there’s a nice, clean, brand-new gatefold
awaiting your inspection.

Old-timers who usually reach down for those reading glasses
hanging on a string from their neck may not need them to
read the selections here. That’s another beauty of record
albums; not just the pictures are larger but the print is, too.
Oh, the typeface on Ahrens’ lyrics is precisely the same size
as they were in the CD booklet, but they’re on one
convenient large sheet which you’ll find nestling next to the
first record.

The jacket is so attractive that it’s suitable for framing. Many stores that sell frames now offer 12-by-12-inchers that are specifically for record albums. So rather than spend many more dollars on a window card of ONCE THIS ISLAND, you might just frame this new issue’s cover that features Kwang Suk’s evocative logo of two indigenous people dancing under the sun and by the seashore.

Now even if you can find a record store (which has become
more difficult than opening a childproof bottle of aspirin),
you won’t find ONCE ON THIS ISLAND there. This is a
Barnes & Noble exclusive, so you’ll have to trek to one of its
640 stores to see it as it really is, or simply order it on
bn.com and be delighted when it arrives by snail mail. You’ll
find it well worth either the drive to the store or the trip to
the mailbox.

Here’s a fair warning, though. Once you go to play it, you’ll
have to get up five times to enjoy the entire ONCE ON THIS
ISLAND experience. Do the arithmetic: once to put it on,
three times to change sides and once to take it off. That’s
three more trips than you’d make with a CD.

But considering how so many of us who listen to music are
couch-potato-ish in nature, the exercise will do us a world of
good.

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 .