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With the dearth of new musicals opening on or off Broadway, it is no wonder that many record companies are releasing albums from shows of yesteryear that were not, how shall we put it, feathers in anyone's cap or successful ventures. In more vulgar parlance: flops. Now I am, admittedly, a major acolyte in the 'cult of the less-than-successful musical' and have even gone on record as offering a quarter of my soul to have had the chance to see Carrie. However, even I have come to the realization that a large number of these forgotten musicals have been lost in the sands of time for good reason, which is why anytime a worthwhile discovery is made in the dark realms of failed musicals, it is a reason to celebrate.

Sherry!Well, folks, it's time to pop the champagne and put on the party hats because a treasure trove has been unearthed: Sherry!, a musical adaptation of Kaufman and Hart's classic comedy, The Man Who Came to Dinner. The score, which features music by Laurence Rosenthal and book and lyrics by James Lipton (yes, the host from Bravo's Inside the Actor's Studio), was presumed lost after the show's closing in 1967 until it magically resurfaced in 2000. After tweaking the score to reflect the show that Rosenthal and Lipton had originally intended, an all-star cast was assembled to sing over orchestra tracks containing an unprecedented number of musicians (67 in the overture alone), and as a result, the show sounds better than it ever had (and probably ever will again).

For those unfamiliar with the show or its source material, Sherry! tells the tale of Sheridan Whiteside (played by Nathan Lane, who recently portrayed the part in a Broadway revival of the source material), an all around renaissance man/critic/writer of the arts (loosely based on Alexander Woollcott, a man Noel Coward called "a caged cobra") who terrorizes the folks of Mesalia, Ohio, after an immobilizing accident occurs during his lecture there. This irritating invalid proceeds to turn the holidays into the Twelve Days of Hell through a cast of thousands that includes cockroaches, convicts, penguins, an octopus, an Egyptian mummy, and a flood of oddball societal well-wishers.

The show only ran for 65 performances on Broadway and, aside from the title track appearing on Unsung Musicals, none of its songs were ever recorded. The score is remarkably strong, however, and even surpasses that belonging to a recent pastiche-laden Tony winning show that recently lost its leading lady. From Whiteside's opening number, "Why Does the Whole Damn World Adore Me," (a number that perfectly sets up the character and is delightfully realized by Nathan Lane) to "In The Very Next Moment" (a number sung by Whiteside's admirers that recalls Annie's "I Think I'm Gonna Like it Here" by way of Me and My Girl), to the tender "Maybe It's Time for Me" (sung by Bernadette Peters as Whiteside's long suffering assistant, Maggie) the score contains a surprising number of gems. Even lesser numbers, like the title song (a gossip list number sung by Lane and Carol Burnett that tries to be a cynical look at society a la Noel Coward's "I Went to a Marvelous Party" or Cole Porter's "Thank You So Much, Mrs. Lowsborough - Goodby" but wears thin with repeated listenings) or "I Always Stay at the Ritz" (sung by Tommy Tune as the Noel Coward-inspired Beverly) are highly entertaining and make for a delightful listen.

Whether or not the show would ever work on stage remains to be seen, as one suspects that it is one of those shows whose score is stronger than the book, making it an obvious contender for an Encores! type concert setting. However there's no denying that the score, especially as performed with this cast and orchestra, makes for a thoroughly entertaining and refreshing listen. And if that weren't enough, the two-disc album includes bonus film footage of interviews Lipton conducted with the stars in which he discusses the show, as well as footage chronicling the making of the recording.

Jerry Spring the OperaAt first glance, one cannot imagine a less likely subject for a musical than the trash-talking/confessional talk show, The Jerry Springer Show . Yet that is precisely what has happened with Jerry Springer: The Opera, a live recording of which is now available on CD.

This is certainly not an album for the prudish, as the show, with music by Richard Thomas and book/lyrics by Thomas and Stewart Lee, brings to life the foul mouthed debates/all-out-wars that rage on the show over topics like "my mother was my dad," "chicks with a dick," "men who like sex while in diapers," and the Ku Klux Klan. The shock/enjoyment of the album is to hear these topics set to music reminiscent of Mozart, Bach and Handel, with just enough pop-rock to shake things up.

The show is performed in three acts, each of which contains a brilliant concept (the first act is a musicalization of a typical Jerry Springer show, the second act has him in Purgatory after being shot on the show, and the third has him in hell confronting God and Satan, with special guests Jesus, Mary, Eve and Adam). But as each act wears on, the novelty of setting the lowest-of-the-lowbrow entertainment to the rarified genre of opera wears off and the songs begin to feel repetitious. While the cast is uniformly wonderful (Michael Brandon eerily re-creates Jerry Springer's voice and mannerisms and Alison Jiear is transcendent as an overweight housewife who dreams of being a pole dancing stripper), this is most decidedly one of those shows that should experienced live before listening to the cast album as much of the humor would be ruined otherwise. Since a production is tentatively scheduled to arrive in New York in the spring of 2005, it might behoove one to wait for one's Jerry Springer moment.

