Sound Advice Reviews
Some Lost Broadway
It's "Lost and Found" time! We find ourselves with the second volume of Lost Broadway and More, the kind of find that makes collectors shout a collective "Hooray!" with its musical theatre cornucopia of old and newer not-to-be-missed miscellany. And there are a couple of show tunes in the wind in Night Winds Whisper from a singer new to me named Livia Devereux whose collection may only have eight songs but it, too, is very, very eclectic.
LOST BROADWAY AND MORE, VOLUME 2
The gain of a few Jerry Herman songs added to A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine when producers moved if from London to Broadway meant that something was lost from the original scoreand such a "lost" song retrieval system is what the CD series Lost Broadway and More is all about and theatre fans are the beneficiaries. In this case, that Hollywood/Ukraine number that didn't get its visa to cross the ocean is the first track on Volume 2 and this example, the cheery, charming "All God's Chillun Got Movie Shows" shows that good things are worth waiting for. Having it sung and played on piano by Frank Lazarus, who co-wrote it with Dick Vosburgh, adds to the historical value and authentic feel. Mr. Lazarus also adds his experience to the liner notes. His energy and enthusiasm are smile-inducing and it's not just an interesting curiosity of a footnote for musical theatre completists: it's a swell, well-written number that also sets toes tapping and works out of context.
This CD has become a favorite of mine and I look forward to each in the series of albums, as the batting average of non-hits has lots of home runs. (This baseball metaphor reminds me that there's a cute ditty about being clueless about the game, "Pinch Hitter," by Larry Grossman and Ellen Fitzhugh, from the revue Diamonds, and Joan Bender comes to bat with a dingbat's air of airheadedness). Accompaniment on the selections is usually just piano and, although sound quality and ambiance vary a bit, and there's an understandably patchwork feel to the album produced by Original Cast Records owner/ rare songs sleuth Bruce Yeko, this is a grab bag very worth grabbing. With a generous sampling of 22 pieces, there's something for everyone. Some songs would be better appreciated in context, since theatre songs are first and foremost intended to be for specific characters in specific situations. So, appreciation is enhanced by just knowing that "Stupid Little Songs," newly written by Randy Newman as a glimpse into his marriage, was a new item penned specifically for a revue of his old songs, sung by a character playing his angered wife. Whether you know that or not, Brooke Sunny Moriber's fiery, focused performance works. She is heard rewardingly on several tracks, playing widely diverse characters and singing in different styles and tones.
Recorded shortly before her death in her mid-90s, Kitty Carlisle Hart recreates two numbers from Walk with Music, a Hoagy Carmichael/ Johnny Mercer Broadway production she was in over half a century ago. She sounds understandably fragile, but her elegance is intact and the performances are quite moving. We get the almost-title song "I Walk with Music" as well as "How Nice for Me," the latter not previously recorded. Part of the agenda for this series of albums is to focus on shows that never got a cast album because of their age, lack of commercial success, or because they are shows that are still new (Poe, College: The Musical Houdini and Sir Arthur) or being developed, or had miscellaneous pieces cut or not used, or an old vinyl album with its more limited playing time could not include everything. When possible, people who were involved in the original show are sought. Examples: writer Robert Sevra joins Broadway veteran Martin Vidnovic for the boisterous "The Game" from Sevra and Lynn Crigler's Rogues to Riches; original cast member Heather Mac Rae joins Lewis Cleale for the title song of Broadway's long-lost short-term resident Here's Where I Belong; Jenn Colella from Broadway's Urban Cowboy is present with two sly, fun country-inflected numbers from that short-lived recent musical, "Mr. Hopalong Heartbreak" (Jason Robert Brown) and "Cowboy, Take Me Away" (Marcus Hummon/ Martie Maguire).
Making a few appearances as singer-pianist is skillful, insouciant William Zeffiro, who always sounds like he's having the time of his lifehe is also represented as a songwriter. Zeffiro is heard solo with a tongue-in-cheek birthday greeting to Dorothy Parker, written for a singing contest sponsored by The Dorothy Parker Society. He joins veteran entertainer Steve Ross with the wonderfully chipper "Sawing a Woman in Half" written by Kay Swift and Al Stillman for for a stage show at Radio City Music Hall. It's a fine example of Lost ... lost-in-the-shuffle kind of treasures.
