Sound Advice Reviews
Pleasures found in Lost Broadway and More
If you're a musical theatre explorer thirsty for a taste of the unfamiliar but satisfying, it's time again to drink in the wonders from the bottomless well of obscurities. Let's catch up on the two latest issues in an ongoing series of releases (a boon and bonanza to both confirmed collectors and the more casually curious), Lost Broadway and More. Unlike the three most recent releases in this dedicated mission from the Original Cast Records label, these aren't restricted to being songwriter surveys, but return to the potpourri approach of the first three editions. Spanning the decades, the samplings bring us sufficient variety, with more than 20 diverse tracks on each disc (some scores dipped into just once, others on more occasions, whether restricted to appearances on just one of the volumes or spreading the wealth to both).
Returning to his seat at the piano bench for these volumes is the sole, but so solid, accompanist/musical director Michael Lavine. His playing is economical and crisp, yet he adapts to period and indulges in just enough sentiment to allow welcome sweetness in some more innocent old-fashioned fare.
The rescued items include worthy works not previously recorded because they were left off their cast albums, there never was a cast album, or the song was dropped from a show. (There are also a couple of "ringers," otherwise documented, but fresh treatments favored by label head, longtime dedicated musical theatre champion Bruce Yeko.) Among the talented singers are musical theatre veterans (with or without the show in question on their resumés) and a few of the songwriters, who are effective performers. Recordings were done quite a while ago, and some information for credits on Lost... was lost or is incomplete (or in the case of confusing siblings, incorrect: the talented Nora Menken is misidentified as her sister Anna on both collections).
Good things come to those who wait, and there are so many very good things coming your way with Lost Broadway and More, Volume 7. The "better late than never" philosophy applies not just to the long stretches of decades until More Buried Treasures Rediscovered came music buyers' way, but also refers to a few of the involved artists. For example, in a zest fest, the eternally vibrant Anita Gillette gets a belated crack at biting into the wild "Animal Attraction" (Charles Strouse and Lee Adams), which she sang on stage in 1962 in the Broadway musical All American. An original cast album was issued back then, but that rowdy romp was an absentee. Then consider the long-unrecorded score of Something's Afoot: we get two sustained displays of spunk from Meg Bussert, who was a standby for two roles back in 1976 when the mystery musical was on Broadway. This returning "graduate," now a teacher with her own NYU students joining her in song, sets a great example for them in energy and humor delivery with her surefooted work in "Carry On" and "I Owe It All." Only eight of the 13 Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn collaborations appeared on the cast album of 1947's High Button Shoes (it was the single-disc 78 rpm era), but one of the ones that got away, "Security," is included here. The unnamed group singers make their boisterous case in this sung demand for women's rights (for money).
And there's more belated preservation. Songwriter/performers Bill Weeden and David Finkle revive their comedy chops in bringing out their vintage satirical revue song "Anyone Who's Anyone (Is Jewish This Year)" with sly flair. Also included, in a rare recycling of rarities, are two instances of songs cut from Fiddler on the Roof also found on the recent Off-Broadway cast recording.
But it is Laugh a Little, Cry a Little, embracing Jewish family life, that is the most heavily sampled project (four numbers here, and one more on Volume 8). The show toured in the mid-1970s and we get evidence of the score's range, from illuminating religious devotion to exultant expressions doused with affectionate humor. Lyrics were by Arnold Horwitt and the music composed by Gary William Friedman, who was involved with these recordings. Especially charming is their "Piano in the Parlor," a nostalgic smile-inducer celebrating the fun of gathering around that instrument. This group number is anchored by the palpable joie de vivre of veteran actor-singer Richard Kind.
While much is on the agreeably upbeat, lively side on this treasure hunt, it is not without its more reflective, bittersweet moments. The two most prominent ones are wisely assigned to Jessica Grové, who delivers the goods. She is heartbreaking with her thoughtful phrasing weighing "Time," an excellent song from a musical called Was (Joseph Thalken and Barry Kleinbort). And the collection of otherwise lower-radar material ends with her take on something much higher profile: Stephen Sondheim's "I Remember." It feels like a sort of bonus, a musical after-dinner mint to follow the feast.
What we didn't know that we didn't know from the not-so-famous Broadway (or hoped-for-Broadway) shows and their songs make for a wonderful life of exciting exploration. And A Wonderful Life is one of those quality works that didn't work its way to the Great White Way, but those of us who've caught it outside of New York know its score's bounty. On Lost Broadway and More, Volume 8: Musical Theatre's Under-the-Radar Forget-Me-Nots, the sweet assertion of devotion called "I Couldn't Be with Anyone But You" and the ingratiating title song with its breezy Joe Raposo melody are both presented as duets for Michele Ragusa and Sheldon Harnick, the age-defying charmer who is the project's lyricist and bookwriter. Also, there's a heartwarming opportunity for a guy who was a child actor in one of those instant disappearing acts (back in 1971!) resurfaces for a bow and a recording "encore." Gary Stevens brings grace and integrity to a medley of two engaging numbers from Frank Merriwell.
Another original cast member from an even earlier unrecorded Broadway entry makes us the beneficiaries of her trip down Memory Lane, also offering two souvenirs. Barbara Minkus has plenty of punch and voice recreating her turn in 1968's The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N. Feisty and commanding, she digs into the likable "Loving You" and the rueful "When Will I Learn?" that builds to a ferocious climax. Holdovers from Volume 7 are Meg Bussert and chorus, again singing from Something's Afoot (this time they're quaintly crushing on "The Man with the Ginger Moustache"), and Richard Kind and crew for another song written for (but cut from) Laugh a Little, Cry a Little. The verbiage-dense musicalized conversation "Aaron's Journey" is a long way to go to lead to a character's misled conviction about the actual location of a town. Maybe context helped. And ready to make you laugh a little (or more) are "alumni" returnees, the once-and-once-more team of Bill Weeden and David Finkle dealing with "That Guilty Feeling," parading broad humor from I'm Solomon.
The estimable Howard Dietz is the lyricist most represented and the Dietz treats from Broadway shows are among LB&M 8's highlights. There are two from the little-known short-run Jackpot of 1944 (music by Vernon Duke) and the others have music by frequent collaborator composer Arthur Schwartz. That team's vehicle for Mary Martin, Jennie, is a higher-profile project that got a cast album that made it to CD, so the wise choice here is to unveil two terrific things that had been cut. Since the play was about theatre people, today's theatre people will especially identify with them, I think. One is the adorable jump for joy of a wide-eyed but determined actress out to make the most of her one-line role consisting of the same three words that are the song's title: "Dinner Is Served." It's just one of Brooke Moriber's very connected renditions in this anthology. The other Jennie gem is "Close Your Eyes," a lullaby addressed to a tot with the requisite tender melody, but it's made special by the lyric addressing numerous aspects of an adult's life in show business. Jill Paice croons this with creamy expertise, and her other assignment has her finding a lighter approach when following in the formidable footsteps of Barbara Cook, who introduced The Gay Life's "Magic Moment" on stage and on disc.
Others appearing include Tom Hewitt (a nicely nuanced "She Makes Me Laugh"), Chuck Cooper (with his reliable gravitas enveloping "Seena" from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue), as well as vibrant Jacques Urbont, presenting his own takes on two pieces heard on the cast album of All in Love for which he composed the music, joined on one by an ebullient Nora Menken.
The large number of tracks (23), the splendid and splashy vocal performances, and the apt accompaniments on piano (all but two cases in the expert hands of Michael Lavine) make this grab bag well worth grabbing.