Sony Classical and Columbia/Legacy recordings have joined forces to create "Columbia Broadway Masterworks". This label will present a new series of digitally remastered classic musical theater original cast recordings.
When I first heard they were embarking on this project, I was, to say the least, unexcited. Not one new title was mentioned that hasn't been previously released. All five titles are currently available on CD. But when I got my copies, boy was I surprised. These CDs are completely remastered from the original analog sources and have extensive new liner notes plus rare photographs, previously unreleased tracks and the original artwork restored.
The first set in this series includes: the original Broadway cast recordings A Chorus Line, Cabaret, Camelot, Kiss, Me Kate and the original London cast recording My Fair Lady. Since most people know these original recordings (most musical theater fans already own them), I shall give a brief rundown of each disc in chronological order starting with the oldest recording working my way up to the newest.
Kiss Me, Kate is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It debuted on Broadway in 1948 and is often hailed as Cole Porter's finest and most sophisticated score ever. Kiss Me, Kate, a musical about the backstage bickering of a once married couple who are reunited for a tour of a Broadway-bound show, is basically two stories in one. So as a result, Mr. Porter had to write what are essentially two different scores, one for the off-stage action and one for the on-stage action (which also comments on the off-stage action).
Cast in the leads as Fred and Lilli are Alfred Drake and Patricia Morison, who are likely never to be equaled, so this is the recording to beat and I, for one, am grateful that Sony has decided to remaster it. Although it was recorded in mono, the sound is considerably better than it was when released on CD ten years ago. Lisa Kirk, as Lois, and Harold Lang, as Bill Calhoun, are also perfect as the secondary couple. Since the entr'acte was used for the overture on the LP release, the original overture from a Lehman Engel collection is included as a bonus track. The original cover art has been reproduced, unlike the first CD issue and on the CD itself is the old, green Columbia LP label. Listening to this recording, one can't help but wonder why this terrific musical hasn't resurfaced on Broadway.
Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady debuted on Broadway in 1956, but didn't make its premiere in London until 1959. For the London production, Julie Andrews, Rex Harrison and Stanley Holloway recreated their roles, so one would think there would have been no need to re-record this cast, but alas there is. The original Broadway cast recording was done before stereo recordings became the norm, so Columbia took this rare opportunity to record the same cast in stereo. There are also some differences in the performances. The actors sound more comfortable with their roles on the London disc; Miss Andrews talks a few of her lines and Mr. Harrison sings a bit more than before. This is still a recording worth having, even if you own the original Broadway cast, because of the stereo sound and the one additional track, "The Embassy Waltz". This song was not recorded during the original recording sessions; a version conducted by Percy Faith is included here.
In my last column I discussed the different recordings of this score. This is by far the second best, after the original Broadway recording. Let's hope Sony gets around to reissuing both the original Broadway cast with the aforementioned cast and the 20th anniversary Broadway cast starring current Pimpernel leading lady, Christine Andreas.
In 1960 the King Arthur musical, Camelot, arrived on Broadway, but it was not an instant success. That is to say not until its famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, when millions of viewers where treated to a performance from the show by Julie Andrews and Richard Burton. Since then, there have been numerous revivals, but none could ever match the star power of Julie Andrews, Richard Burton and Robert Goulet. All three were perfect in their roles and could never be bettered.
On CD, there are currently two other versions available; the movie soundtrack and the 1982 London cast, both starring Richard Harris. I wouldn't recommend the original motion picture soundtrack, because the singing is perfectly awful, or the London cast recording, because the cast is undistinguished except for Claire Moore singing "Follow Me".
While there is no additional material on this reissue, the songs are placed in show order for the first time and we should be thankful for that. They have also restored the original cover artwork for this release instead of the one used for the first CD release which featured pictures of the three stars.
Cabaret, which is enjoying its second revival on Broadway, winning a Tony award for best revival of a musical, first made a big splash on Broadway in 1966. Its stars then were Joel Grey, who went on to star in the film version, Jill Haworth, Jack Gilford, Lotte Lenya and Bert Convy.
I have discussed in greater detail the other Cabaret recordings when I reviewed JAY records complete recording of the score back in February. This re-release is extra special because it includes 4 cut songs sung by the lyricist, Fred Ebb. One of them, "I Don't Care Much", was reinstated for both Broadway revivals. The other songs are "Roommates", "Goodtime Charlie" and "It'll All Blow Over".
For those waiting for the new Broadway cast recording to come out, you can pacify yourself with this new release featuring the original Broadway cast.
The "baby" of the bunch is A Chorus Line. At one time it was the longest running musical in Broadway history, until ... well, you know what happened, so don't get me started.
A Chorus Line is most famous for its direction and choreography, both by Michael Bennett. While one cannot enjoy that famous staging by listening to this disc, one can enjoy the enthusiasm exhibited by the cast which comes through beautifully. While not one of the great scores of musical theater, Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban have fashioned a very theatrical score that compliments the story perfectly.
For this re-release, Sony has added an extra minute to "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love". Since A Chorus Line is mostly music, it is surprising there hasn't been a complete recording of the score. There is only one other recording of this score in English, the bizarre movie soundtrack which updated the orchestrations and added two new songs. Being that the movie soundtrack is out of print, this is the only recording of this score currently available and belongs in every theater fanatics collection.
On the each of these last four discs is the old brown Columbia label with the dark gold lettering, making each look like an LP, a nice touch. Each and every disc is worth purchasing. If you own the original CD releases, you won't be disappointed. They are value priced as well, so your wallet won't ache too much.
As if releasing the current Broadway cast recordings of Ragtime, The Sound of Music, Cabaret, the Paper Mill Playhouse cast of Children of Eden and the London cast of Chicago weren't enough, RCA Victor has announced they are going to be recording William Finn's A New Brain. A New Brain is making its debut at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre in New York's Lincoln Center and stars Penny Fuller, Malcolm Gets, Kristen Chenoweth, Chip Zien, Mary Testa, Christopher Innvar, Keith Byron Kirk, Michael Mandell and Liz Larsen.
Rumors are circulating that DRG might be recording the Broadway cast of High Society. Since this show is limping along at the box office, I wouldn't hold my breath.
Join me next time when I will be reviewing the new Broadway cast recording of Cabaret, the premiere recording of the Stephen Sondheim musical, Saturday Night and a single from the London production of Saturday Night Fever. 'Til then, happy listening!