Approximately midway in the proceedings is "Time Lost," a worthy and wistful number from Rogues to Riches and a solo by Rita Gardner, sung hauntingly and with passion and yearning. And it has an added resonance sung by the still-very active Miss Gardner a full fifty years after making her indelible mark as the sole female character in the most successful of all Off-Broadway shows, The Fantasticks.
Musical director/singer/pianist/sheet music collector Michael Lavine is an instrumental part of the treasure hunt that is this series and he sings with great joy and captures the simple sweetness of songs from earlier eras. Among his valuable contributions is a very early, plucky Betty Comden/ Adolph Green lyric, "Fill 'Er Up," from the unsuccessful Bonanza Bound, music by Saul Chaplin. Especially notable on the recording are two terrific songs intended for, but not used in the Broadway musical Mexican Hayride, with one vocal by Mr. Lavine (the non-idealized ode to a loved one, "It's Just Yours") and one by bright-voiced Joan Bender, the breezy and very appealing "It Must Be Fun to Be You." Collectors and people who just like superbly crafted, clever theatre songs by one of the masters will raise a hurrah in this case as the writer is none other than the great Cole Porter. It's one of Lost Broadway and More, Volume 2's many gains.
Cole Porter shows up on Livia Devereux's eight-song CD, and this versatilely soulful singer sounds luxuriatingly super-cozily at home with his "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To." She likewise appears to be in a comfort zone with music from the worlds of pop and country, as she and her various arrangers make each song refashioned to make the whole album feel of one cloth. Night Winds Whisper is a plush pleasure from its ear-catching opener of Patsy Cline's hit "Walkin' After Midnight," rethought as a darker, deeper moody blues number, to the last track, a gutsy groove lingering in the steadfast stance of the Harold Arlen/ Johnny Mercer classic "Come Rain or Come Shine" from Broadway's St. Louis Woman, without histrionics dominating the determination.
Unlike many, many younger singers who are new to me with early CDs, I can't instantly identify who her role model or her strongest influence(s) may be. I expect they are many and eclectic. And she doesn't consciously or otherwise sound like a specific singer or even a type. She sings some theatre material, but does not sound very "musical theatre" and is, in any case, no cookie cutter assembly line type. There's some R&B sound, jazz sensibilities, and more. I'm pulled in.
It's teamwork musically, with the somewhat shifting cast of characters who are her instrumentalists really making major side-by-side contributions rather than staying in the background until the instrumental breaks. Forget muddiness and muddle. This is song-painting/ mood-coloring at its best, getting a lot out of individual instruments' assets: cello, sax, brasswithout "taking turns."
Especially welcome is "Welcome to My Love," an old title song from a Nancy Wilson album, and Livia lingers and takes ownership of this, too. There are some instances where the overall color is fine but the song doesn't quite have the dramatic arc and nuance it might, if some lines in the lyrics were highlighted as climaxes rather than painted with same broad stroke. An example is "You've Changed," which isn't changed as much as some others, sounding OK but staying a long time in the same mindset of misery and moping. It's not as well shaped or thoughtfully interpreted as the others.
The highlight for me is "Tonight" from West Side Story. While the other songs tend to start and mostly stay in that pensive, bluesy, ruminating place where tempo is not demanding and strict, "Tonight" crackles. Punctuated by its finger-snaps, it's got the original version's sense of hopeful expectancy and awe and joy, but is hip and happy, a feel-good iPod candidate for sure. Oddly, it's the only one without a credit for arrangement. Rob Filomena has several arrangement credits, Rosina Serrano does two string arrangements and Robin Pitre does two as well, and is on piano for two other tracks with the creative and sensitive Sarah Jane Cion as the main pianist.
The album had been available for q while as a download, but just recently has joined the ranks as a hard-copy purchasable item. And Livia is live at Manhattan's Metropolitan Room in a return engagement October 27th.