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Barbara Cook's Broadway!At seventy-seven, Barbara Cook hardly needs another glowing review, nor should any musical theater lover need a recommendation in order to buy her latest CD, a live recording of Barbara Cook's Broadway (currently playing at Lincoln Center), as all of her albums fall into the 'must-have' category. That said, Barbara Cook's Broadway is a remarkable celebration of two of America's greatest musical treasures: the genre of musical theater and the genius of Barbara Cook. Listening to the album, it is hard to imagine that Cook is rapidly approaching her eighth decade, for her voice is that of a woman many decades younger (indeed, her voice sounds unchanged from the decade-old Live From London album and only marginally different from It's Better With A Band, which preserved her 1980 Carnegie Call concert). If a few notes have vanished from her upper range, the emotional depth and breadth that has been added to her lyrical interpretation more than makes up for their disappearance.

As the title suggests, the CD is a celebration of Broadway, and it features numbers Cook performed in productions on Broadway ("Till There Was You" from The Music Man) or elsewhere ("Mister Snow" from Carousel), in concerts ("In Buddy's Eyes," which Cook performed in Follies in Concert), or on one of her various albums ("It's Not Where You Start" from See Saw). While it is wonderful to hear Cook revisit these numbers, it is even more delightful to hear her tackle lesser performed numbers such as "Wait Till We're Sixty-Five" (On A Clear Day You Can See Forever), "(It's) A Perfect Relationship" (Bells Are Ringing) and "I'll Marry The Very Next Man" (Fiorello!), as well as three numbers from She Loves Me not sung by Cook when she appeared in the original production: "Tonight At Eight," "He Loves Me," and most delightfully, "A Trip To The Library." Other highlights include one of the most achingly beautiful renditions of "This Nearly Was Mine" from South Pacific (her phrasing on the last line in particular should be required listening for all singers, as it is a virtual masterclass in subtlety and beauty), a wistful "Among My Yesterdays" (The Happy Time) and a pairing of Irving Berlin's "What'll I Do?" and Jerry Herman's "Time Heals Everything" that plays every heartstring like a virtuoso.

The album is punctuated with some of the patter contained in the show (enough to set up the song, but never so much that it bogs down on repeated listenings) and contains most of the numbers present in the show as it is currently performed at Lincoln Center (the opening number, however, is from when she shared the set of King Lear at the Vivian Beaumont space). As always, her music director/pianist, Wally Harper, provides solid accompaniment and delicate arrangements.

Caroline, or ChangeWatching Caroline, Or Change on Broadway a few months ago, my impression of the show was that, while it proved to be an intriguing intellectual exercise, it did not move me emotionally in the slightest. While listening to the show on the newly released cast recording, which preserves the entire show on two CDs, I realized that the show is not, as I originally surmised, all head and no heart. It's simply that the delicacy of its emotional core gets overshadowed and overpowered by overreaching themes.

At its core, Caroline, Or Change beats a surprisingly tender heart. Caroline (played by Tony nominee Tonya Pinkins who sounds better on this recording than she has on any TV appearance or in the production I saw), a 39-year old black single mother of four, toils in the basement of a Jewish family's home in Louisiana. She has withdrawn from the world to such an extent that her only companions, other than Noah (the startlingly emotionally advanced-beyond-his-years Harrison Chad), the son of the household who views Caroline as the last touchstone he has of his deceased mother, are the Washer, Dryer and Radio (brought to life by actors) amidst whom she toils. The year is 1963 and change is in the air, but more importantly it is in Noah's pockets, and to teach him a lesson, his step-mother Rose (Veanne Cox, who steals the show and the discs by creating a fully fleshed, emotionally real, and most importantly, humor filled character) instructs Caroline to keep any change she finds in Noah's pockets. This simple struggle, whether to follow orders and thus use pennies received from one child to feed three, is the emotional crux of the show, and when Caroline, Or Change keeps to it, the show is delicate, impacting, and more importantly, universal in its depiction of the barriers erected between members of differing socio-economic levels and races. Unfortunately, book and lyric writer Tony Kushner was not content to keep the show at that level, and instead chose to use the concept of 'change' as a blunt object, until the viewer/listener is deadened by buses lamenting JFK's death, Confederate statues being torn down, and Bolshevik grandfathers arguing race relations.

Those of you whose sole exposure to Caroline is through various TV spots that featured the show's hard-hitting eleven-o-clock number, "Lot's Wife" will be surprised to learn that the majority of the score is actually subtle and lyrical, albeit fragmented (the CDs contain 53 tracks, of which only a handful are anything that remotely resemble a full-fledged 'song' versus a snippet or theme). While "Lot's Wife" is powerful when performed in the show, seeing it out of context is the equivalent of reducing Sweeney Todd to "Epiphany," and choosing that number did the show an incredible disservice. A better choice for promotion might have been "Roosevelt Petrucius Coleslaw," a number that features the show's children, including Tony winner Anika Noni Rose and which displays the show's themes in a more playful and lyrical manner.

Musically, the show improves upon each listening as its composer, Jeanine Tesori (once again displaying the promise she showed in Violet after being sidetracked by Thoroughly Modern Millie) has created a rich musical tapestry that weaves Motown, blues, spirituals and Klezmer music into an interwoven whole (it was only days after seeing the show that I realized Caroline's opening theme was the father's clarinet Klezmer music as filtered through her own musical sensibilities; a brilliant piece of character and setting creation).

Whether or not the creators and producers of the show did a disservice to their creation by moving it to Broadway will be a subject of debate for some time. However, as flawed as it may be, Caroline, Or Change is an intriguing piece with flashes of power, moments of heart, and an incredibly strong cast.

