“Promises, Promises” – Original London Cast Recording

Just when it seemed as though there wouldn’t be anything more to say about Promises, Promises cast albums, Bruce Kimmel went ahead and released the long unavailable original London cast album on CD. Kimmel’s label, Kritzerland, recently made a splash with the 2 disc limited edition of the original Broadway album a couple months ago, which was so popular a second single disc edition was pressed. Sony Masterworks released a revival cast album which has been selling well. But for die hard fans, this is one of those rare cast albums that’s been long awaited. I, for one, lived with an mp3 rip of a good quality LP for the last couple of years and was one of those folks crying out for a CD.  The good news is that it’s been entirely worth the wait, the bad news is the limited pressing of 1,000 CDs has sold out (they did in a flash!)

Producers didn’t waste much time in bringing Promises, Promises to London. It opened at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 1969, running a respectable 560 performances. Tony Roberts was Chuck Baxter. He does a decent job, if he’s not nearly as distinctive as Jerry Orbach. Betty Buckley and she sings the hell out of the score as Fran, easily the best sung on record. Her “Knowing When to Leave” is definitive, particularly the way she crescendos from head voice pianissimo to full out belt on the last line. Jack Kruschen, who played the doctor in The Apartment reprised his role in this production. Donna McKechnie flew to London to recreate the showstopping “Turkey Lurkey Time” for six weeks, but apparently this album was recorded after she left. (Her name is credited on the album cover, but inside the credit goes to Alix Kirsta).

Like the Kritzerland release of the OBC, the London album has also been placed in show order. It was produced similarly to the first, but offers an entirely different listening experience. The inherent idiosyncrasies make this London recording required listening. The pit singers are much clearer, especially in the overture. But the thing that really struck me, and it was probably the remix that helped me realize this, was the percussion. I have no idea who the drummer was, but his or her work really just pops on the album, especially in “Turkey Lurkey Time.”

One of my main quibbles with both the original Broadway and London albums is that “A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing” doesn’t have its dance break or big finish, both recordings repeat the refrain as they fade out. As a sort of consolation, Mr. Kimmel has included the song from the Italian cast album in its entirety as a bonus after the title song. Kimmel once again supplies the liner notes which covers much of the same area as the Broadway Promises, but gives a concise history of the London run.

As I said, the CD is sold out (though you may still be able to snag a copy on Footlight Records) so if you’ve missed out, I hope you’ve got a friend who’ll be nice and let you borrow their copy. You’ll definitely want to give this one a spin.

Jerry Orbach’s Broadway

It’s hard to believe it, but it’s been almost six years since the world lost the great Jerry Orbach to cancer. His presence is still greatly felt, through TV reruns, frequent airings of Dirty Dancing on TV and he is fondly remembered by practically every person I know. Even though Orbach hadn’t been on Broadway since the mid-80s, he epitomized the essence of NY theatre for so many. You could see him at opening nights, presenting at the Tony Awards or even just riding the subway. While Law and Order gave him that household recognition, he was still just a New Yorker.

He got his start off-Broadway as a replacement in The Threepenny Opera and was the first El Gallo in The Fantasticks. The star also appeared in an acclaimed 1964 off-Broadway revival of The Cradle Will Rock. Broadway called in 1961 when Orbach was cast as the bitter puppeteer Paul in Carnival, with a score by Bob Merrill and direction by Gower Champion. It was a stage adaptation of the MGM hit Lili, about a naive French orphan who joins a seedy carnival where she becomes a star attraction with a Kukla, Fran and Ollie type connection to the puppets. The show was a big hit, earning a Tony for leading lady Anna Maria Alberghetti and running 719 performances. In this clip, from The Ed Sullivan Show, Alberghetti starts off with “Yes, My Heart” leading into Orbach’s stirring rendition of “Her Face”:


Orbach received his first Tony nomination in 1965 for his well-received Sky Masterson in the limited run revival of Guys and Dolls at Lincoln Center. The following season he was back on the boards supporting Ethel Merman in the 20th anniversary revival of Annie Get Your Gun. But it was 1968’s Promises, Promises for which Orbach would win his Tony Award. A musical based on the 1960 hit The Apartment, the musical version updated the story to 1968 with contemporary costuming and sensibilities and was a mammoth hit, running three years. On the Tony telecast, before Donna McKechnie leveled the joint with “Turkey Lurkey Time,” Orbach performed his act one charmer “She Likes Basketball”:


While Jerry always hit home runs in the musical department, he didn’t have as much success in plays. His first Broadway drama was The Natural Look which opened and closed on March 11, 1967 (and included Gene Hackman, Doris Roberts, Brenda Vaccaro and Andreas Voutsinas in the cast). He fared somewhat better with 6 Rms Wiv Vu in 1972 opposite Jane Alexander. Orbach returned to musicals in 1974 when he was signed on for Mack and Mabel. However, director Gower Champion abruptly replaced him with Robert Preston just before the start of rehearsals and no parties involved were ever given a clear reason why.

