Fosse is a revue based on the work of choreographer Bob Fosse. As expected, the songs have no connection to each other. The last revue to open on Broadway that was based on a director/choreographer was Jerome Robbins' Broadway. The difference between Fosse and Jerome Robbins' Broadway is that the latter was comprised completely of sequences taken from musical comedy classics whereas the segments in Fosse are taken from film, TV and Broadway and that's where the problem lies, at least on disc. Not only that, most of this music is there to accompany dance steps, and that too is a problem.
When listening to Jerome Robbin's Broadway, you get the feeling you are hearing Broadway's Greatest Hits. Not so with Fosse. While this CD might be interesting to fans of the musical, it will be of little interest to those who are not. You can find better performances of the Broadway numbers, like "Steam Heat," "Big Spender" and "Razzle Dazzle," on their respective original cast recordings. This disc does preserve some numbers from two Fosse musicals that went unrecorded, Big Deal ("Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries") and Dancin' ("Sing! Sing! Sing!"). Though Valarie Pettiford sings a fine rendition of "Life is a Bowl of Cherries" and the orchestra is in fine form that alone doesn't make this disc exciting or interesting to listen to. There are also new orchestrations by Ralph Burns and Douglas Besterman, but that too does little to interest the listener. Unfortunately, I find little reason why this disc was recorded in the first place. RCA also recorded another big dance show a few years back, Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk, which was much more exciting to listen to because it was recorded live, giving the disc a bit of an edge.
It seems that every new Broadway season brings us at least four new musical revivals. Since most of the great musicals have been revived, or revised as it were, there is little in the cannon; producers have turned to little known, or lesser known musicals.
This season saw two such musicals revived, with different degrees of success. The first, Little Me, music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, was revived by the Roundabout theater for a brief run earlier this season. This was the second revival since its Broadway debut. It had a brief run in 1982 that split the male roles, originally all played by Sid Caesar, between two actors (James Coco and Victor Garber). This time the opposite was done, the female role originally played by two actresses is now being played by one. The result is that Little Me has almost been turned into a one-woman show for Faith Prince, and she is certainly up to the task on this recording. Unfortunately her character can no longer duet with herself on the title song. In addition to this revision, Neil Simon has rewritten part of his book and a few songs have been shuffled. The opening number for Belle, "The Truth," has also been cut and replaced by the title song which was originally performed near the end of the show.
To fill Sid Caesar's shoes, it was necessary to find a comedian who could easy shift between characters and be able to sing. Martin Short was called upon to fill these mighty big shoes and he does quite well. In fact he sounds as if he is trying to outdo Mr. Caesar. Short adopts eight different guises throughout the show, using different voices so that each is distinguished from the other. Sometimes he sounds a bit over the top and might even annoy some listeners, but he is quite enjoyable nonetheless. This is the third recording of this musical and it is the most complete to date. "I Love You Sinking" is heard on disc for the first time here. To add to the enjoyment of this recording, generous helpings of Neil Simon's funny book have been included as well. Miss Prince is quite a match for Mr. Short and holds her own against this human chameleon. Although I have heard that she seemed quite uncomfortable on stage in her revealing costume, she sounds at ease here and makes this CD worth having even if Mr. Short is a bit over the top.
The downside to this disc is that there are new orchestrations by Harold Wheeler. While it was very necessary to scale down the orchestra due to the space at the Roundabout, one wishes they scaled down the original orchestrations rather than start from scratch. Ralph Burns' originals orchestrations were bright and brassy while Mr. Wheeler's sound clunky and cheesy at times. But it didn't stop me from enjoying the terrific performances of Martin Short and Faith Prince and I listen to this one quite frequently.
Happiness is ... the new Broadway cast recording of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown .
"Happiness," of course, is the hit tune from You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown (which I will refer to as YAGMCB from here on out). YAGMCB was originally an off-Broadway hit in 1967 before transferring for a limited run on Broadway in 1972 where it ran for a few months before closing. Shortly thereafter it was broadcast on TV in 1973. Both casts were recorded and released on LP at the time and have been out of print for years. The original cast recording was available on CD for a brief time in the 80s; therefore, this recording of its first revival is the only one currently available.
YAGMCB follows the misadventures of Charles Schultz' Peanuts characters. The show is comprised of self-contained scenes so there isn't a storyline to follow, making this more of a revue than a traditional musical. While I do not favor revues, this show is an exception. Clark Gesner was responsible for the book, music and lyrics when it first debuted in 1967. This time around several scenes were dropped as was a character (Patty), with new scenes and a new character (Sally Brown) being added. To accommodate these changes Andrew Lippa was brought on board to write two new songs and provide a new arrangement for the title tune. In fact, most of these tunes have been outfitted with new orchestrations to give the whole piece a contemporary feel. The number of pieces in the orchestra have been expanded to eight from the original two.
Since I was never a Peanuts fan (that is till now) I have never heard this score before. When I first heard this new recording I could hardly stop listening to it. I found the score to be very charming, reminding me more of a score one would hear off-Broadway rather than on, which is where it began and probably where it should have stayed. Charming as it may be, it is hardly the type of show that today's audiences look for in a Broadway musical and that is a shame. For those looking for a "feel good" musical, this CD is for you. You can't help but grin as you hear your favorite Peanuts characters come to life. One of the joys of this CD is that each actor is perfectly cast and all are easily recognizable as their characters. This musical is such an ensemble piece (only six actors) that it is hard to single anyone one out. But, as the Tony committee noted, Roger Bart as Snoopy and Kristin Chenoweth as Sally Brown do standout in their numbers.
In the dismal musical season of '98-'99 there have been very few recordings to speak of. The recording of YAGMCB is one of the highlights, along with Parade. As of this writing these are the last CDs to be released of last seasons musicals. As evidence of the sparseness of the season's offerings, so far three productions from last season have gone unrecorded: It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues, the revival of On the Town, and Civil War. But that could all change in a few weeks. Blues has been shopping around for a label and Frank Wildhorn, of course, works for Atlantic records and will most likely find a way to record at least a few numbers using the original cast of Civil War. In the meantime there is the Complete Works recording featuring country, pop and Broadway stars.
Join me next time when I will be reviewing Little By Little, As Thousands Cheer and Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know. 'Til next time, happy listening!