Sound Advice by Joseph Molnar

For the first time since Sony Classical/Columbia/Legacy began the "Broadway Masterworks" series they are offering recordings that have never before been available on CD. Oh, Kay! and Girl Crazy are both making their debuts on CD, just in time for the Gershwin's centenary last year. Joining these releases are two Sondheim scores, Company and A Little Night Music, and the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, South Pacific.

The original cast recording of Company has gone on to become a legend in its own time due in part to a film made of its recording sessions. Who can forget Elaine Stritch trying to belt out "The Ladies Who Lunch" at an ungodly hour of the morning, only to have to return the next day to try again? The incomparable cast also contributes to the legend; Dean Jones, Beth Howland, Donna McKechnie, Susan Browning, Pamela Myers, and the previously mentioned Elaine Stritch are likely never to be topped in their roles.

Recently there were two new recordings of the score - the 1995 Broadway cast and the 1996 London cast. While both of those recordings feature a new song, "Marry Me a Little" (actually a cut song reinstated), the original Broadway cast still stands as the best recording of this score to date.

For this reissue, original producer Thomas Z. Shepard has tinkered with his original recording, giving it a new sound that is absolutely incredible and must be heard to be believed. It sounds as if it were recorded yesterday when the recording is actually almost 30 years old! Shortly after the opening, Dean Jones left the cast and was replaced by Larry Kert for the rest of the run. Kert then took the show to London with the original Broadway cast. Instead of re-recording the entire show, Mr. Kert's vocals were dubbed over Mr. Jones'. The original Kert recording was released on CD by Sony West End about five years ago but is now deleted and very hard to find so, as a bonus on this reissue, Mr. Shepard has included Larry Kert's version of "Being Alive." This reissue is not to be missed by any musical theater fan.

A Little Night Music's original Broadway cast recording marked the return to the studio of legendary producer, Goddard Lieberson. Assisting him was Thomas Z. Shepard who also remixed and remastered this reissue. A Little Night Music is one of Sondheim's most sophisticated and elegant musicals and it is the only musical composed in ¾ time or any variation of it.

There have been four other recordings of the score: the soundtrack of the odd film version which cut some of the score, the original London Cast recording, the revival London Cast recording, and a London studio cast recording by JAY/TER records. Neither of the London Cast recordings were particularly well sung, though the 1996 cast has Dame Judi Dench in the role of Desiree. The JAY/TER offering features an excellent cast, but new orchestrations by John Owens Edwards. Therefore, it is a pleasure to hear this original Broadway cast recording reissued with the original score and sparkling new sound.

Len Cariou, Glynis Johns, Hermione Gingold, Laurence Guittard, Victoria Mallory and Patricia Elliott head an impeccable cast that makes this recording irreplaceable. This is the one recording in this set of Masterworks CDs to feature restored original cast material. When originally released, because of the length of the recording, it had to be edited by a few minutes and "Night Waltz II - The Sun Sits Low" was cut. Thankfully, CDs hold a lot more music than LPs and the song can now be heard for the first time in its proper place in the show. In addition there is one bonus track, the film version of "The Glamorous Life" which was rewritten as a solo for Fredrika.

South Pacific is receiving its third release on CD. Like The Sound of Music, which was also recently reissued, it was originally released in 1988, then remastered in 1993. Since this recording is in mono, little could be done to improve sound. It isn't spectacular but the sound is cleaner than the release of 1988.

Mary Martin is a joy as Nellie Forbush; Ezio Pinza is equally thrilling as the Frenchman, Emile de Becque. Both are tops in their roles and only Paige O'Hara and Justin Diaz in JAY's complete recording come close to these two. Juanita Hall, who recreated her role on screen (dubbed by Muriel Smith from the original London production) will forever be associated with Bloody Mary and makes this recording a must.

Like the reissue in 1993, this CD contains the same three bonus tracks plus one extra. Mary Martin gets to sing two songs that were eventually cut and used elsewhere - "Loneliness of Evening" (used in Cinderella) and "My Girl Back Home" (used in the film version of South Pacific and sung by Lieutenant Cable). "Bali Ha'i" as performed by Ezio Pinza is also included, just like on the previous reissue. This time around, they have added one more bonus track, South Pacific Symphonic Scenario for Concert Orchestra as performed by Andre Kostelanetz & the Philadelphia Orchestra. This score, along with The King and I, ranks as one of my all-time favorite Rodgers & Hammerstein scores and is long overdue for a Broadway revival.

Mary Martin is also featured on a 1951 recording of Girl Crazy, released on CD for the very first time. Back in the early 1950s, producer, Goddard Lieberson decided to produce a series of recordings that preserved unrecorded scores. Since Girl Crazy opened on Broadway during the 1930-31 season it didn't receive a full recording. Cast albums didn't come into being until 1943 when Oklahoma debuted on Broadway and was recorded by MCA.

Unlike most studio recordings, this one didn't pay much attention to which characters sang what songs which isn't really a problem since the songs do very little to advance the plot. Another drawback is that the original orchestrations weren't used; there were new ones written just for Miss Martin. Thankfully, Nonesuch Records recently recorded several of the Gershwin scores using the original orchestrations including Girl Crazy and Oh, Kay!.

Nonetheless, this recording is interesting if only for the fact that it features Mary Martin who gets to sing the classic tunes "But Not for Me," "Embraceable You" and "I Got Rhythm." Although Miss Merman's rendition of the latter song is still the definitive version, Miss Martin's is quite interesting to hear. Although originally recorded in mono, the sound is quite good. The bonus track on this recording is an additional version of, "But Not for Me", sung by Mary Martin recorded in 1949.

Oh, Kay! also had the misfortune to open on Broadway in 1924, before the recording of cast albums became common practice. Also produced by Goddard Lieberson, this time close attention was paid to which character sang what song. Cast in the title role of Kay, originally written for Gertrude Lawrence, was Barbara Ruick. Opposite her is Jack Cassidy and both are well suited to the material and are excellent. They are joined by Allen Case and Roger White in supporting roles.

This was one of George Gershwin's more interesting scores, since it required two pianos in the orchestra pit and featured some tricky rhythms which Gershwin was fond of as well. Among the hit songs featured here are "Clap Yo' Hands," "Do, Do, Do" and the torch song standard, "Someone to Watch Over Me." Oh, Kay!"s score is more integrated into the plot, which was unusual for the time in which it was written. Up till that point in time, songs in musicals did little to advance the plot, so it is interesting to note that the opening song, "The Woman's Touch," sets the scene for the story that is about to take place. The sound (which is mono, not stereo) on this reissue is better than on South Pacific and Girl Crazy, but I just chalk it up to the fact that this was recorded at a later date than those recordings.

It seems that Mary Martin was quite popular with Columbia records back then, since she is once again featured on this recording. Along with the above two tunes, she sings "Maybe" as a bonus track and there are original performances by George Gershwin of "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Clap Yo' Hands."

That's it for this week. 'Till next time, happy listening!

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