However, it was back to the top the following year when he created the role of the conniving lawyer Billy Flynn in Bob Fosse’s production of Chicago. Orbach held his own opposite leading ladies Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera. The show was ahead of its time in terms of its cynical tone and was swept away by A Chorus Line during awards season (though the revival would prove far more timely). On the Tony telecast, Orbach represented the company with his first act number “All I Care About”:


As it turned out, 42nd Street would be the final Broadway credit for both Jerry and director Gower Champion. The show, based on the 1933 film, was a juggernaut success, praised for being an old-fashioned throwback and run for 8 1/2 years. It’s opening at the Winter Garden in August 1980 is the stuff of legend, and it was Orbach (who was playing impresario Julian Marsh) who called for the curtain after producer David Merrick’s shocking announcement of Champion’s death earlier that same day. Orbach, who enjoyed long runs, stayed with 42nd Street for years until he proved too expensive for Merrick. On the Tonys, he led the company, including Wanda Richert and Lee Roy Reams with the second act showstopper “Lullaby of Broadway”:


And for the road, here’s Jerry singing “Try to Remember” from The Fantasticks on the 1982 TV special “The Best of Broadway.”


“Promises, Promises” – The New Broadway Cast Recording

When I received the new Broadway cast recording of Promises, Promises from Sony Masterworks last week, I have to confess I didn’t have high expectations. The reviews for the show were far from raves, and had been led to believe the show was a huge bomb. Much to my surprise, the cast album for this production is quite enjoyable. In fact it is one of the more spirited cast albums I’ve heard in quite some time. Full disclosure – I haven’t seen the revival so I cannot comment on the quality of the production as it plays onstage, but am aware of instances where the cast album can make a production sound better on disc than it played in the theatre.

From start to finish there is much to enjoy. Sean Hayes isn’t as distinctive as either Jerry Orbach or Tony Roberts and while his vibrato is a bit on the reedy side, he is certainly up for the inherent challenge and gives a welcome comic turn. He especially shines in “She Likes Basketball” and the title song. Kristin Chenoweth is somewhat more problematic as Fran. First off – interpolating Bacharach’s pop hits “I Say a Little Prayer” and “A House is Not a Home” make absolutely no sense for her character to be singing. Period. Chenoweth is famed for that seemingly endless coloratura range, and her voice doesn’t translate as well to belt/mix like other sopranos. Also, making “A House is Not a Home” an emotional focal center of the production shows genuine mistrust of the material by the creative team, but that’s a conversation for another time.

Tony-winner Katie Finneran gives it her all as drunken Marge and she makes an interesting impression on “A Fact Can Be a Beautiful,” which has a fantastic dance break. Dick Latessa does well in his duet “A Young, Pretty Girl Like You.” On the other hand, “Turkey Lurkey Time” is a complete dud. You’d be better off with the original Broadway cast recording or that glorious youtube clip. Tony Goldwyn has very little to do on record as the cad boss who leads Fran on, singing “Wanting Things” and duetting with Hayes on “It’s Our Little Secret,” which features its verse on record for the first time).

The sound is crisp, there is extra music as well as the show’s finale with the famed last line  and really makes the rideouts of the songs just really hit home (it’s also easier to hear the pit singers here, too). The set is also blessed with ample liner notes, complete with the lyrics but lacking a thorough plot synopsis. Oh, and naturally there are plenty of photographs from the production.

Another thing about the score and show Promises, Promises. It’s based on the 1960 film The Apartment, but composer Burt Bacharach, lyricist Hal David and librettist Neil Simon created a contemporary musical in 1968 and the music is so much of that era that it genuinely strikes me as odd that the show has been pushed back to 1962. The syncopations, the rhythms and orchestrations are all evocative of the late 60s and it ‘s absurd to try and make it otherwise. The nature of the decade was so turbulent that 1962 is a million light years removed from 1968. It makes absolutely no sense to do that, especially if it’s to capitalize on Mad Men (which is referenced in advertising for the show. Mad Men the Musical is about the last thing I would ever care to see).

