Two Rarities from Masterworks Broadway


Masterworks Broadway is the gift that keeps on giving. There have been so many interesting releases and reissues that it’s been almost dizzying to try and keep up. Their output is consistent and excellent, offering titles as contemporary as Kinky Boots, but also long-unavailable recordings from the Columbia/RCA vaults. The latest batch of releases include the film soundtrack of A Little Night Music and the uber-rare Seven Come Eleven, with the original London cast album of Cowardy Custard (featuring Patricia Routledge) scheduled for release next month.

While the stage version of A Little Night Music is one of the most enchanting musicals ever written, its 1977 film adaptation is a curious misfire. The disappointment of the film is somewhat surprising given that most of the original Broadway production’s creative team worked on the adaptation. Also retained were original cast members Len Cariou, Hermione Gingold and Laurence Guittard. Taking on the lead role of the one and only Desiree Armfeldt is an out-of-her-element Elizabeth Taylor, who is much easier to watch when her character isn’t singing. The most notable and worthy addition to the film cast was the brilliant Diana Rigg, who is excellent as Charlotte.

While it isn’t the worst adaptation of a stage musical ever put to film, it certainly ranks near the bottom of the list. The setting was moved from Sweden to Austria, with several characters receiving new names. Several songs, including “Liaisons,” “In Praise of Women,” and “The Miller’s Son” were cut. There was no quintet, and all their pieces were dropped. Harold Prince, a titanic producer and director for the stage, didn’t fare as well in the movies, with Night Music his second and last film to date.

However, the soundtrack makes for an interesting listen, if only to hear how Sondheim adapted himself for the screen. He turned “The Glamorous Life” into a staggering solo for Desiree’s daughter, Fredrika. This soliloquy has become a favorite of Sondheim interpreters, most notably Audra McDonald, who included it on her recent solo album. Another notable change is the evolution of the sublime instrumental “Night Waltz” into the song “Love Takes Time,” performed by the main characters during the opening of the film. “Now/Later/Soon” has been abridged and is instead “Now/Soon/Later,” while there are new lyrics for “A Weekend in the Country,” which gives the woefully underused Gingold an opportunity to sing a few bars. (For what it’s worth, Jonathan Tunick won the Oscar for Best Score: Adaptation for his contributions).

This new release doesn’t supplant the sublime original Broadway or worthy original London cast recordings by any means, but is more worthy of your time than the leaden 2009 revival recording. Bonus tracks include the previously unreleased extended version of “Every Day a Little Death” used in the film, “Night Waltz,” and the end credits.

I hope this means that the film soundtrack for 1776 is not far behind, essential as the only recording of Howard Da Silva’s performance as Ben Franklin, as well as the opportunity for Virginia Vestoff’s “Compliments” (one of the great moments in musical theatre) to be made available.


Seven Come Eleven was the 1961 installment of Julius Monk’s popular Upstairs at the Downstairs nightclub series. Monk’s cabaret revues were the epitome of New York sophistication, with topical yet gentle satires of pop culture and current events performed in an elegant environment by elegantly attired performers. There are numbers dedicated to First Lady Jackie Kennedy, the John Birch Society, and the Peace Corps, among others. Steve Roland scores with the Gilbert and Sullivan patter parody “Captain of the Pinafores.” Best of all is young Mary Louise Wilson, unbelievably funny in her major solo “Forbidden Tropics,” about scandalous literature, as well as her sketch “Don’t You Feel Naked Not Drinking?” opposite Rex Robbins. It makes for a pleasant listen filled with witty lyrics and playful music, but the album is definitely a capsule of a bygone era.

“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” – Encores! Cast Recording


My jaw dropped when I started playing the new cast album of Gentlemen Prefer BlondesI know the Jule Styne-Leo Robin score fairly well, and have heard every recording there is (including the revised Lorelei). However, I was not prepared for the wall of glorious sound that came at me. It was like hearing the score for the first time – the detail in the Don Walker orchestrations during the overture, with its jazzy homage to the 1920s. This new recording of the acclaimed Encores! concert (courtesy of Masterworks Broadway) is an eargasm from start to finish, and manages to do something that many recent revival recordings have failed to do: capture the essence of what made the show such a hit onstage.

