The first time I watched the Kennedy Center Honors was in December 2001. I’d heard of the prestigious honor but had never actually tuned into the telecast. When it was announced that Julie Andrews would be an honoree, I decided it was about time I checked out the evening, hosted by Walter Cronkite. It’s an evening of career testimonials with some sort of performance in recognition of the honoree’s achievements, and usually there is at least one representative from the world of theatre. Other honorees that particular year included Van Cliburn, Quincy Jones, Jack Nicholson and Luciano Pavarotti.
Andrews’ tribute was presented by her best friend Carol Burnett who spoke lovingly of the star, her career and even sang a few bars of Sondheim’s “Old Friend” (the camera cut to Andrews mouthing the lyrics with her). The retrospective included clips of Andrews as a child prodigy, singing for the royal family as well as clips from her various Broadway and film musicals including My Fair Lady, Camelot, Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and Victor/Victoria. One correction to Ms. Burnett’s anecdote: Julie Andrews thanked Jack L. Warner at the Golden Globes. She was less cheeky in her Oscar acceptance speech.
The performance portion was tremendous. Patrick Wilson sang “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady,Kristin Chenoweth amped up the coloratura for “A Spoonful of Sugar” from Mary Poppins and then Robert Goulet sang “If Ever I Would Leave You” to his former Camelot co-star. Audra McDonald sang a pristine “I Could Have Danced All Night” while Jeremy Irons sang “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” The segment’s finale was provided by Rebecca Luker singing “The Sound of Music,” who was joined by the others as well as a chorus for the obligatory big finish. The clip here is missing the second half of Audra’s song and the first part of “The Sound of Music” but it is still a remarkable musical theatre medley.
At the end of the evening, Renee Fleming delivered a stunning rendition of “Take Care of This House” from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in remembrance of the recent 9/11 attacks. My VHS has long since gone missing so I’ve not had the chance to revisit this particular performance since I discovered the lost Bernstein-Lerner score. If anybody might have it, I would love to see it again!
The complete studio cast recording of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1947 musical Allegro came out this week. While I’m waiting for the chance to hear it, I figured I’d tide myself over with Lisa Kirk lending that rich alto to the score’s most famous song, “The Gentleman is a Dope.”
Allegro, the team’s first wholly original musical, was highly experimental in its form and structure as it told an allegorical tale of an everyman who finds success, corruption and ultimately disillusionment in the “Big City.” It was met with mixed reaction by the critics and audiences, running a respectable if disappointing 315 performances. The show’s original cast album runs a mere 33 minutes, presenting highlights of what is a very unique score. Allegro was revived for a radio broadcast on NBC radio in 1951 starring John Lund and Jane Powell. It was also the second production of the very first season at Encores! back in 1994 (when it was still more of a concert than a concert staging).
The new album from Sony Classics features every note of the vocal score on two discs with the voices of Patrick Wilson, Audra McDonald, Liz Callaway (in the Lisa Kirk role), Laura Benanti, Judy Blazer, Ashley Brown, opera star Nathan Gunn, Maureen Brennan, Norbert Leo Butz, Marni Nixon (who I’m excited to be seeing this weekend in the Encores! production of Music in the Air) and the master himself, Mr. Stephen Sondheim. Long overdue, we now have an officially complete recording of one of the most intriguing scores of the 1940s. Now all we have to do is wait for a complete cast recording of Weill & Lerner’s Love Life.
As for Kirk, she went onto originate Lois Lane in Kiss Me Kate and would later replace Janis Paige in Here’s Love and offered great support in the original Broadway production of that cult favorite Mack and Mabel. Her final appearance on Broadway was in the 1984 revival of Noel Coward’s Design for Living as Grace Torrence. Her most noted work in film was as the vocal double for Rosalind Russell in the 1962 film version of Gypsy. Russell stated in her autobiography that she sang every note heard in the film, which is quite far from the truth. The recent soundtrack album release included the original tracks that Russell laid down in the studio before they decided to bring in Kirk, who sang the score in the lowest keys I’ve ever heard it sung. Rumor has it that after Ethel Merman died, recordings of Russell’s performances of the Gypsy numbers were found in her apartment. One can only imagine…
Browsing through the news section of Liz Callaway’s website, I came across this recent update:
Liz recently recorded two songs for the new recording of the show ALLEGRO. Among those also appearing on the CD will be Patrick Wilson and Judy Kuhn. Liz recorded “The Gentlemen Is a Dope” and “Allegro”.
I’m hoping for a complete studio cast recording as the original Broadway cast album of this legendary Rodgers and Hammerstein obscurity is considerably abridged (no overture and a length of thirty-three minutes). Given that the show is the most experimental of the R&H canon, it would be nice to have it on record in its entirety, to give us a better idea of the overall scope and size of the show. Unfortunately, when it was presented as the premiere Encores! vehicle in 1994, no one thought to record it. Hopefully this will change in the near future. Anyone hear anything about this?