So it’s not the perfect reading of the show, but it’s still quite an enjoyable listen nonetheless. The real surprise about this particular album is the way it’s recorded. I’ve felt that a lot of recent revival albums have failed to capture the vibrancy of the onstage experience (Patti’s Gypsy and South Pacific come readily to mind) or the energy of earlier counterparts. This album, warts and all, pops from the overture to finish. Almost everything about this recording is alive and quite engaging (with the exceptions noted above); so much so that though I was wary of seeing the actual show, I’m now quite interesting in going. What can I say? The power of the cast album compels me.

“Promises, Promises” OBCR 3.0

Nowadays, it seems that every time a movie is even moderately successful it’s pretty much a given that it will sooner or later find its way onstage (and almost always as a musical). Back in the 50s and 60s this was far less common, with plays and novels (and the occasional original idea) acting as source material. But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t such adaptations. The 1953 MGM hit Lili became Carnival! in 1961 and the Oscar winning Best Picture of 1960 The Apartment became Promises, Promises in 1968. Incidentally, both of these hit musicals starred the late, great Jerry Orbach and I am a huge fan of both.

The latter is currently receiving its first Broadway revival, while that particular production wasn’t very well received, its been in the headlines due to a controversial Newsweek article, a Tony win for supporting star Katie Finneran and its success in spite of a critical excoriation. They’ve even released a new cast album (more on that CD next time!)

The original production of Promises, Promises was a smash. A no holds barred, full out, critical salvos up the wazoo smash. Jerry Orbach and Jill O’Hara starred in the roles famously created by Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in the Billy Wilder film. However, Promises was made a contemporary musical – its score and sensibility are reflective of late 60s pop, with a memorable score from pop composer Burt Bacharach and his lyricist Hal David (their only stage score). Robert Moore directed, but it was choreographer Michael Bennett‘s contributions which most remember. His dances permeated scene changes and turned a troubled first act pastiche into a showstopper to end all showstoppers (“Turkey Lurkey Time“).

Jonathan Tunick, our foremost orchestrator, made his first mark on Broadway adopting a style that would be further explored two years later in Sondheim’s Company. The production won Tony Awards for Orbach, Featured Actress Marian Mercer (as Marge MacDougall, in a stunning comic turn at the top of act two) and was a nominee for Best Musical (it lost to 1776, the other nominees were Hair and Zorba!). Promises, Promises closed after 1,281 performances at the Shubert. A London run starring Tony Roberts and Betty Buckley ran for 560 performances (and that cast album, with Buckley’s definitive rendering of “Knowing When to Leave” has never been released digitally, and according to my sources is likely to remain in the vault).

The original Broadway cast album of Promises, Promises has had two CD releases through Rykodisc and Varese Sarabande. I have the former, and never picked up the latter as it seemed to me a mere reissue of the first one. Then I got wind of a very special reissue of the album from Kritzerland, the CA based company run by Bruce Kimmel, who in the past year has issued limited edition cast albums (1,000 copies each) of Anya, Illya Darling, Show Girl, the 1968 House of Flowers and Cry for Us All.

I wouldn’t necessarily think that there would be a reason to purchase another version of the OBC of Promises, Promises except that Mr. Kimmel has worked his magic on the recording to create one of the best sounding cast album reissues I’ve ever heard. You see, the first two CD releases were taken from the edited eight track master tapes, leaving sound quality to be desired. The original LP master tapes were never remixed or used until this particular issue. The first disc is the original LP album in its LP order and the second disc is the remastered, pitch-corrected version which puts the songs in show order for the first time. Kimmel is supplying the listener with the album as originally heard, but also allowing us the opportunity to hear what it would have sounded like with today’s recording technology. (The issue of Jerry Orbach’s shaky pitch on the Promises cast album is something of a sticking point for many in theatre circles). Both discs make the score sound crisper than ever.

Mr. Kimmel wrote the liner notes himself, discussing the show’s history as well as his personal experiences (he was there the night three different Fran Kubeliks went on). There’s no plot synopsis or lyrics, but I don’t think many who will buy this recording will need either. There are some fun photographs (including the Turkey Lurkey girls in what must be out of town tryout – with different costumes), a reversion to the MGM LP cover art and pull quotes from all the major raves. The sad news is that the release is limited to 1,000 copies. If you haven’t picked one up yet, you may be out of luck. Last I heard there were about 125 copies left – and the preorders were shipped only the other day. (But give it a shot!) It’s worth replacing whatever copy of the original you may have.