Megan Hilty is on the fast track to major musical theatre stardom. One of the reasons I stopped watching Smash is that I knew they were setting up her character to fail as Marilyn, which made absolutely no sense to me. While evoking Marilyn, she was her own gorgeous, sexy creation as Lorelei, bring the laughs to “A Little Girl from Little Rock” and providing the audience with a bona fide showstopper in “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” (The night I saw the show, she scored so big with this number that the audience revived its ovation on her entrance into the next scene). Also, the girl can friggin’ sing…

She is almost outdone by the delectable Rachel York, who as Dorothy Shaw leads the biggest production numbers and does so with a joy that was evident from the balcony of the City Center. Her joy is present here on disc; as York tears into “I Love What I’m Doing” and “It’s High Time” you can practically feel her smiling as she sings.

Aaron Lazar sings the ballads beautifully, Stephen Buntrock is delightfully absurd and in exceptional voice in his ridiculous paean to exercise and the benefits of fiber. Clarke Thorell croons Gus Esmond’s number with great ease. Simon Jones and Deborah Rush are also on hand and lend amiable support. The entire ensemble sings well, especially those who were assigned Hugh Martin’s intricate vocal arrangements. The result is just astounding. The first time the ensemble broke into the “Bye Bye Baby harmonies – both at City Center and in my living room – I got full body chills.

Under the baton of Rob Berman (who also co-produced the album) Don Walker’s orchestrations really shine forth. For the first time, the complete original stage score is preserved with all the encores, first and second act finales, dance breaks, and even that insanely catchy “Button Up with Esmond” jingle (the latter was previously only available on the original London cast album which has never been on CD). Of special note is the ten minute “Paris” sequence. It’s superfluous to the book, but quite attractive to hear. The album itself is packaged beautifully with many photographs, synopsis, essays and the complete lyrics.

Finally, I want to send a huge thank you to Margaret Styne, Jule Styne’s widow, who was instrumental in making sure this recording happened.

Evita – New Broadway Cast Recording

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s shows don’t do much for me. I’ve never really been taken in by his style, and I tend to approach his shows from a mostly academic perspective, pulling the albums from the shelves every year or so for a refresher. The one exception is Evita. The rock opera by Webber and Tim Rice, which made stars of Elaine Paige and Patti LuPone, fascinates me to no end. I think it’s the most musically and dramatically compelling score Webber has ever written for the theatre, with a riveting and often thrilling look at a larger than life and divisive political legend.

Evita is back on Broadway for the first time since the original production closed, in a transfer of the acclaimed 2006 London production directed by Michael Grandage and choreographed by Rob Ashford. I haven’t seen the new smash-hit production yet, but Masterworks Broadway was kind enough to send me the new 2-disc cast album, the first complete recording of the stage score since 1979. And I haven’t stopped listening since I removed the shrink wrap.

As Che, Ricky Martin sings very well but his characterization likes bite and frankly, he sounds as if he’s narrating a school project. Where his character should be filled with anger and dripping with venom, Martin only seems mildly annoyed by Eva’s antics. Perhaps Harold Prince was right in modeling the character after Che Guevara. The always-reliable Michael Cerveris makes Juan Peron, usually a thankless role, the show’s emotional center. Max von Essen is the best Magaldi I’ve ever heard, while Rachel Potter sings a gorgeous “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.”

As for Evita herself, there’s been a lot of controversy over the casting of the Argentinian actress Elena Roger, whose vocal performance has been almost as divisive as the late Argentine First Lady herself. While I obviously cannot offer an opinion on her live performance, I can compare and contrast her singing between the 2006 London album and this new recording. In the intervening years, Ms. Roger’s English and diction have greatly improved, and her singing is stronger and clearer. I suppose I am in a minority, but I love the way she sings the role. Ms. Roger sings Eva with a flexible, steely voice and I love what she puts into the words acting-wise.

The liner notes are filled with color photographs. There no plot synopsis, but director Grandage has written a short essay. The complete lyrics are included. The production has new orchestrations by Lloyd Webber and David Cullen, which are a mixed bag. In certain sections they soar, in others it sounds like karaoke backing tracks. Also: the production includes the Oscar-winning “You Must Love Me” from the 1996 film adaptation.

Ultimately, no matter your opinion of Roger, this is an Evita worth hearing and worth the discussion. Included is a bonus track of Roger singing ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” in Spanish which makes me long to see her in a Spanish language production.