Offensive, TooSpeaking of offensive songs, Sharon McNight has recently released Offensive, Too, her second album devoted to songs she performed in her show, Songs to Offend Everyone. As with her previous album, this is a delightful CD that displays great wit as it nails various sacred cows to the wall. This time around, she declares "Let's Talk Dirty to the Animals" (a number by Michael O'Donoghue that appeared on Gilda Radner's classic comedy album), takes a swipe at "Republicans" (an election year favorite by William Finn), examines why one cannot eat "Dog in Taiwan" (a hysterical number by Modern Man), extols the virtues of "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" (what offensive comedy CD would be complete without a song by Tom Lehrer) and implores "Blow Me" (a delightful number that sounds dirtier than it is ... but not by much). While McNight is one of our comic goddesses, she ends the album with a hard hitting number considered to be one of the most offensive songs of the 20th Century (or at least on the most offensive topic), "Strange Fruit."

On Richard Rodgers PianoA few years ago, we celebrated what would have been the centennial of Richard Rodgers' birthday. As a result, a veritable typhoon of recordings flooded the market devoted to his works to the point of over saturation. Thankfully, enough time has elapsed for this listener, at least, to wade back into the songs crafted by one of musical theater's greatest composers, since a remarkable album has arrived from the most unlikeliest of sources: John Bucchino, a composer whose works are usually in a syncopated vein not in keeping with Rodgers' more romantic style. Bucchino, however, is full of surprises in On Richard Rodgers' Piano , an instrumental album that features Bucchino performing melodies written by Richard Rodgers on a Steinway he purchased in 1939, and on which he wrote many of his greatest creations. As filtered through Bucchino, the tunes have a free-flowing improvised feel (no small wonder, as Bucchino admits that none of the arrangements were written down, and only one of them, "My Favorite Things," was even pre-meditated before the recording). By turns jazzy (the slightly discordant "The Lady is a Tramp" and the highly infectious "My Favorite Things"), delicate (the ethereal "Edelweiss," which evokes the image of a tender lullaby and a surprisingly touching "Something Good," one of the few songs for which Rodgers contributed both music and lyrics), and wistful (a lilting "It Might as Well Be Spring"), On Richard Rodgers' Piano displays not only a side to Bucchino not previously displayed, but an appreciation for the genius Rodgers showed for melodies.

BalladI have said it before and I'll say it again: D.C. Anderson is one of cabaret's most eclectic of performers. Currently touring in The Phantom of Opera as Andre, he displays the prerequisite brassy Broadway voice when the need requires, but also possesses a subtle and supple voice that caresses the listener with its warmth and simplicity. While he is best known for his sly and wry way with a comic number, his latest CD, Ballad, displays a side of Anderson that has been on ever-increasing display. As the title implies, Ballad largely consists of songs that deal with love, be it found, lost, or sought after. The revelation of the album is that all the songs contain lyrics written by Anderson.

Even though this is a more serious album than his previous CDs, his sense of humor continues to percolate throughout, with a few of the cuts being full-fledged comic numbers ("Chocolate is Fine," which divulges clinical reasons why we love the stuff, and "Human Fondue," which gives a warning about using said substance in an erotic manner). Other highlights include "If You Touch Me" (music by Roy Zimmerman), a love song that is refreshing and effective in its simplicity, and the bittersweet "Leave You Now" (music by Carol Hall). For more information visit http://www.dcanderson.net.

The Water CoolersIf Forbidden Broadway or The Capitol Steps were to tackle the comic strip Dilbert, the result would probably be a lot like The Water Coolers, a musical revue that examines the joys of office life. Told primarily through pop songs with parody lyrics, The Water Coolers chronicles a week-in-the-life of a group of office workers. Starting with "Panic Monday" (set to The Bangles' "Manic Monday"), in which an office worker wonders what occurred during the drunken office party the previous Friday, the show deals with the week-long preparation of an office presentation and the conflicts and personality quirks it inspires. Anybody who has ever held an office job will readily identify with the humor and the parodies are well written and entertaining.

Highlights include "Who Will Buy (This Crap For My Kid's School)" (which perfectly turns Oliver's "Who Will Buy" into a pageant of parental hawking), "The I.T. Cowboy" (which will resonate with anybody who ever had to deal with that most essential subgroup of co-workers), and "Unless It's From Me" (about the bane of all presentations' existence: the participant that refuses to accept any idea that does not come from him or her).

Animal TracksFor her fifth anthology album, producer/performer Jamie deRoy has released a collection entitled Animal Tracks, which, as the title suggests, consists of songs devoted to members of the animal kingdom. Featuring a variety of performers culled from cabaret and Broadway, this is a delightful mix of the serious and the humorous. Emily Skinner sparkles on Harry Nilsson's infectious "The Puppy Song." Steve Ross explores the sex life of our aquatic cousins in "Dolphins' Song" with highly comic results. Jay Rogers is simply hysterical on an obscure Kander and Ebb number, "The Elephant Song," which asks the musical query 'where does an elephant go?' (to die, that is). Other participants include Marian Seldes ("The Cat Who Wasn't There"), Kerry Butler ("Lion Tamer"), Judy Barnett and Michael Holland ("Blackbird") and Jimmy Smagula ("Bless the Beasts and the Children")


-- Jonathan Frank


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