Snowy-Blowy Christmas Revisited

Something you want to enjoy 24/7. Once again, here are Donna McKechnie, Baayork Lee and Margo Sappington, plus the original ensemble of Promises Promises leading the first act showstopper “Turkey Lurkey Time.” I’m kinda hoping that the original Michael Bennett choreography will be recreated in the spring revival, as I can’t see anyone topping what the auteur did with this number. Enjoy!

Another Snowy-Blowy Christmas

We are expecting a major winter storm here in the NY area tomorrow and Christmas is only one week away. This year the season itself seems to be flying away so rapidly that I can hardly believe it. It’s been a dicey holiday season given the times in which we live. People are worrying about employment, the economy, our, well, everything. Anyway, for the first time in a long time I have been swept up in the season so I thought I’d give a very brief list of some of the my personal favorite musical theatre-related Christmas songs. If there’s anything you think I’ve overlooked, feel free to comment (and no, “I Don’t Remember Christmas” from Starting Here, Starting Now does not count).

“Twelve Days to Christmas” – She Loves Me. This song is a brilliant summation of Christmas in retail – from the perspectives of both the employees and consumers. The advancement of the plot from December 13 through the evening of the 24th is your typical Bock & Harnick – charm, wit and (very importantly) plot and character development. The song starts in a leisurely tempo, with book scenes interspliced showing how the two lead characters are growing fond of each other, but each time we go back to the song the tempo picks up pace until it becomes a full out patter verse complete with malapropisms on Christmas Eve. It’s a beautiful way to build the show to its inevitable and breathtakingly simple finale between Amalia and Georg. (And if you recall, I listen to the cast album every Christmas Eve).

“Pine Cones and Holly Berries” – Here’s Love. This musical adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street opened in late 1963 to less than stellar critical response in spite of a cast that included Janis Paige, Craig Stevens and Laurence Naismith (others included Fred Gwynne, Baayork Lee and Michael Bennett). Written and composed by Meredith Willson, the show wasn’t his best effort, but did feature a showstopping opening – a march overture that segued into an onstage recreation of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Willson incorporated his already popular “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas,” but he turned it into a quodlibet by adding this song as a counterpoint. (Interesting note: many people know that “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Goodnight My Somone” were written to complement each other, but did you know that a contrapuntal reprise of “My White Knight” and “The Sadder-But-Wiser-Girl” was originally written for the scene prior to Harold’s arrest?) Apparently, this is a favorite Christmas number for the Osmonds.

“We Need a Little Christmas” – Mame. Nothing like the world’s favorite aunt declaring an early holiday in order to raise everyone’s spirits. However, given our current economic state, the song is as timely as ever. But it is a sheer joy to see and hear; especially as delivered on the original cast album by Angela Lansbury, Jane Connell, Sab Shimino and Frankie Michaels, which remains the definitive recording of this ever-popular holiday favorite. Here is a clip of the replacement cast led by Jane Morgan (Helen Gallagher is Gooch!!) performing the original staging on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Here’s the real thing:

“Who Says There Ain’t No Santa Claus?” – Flahooley An utterly enchanting little Christmas song from this flop score by Sammy Fain and Yip Harbourg. Jerome Courtland and the effervsescent Barbara Cook in her Broadway debut lead this gem.

“Be a Santa” – Subways Are For Sleeping. Note how many of these Christmas songs have many of our best Jewish composers behind them. Irving Berlin led the way with “White Christmas,” “Happy Holiday”. We also have Sammy Fain and Jerry Herman represented here. Now it’s Jule Styne; with his steady collaborators Comden & Green. The show is most famous now for David Merrick’s publicity stunt and for Phyllis Newman’s Tony-winning tour de force as Miss Martha Vail (particularly in that ‘musical dramatic playlet written and directed by huhself’, “I Was a Shoo-In”). Sydney Chaplin leads this company number (once again we have Michael Kidd staging) in which Salvation Army Santa Claus’ dancing up a storm.

And of course, that perennial favorite from Promises Promises. “Turkey Lurkey Time” I know I posted this video last year, but hell, it’s Christmas and to steal from my friends at [title of show], this is something you want to enjoy 24-7.

A Snowy-Blowy Christmas

Donna McKechnie leads the original cast of Promises Promises in the act one showstopper “Turkey Lurkey Time” on the 1969 Tony awards. The other two lead dancers are Baayork Lee and Margo Sappington. Choreography by Michael Bennett. Yes the lyrics are rather outrageous and the melody is infectiously 60s, but that’s part of the fun (thank you Bacharach and David). And technically, it’s a Christmas song. So in the spirit of the season and with the snow coming tomorrow, sit back and enjoy.