Three from Masterworks Broadway

The Saint of Bleecker Street, Gian Carlo Menotti’s penultimate Broadway opera, ran for only 92 performances at the Broadway Theater in 1955. However, the piece garnered enough attention to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical. Set in 1954 Little Italy, the devout but sickly Annina sees visions and suffers the stigmata and neighbors flock her to her sick room thinking she can heal them. Annina, aware that her time is limited, wants only to take the veil, but is met with opposition from her atheist brother Michele, who feels that her visions are hallucinations and that the Church is exploiting her. Emotions run high, and this being Menotti, it doesn’t end well for anyone. The cast consists mostly of unknown performers, but the two leads (Gabrielle Ruggiero and David Poleri) are outstanding, offering passionate performances and some truly glorious singing. Gloria Lane (the Secretary in Menotti’s The Consul) is also briefly on hand as Michele’s ill-fated lover, Desideria. Broadway baritones John Reardon and Reid Shelton were also in the cast. This is the first digital release of this particular album, and makes a great case for re-exploration by opera companies.

Not quite so ready for re-exploration, but a fascinating curio nonetheless, is the off-Broadway production of Half-Past Wednesday, a musical adaptation of Grimm’s Rumpelstiltskin. The show, which played 2 performances in 1962 at the Orpheum Theatre, was recorded by Columbia Records. Dom DeLuise leads the cast of five as the King, with Sean Garrison as the Prince, Audre Johnston as Erelda, Robert Fitch as Grandfather and David Winters (an impish delight) as Rumpelstiltskin. The album plays less like a cast album and more like a children’s recording, the kind that used to include a companion book. Much of the dialogue is included to give the album a sense of story, which is especially unusual for Columbia albums of the era (this was produced by Clifford Snyder, not Goddard Lieberson). The songs, by Robert Corley and Nina Jones, are more notable for their clever lyrics than melodies. DeLuise and Fitch get a fun number in “Grandfathers (Ev’ry Baby’s Best Friend).” The album has been pulled from obscurity and is available for the first time since a 1966 reissue. I think it’s telling that in all three issues of the album, Half-Past Wednesday is overshadowed by the big block letters which state “THE NEW MUSICAL VERSION OF RUMPELSTILTSKIN.” It’s better than its two performance run would indicate, especially for the kids.

When most Broadway shows celebrate an anniversary, there is usually a cake and a photo op. Sometimes even a party. However, when the original production of Hair turned 3, the company celebrated the anniversary with an Episcopalian Eucharist at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on May 9, 1971. (The first two anniversaries had been major celebrations in Central Park). Galt McDermot, Hair’s composer, wrote a Mass which was sung by the Cathedral choir. In place of hymns, songs from the score of Hair were interpolated into the afternoon’s service sung by current cast members. Divine Hair/Mass in F is a live recording of excerpts from the festivities, which includes a chance to hear the Dionne of future Tony-winner Delores Hall. Also among this replacement cast were Allan Nicholls and Dale Soules. It’s a unique experience, as the album includes the welcome from Reverend Canon Edward N. West (who would have made a terrific Starkeeper in Carousel), as well as The Collect, The Epistle and the Gospel (each read by a different priest, one of whom is Gerome Ragni’s brother). There’s also something highly entertaining hearing organist Jack W. Jones perform variations of “Aquarius” on the cathedral’s mammoth pipe organ. It’s not an aurally polished recording, but it presents parts of the Mass in F and songs from Hair in an unusual and fascinating setting. Reverend West provided the original liner notes, which make for a fascinating read.

New Releases from Masterworks Broadway

There’s a lot going on at Sony’s Masterworks Broadway this spring. First of all, they celebrated the first anniversary of their essential website, with its ever-expanding database of original cast albums. There were contests and festivities galore; each week found the addition of new rare photographs from the productions and recording sessions (600 in the last year alone). The site also has added 65 cast album pages and 50 artist biographies. Seth Rudetsky offers his video “deconstructions” on a regular basis while Peter Filichia’s blog is a Tuesday perennial.

Consistently throughout this past year, Sony has made good on its promise to release many of the albums that haven’t been heard since they were originally released on vinyl. Many of the classics are also being reissued, but it’s the digital debuts that have me the most excited. The three new releases are available as digital downloads from the Masterworks site or disc-on-demand presses from ArkivMusic.

First up is the 1952 studio cast of On Your Toes, the smart, sophisticated Rodgers and Hart tuner opened in 1936, just a few years before the original cast album came into vogue. The show, which made a concerted effort to integrate dance (here ballet) into the storyline and made a star out of lead hoofer Ray Bolger. George Balanchine’s dances, specifically his eleven o’clock ballet “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” were exceptionally well-received. The 1983 revival has what is the definitive reading of the score, but this studio album makes for pleasant listening with two of musical theater’s most interesting voices of the 1950s, Jack Cassidy and Portia Nelson, undertaking most of the singing. The master himself, Goddard Lieberson, produced the album with Lehman Engel conducting. The famed “Slaughter” ballet was recorded, almost in its entirety. This studio album has more pop than the 1954 Broadway revival recording (which only takes off when Elaine Stritch sings, which included an interpolated showstopper “You Took Advantage of Me”).