Between Heaven and EarthA. R. Rahman, who is the most successful composer in India's film industry and whose theatrical venture Bombay Dreams is currently playing both in London's West End and on Broadway, has released a CD containing his first major orchestral piece. Entitled Between Heaven And Earth, the piece is based on a score he wrote for the Chinese film Warriors of Heaven and Earth, which depicted a clash of Asian cultures. Rahman's inspirations for the music are drawn from the countries and cultures found along the passage known as the Silk Road, which spans Asia and includes China, India, and Turkey. While the album presents itself as an orchestral work, it feels more like a film score, with disjointed and abrupt transitions between tracks and a lack of cohesiveness and unity throughout the album.

There is a great deal of beauty within the piece, however. Rahman has chosen well from the musical palettes at his disposal. While the disc's opening track, "The Golden Era," sounds as if it could be used as a Hollywood title theme and "Warriors of Heaven and Earth" could be the climactic battle music on any number of Hollywood film scores, other tracks such as "Water" (which recalls the music Peter Gabriel wrote for The Last Temptation of Christ) and "The Monk and the Miracle" possess a simple beauty through a flowing melodic line. The disc also includes a techno quasi-dance number, "Warriors of Peace," which is performed both in Hindi and English (the later version of which is sung by a very Sarah Brightman sounding Sunitha Sarathy).

The Authentic Cole PorterGiven the release of the recent Cole Porter bio-flick, De Lovely, it should come as no surprise that various collections devoted to Porter's music are being released. What sets Bluebird Presents It's De Lovely: The Authentic Cole Porter Collection apart from the others is not that it features recordings made during Porter's own lifetime by artists under contract with RCA Victor (the recording company committed to recording Cole Porter's music), but that it contains two numbers sung by Porter himself that have been enhanced by new orchestrations by Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks.

In 1934 and 1935, Porter provided vocals and piano for eight tracks recorded by the Victor Corporation that were essentially songwriter demos and included a number of songs from his most recent Broadway hit, Anything Goes. Through the miracle of modern technology, two of those modest tracks ("Anything Goes" and "You're The Top") have been augmented into fully orchestrated numbers that have miraculously retrained the feel of the era. While it is always a treat to hear superb singers like Lena Horne ("From This Moment On" and "Just One of Those Things"), Frank Sinatra ("Night and Day"), Rosemary Clooney ("You Do Something to Me") and Dinah Shore ("You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To"), not to mention orchestra greats such as Artie Shaw ("Begin The Beguine") and Tommy Dorsey ("I Get A Kick Out Of You") perform Porter's songs, it is the two aforementioned Cole Porter tracks that get under your skin. The two numbers are so delightful, in fact, that one wished the other six had been given a similar treatment.

Ace of ClubsNoel Coward's second post-war musical has recently been unearthed and released on CD. Entitled Ace of Clubs, the show opened in London in 1950 and ran for 211 performances. Ace of Clubs is essentially Coward's pastiche (or blatant rip off) of Rodgers and Hart's highly successful Pal Joey as it, too, pits an improbable love story against the backdrop of a seedy club run by gangsters. The star singer of the club, Pinkie (Pat Kirkwood), falls for the sailor, Harry (Graham Payn, sounding remarkably like Noel Coward), and the plot centers around their burgeoning relationship and a stolen necklace that keeps appearing and disappearing in the club at the most inopportune moments.

The show sounds like a throwback to pre-war frivolities versus the post-war shows being written by Rodgers and Hammerstein or even Cole Porter, although this may be due to the manner in which the show was recorded, for numbers are presented without any regard to the show's running order, and have also been re-assigned so as to be sung by the three principles who made it into the recording studio (the only other lead heard on the disc is Sylvia Cecil, who played the club's owner Rita). A few of the show's numbers became staples in Noel Coward's various concert/cabaret shows, such as "I Like America," "Sail Away" (which also got recycled as the title number for his later show of the same name), and "Josephine" (all three of which, plus "Why Does Love Get In The Way?" are presented as bonus tracks sung by Coward). Beyond being one of the strongest numbers on the disc, "Three Juvenile Delinquents" (the only number on the album sung by someone other than the three leads) is a trivia curiosity, as it was performed in the 1956 revue The Night Of 100 Stars by Peter Ustinov, Laurence Harvey and Paul Scofield (and in drag at that), and in other charity galas by Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, John Mills and Danny Kaye in similar fashion.

Young Blue Eyes1940 saw one of the most revolutionary teamings in pop history: Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra. Although it is hard to imagine it now, the pairing represented as radical a revolution in popular music as Sid Vicious or The Beatles and its effect on modern music was just as extraordinary. Between January of 1940 and July of 1942, the two men teamed up to record roughly 90 studio-produced tracks (which, incidentally, represents about a third of Dorsey's total output). In addition to their studio output, the two also were featured on many live recordings, some of which appear on a new CD, Young Blue Eyes: Birth Of A Crooner that features tracks never before released. Some of the songs on the disc, such as "Say It," had been released as a studio recording, but as the live recordings occurred weeks, if not months, after the initial recording, the 'new' recordings are a treat not only to listen to, but to observe the evolution of the song as the artists grew into it.

Young Blue Eyes: Birth Of A Crooner features Sinatra perhaps at his best. His voice is strong, his manner lyrical, and he had yet to morph into the cocky "Chairman of the Board" persona that oftentimes proved detrimental to a song's lyrics and melody. In addition to "Say It," on which Dorsey's muted trumpet playing is about as sublime as can ever be hoped for, highlights include "Snootie Little Cutie" (a fun duet between Sinatra and Jo Stafford), a tender "This Love of Mine," and "As Though You Were Here," which is made even more evocative through the realization that it was recorded during World War II.


-- Jonathan Frank


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