My jaw dropped when I started playing the new cast album of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I 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.