Richard Rodgers presented the marvelous “Music Theater of Lincoln Center” series throughout the 1960s. At the State Theater, there would be limited run summer revivals of popular musicals, many of which featured original stars. Most of these special revivals were recorded by Columbia and RCA. Now Masterworks Broadway has released the only one that has been unavailable, The Merry Widow. The famed Franz Lehar operetta was a smash summer hit, directed by Edward Greenberg and conducted by Franz Allers. The resulting cast album is blissfully elegant, a vibrant, exceptionally well-sung recording. This was actually my first experience hearing The Merry Widow (outside Shadow of a Doubt) and my God, is it a magnificent score.

Patrice Munsel, former Met diva turned musical comedy star, sings a sumptuous Sonia (they used the Chappell edition), particularly on the famed “Vilja.” Munsel was the youngest star of the Metropolitan Opera and later transitioned into musical comedy (her roles ran the gamut: Maria in The Sound of Music to Margo Channing in Applause). Her singing is perfection and full of vibrancy. She’s given magnificent support from baritone Bob Wright. The woefully under-recorded Joan Weldon (who is simply ravishing on the original cast recording of Kean) and Frank Poretta provide thrillingly sung support. Rounding out the cast are the always reliable character actors Mischa Auer and Sig Arno

Speaking of Ms. Munsel, on June 14 Sony will be releasing another rarity: the 1955 RCA-Victor studio cast recording of Carousel. I’m of the opinion that every recording of this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic is worth owning, and this is no exception. It marked the first time “Geraniums in the Winder” was recorded and flows less like a studio album and more like an album from a stage production. This disc was recorded for RCA under the baton of Lehman Engel. A couple of tracks were heard on the reissue of the Music of Lincoln Center Carousel, but this marks the complete digital debut for this wonderful recording (Meanwhile I wonder who we have to see about another essential studio recording: the 1962 Command Records reading of the score with Alfred Drake, Roberta Peters and Lee Venora).

Robert Merrill makes a grand Billy Bigelow, singing with that rich, soaring operatic baritone. Munsel is heaven as Julie, though she hasn’t as much to sing here. George S. Irving brings a great deal of character to Jigger, with limited time on disc (his “What?!” in “Geraniums” is priceless). Herbert Banke soars to tenor heights as Enoch while newcomer Florence Henderson makes an exceptional Carrie. Gloria Lane’s Nettie is well sung, but lacking the magic of Christine Johnston or Claramae Turner.

For cast album aficionados there are the many classics being released digitally as well as the new budget cardboard eco-pack editions of their bestsellers. These reissues are not remastered or upgraded aurally from previous releases, but puts the recordings back into the market. Most notably, Damn Yankees is being reissued with its original green LP cover featuring Gwen Verdon in a baseball uniform (sidebar: I have this rare LP). The show opened to good reviews, but less than ebullient business. However, the powers-that-be changed the marketing strategy by replacing wholesome Gwen with scintillating “Lola” against a fire engine red background. The rest is history.  Other titles include Merrily We Roll Along, Into the Woods, The Secret Garden, Anything Goes (1987), Fosse, Sunday in the Park with George, And the World Goes Round and Pacific Overtures. (Unlike all other RCA Sondheim OBCRs, the latter has not been remastered and could use the sprucing up; it’s still Sondheim’s most intriguing score).

The following titles are available for digital download for the first time: Christine, First Impressions, Juno, Oh Captain, Mr. President, The Happiest Girl in the World, To Broadway with Love and Brigadoon (1957 studio cast). On June 28, The Girl in Pink Tights, Runaways, Kean and Maggie Flynn will also be released.

A Masterworks Broadway Christmas

As a special thank you to its fans, Masterworks Broadway will be giving away free downloadable Christmas samplers this holiday season. A Masterworks Broadway Christmas includes 4 holiday-themed tracks:

“Christmas in Hampton Court” (Rex)
“A New Deal For Christmas” (Annie)
“Christmas Child” (Irma la Douce)
“Be A Santa” (Subways Are For Sleeping)

As an added bonus, “Be A Santa”, performed by Percy Faith and his Orchestra, is not available anywhere but this sampler.

All that is required to receive this special gift is to have signed up for the Masterworks Broadway newsletter before November 29. Fans who are currently on the mailing list are already set to receive their sampler via email.

We all need a little Christmas, and Masterworks Broadway is delighted to help spread some holiday cheer!