Into the Woods revival recording
Into the Woods revival recording
I'm not into the new Into the Woods cast album. Not because most of the principals can't erase the memories of the original 1987 cast, for Laura Benanti can. What bothers me is that this new Nonesuch recording has replicated an egregious mistake made on the original cast album.

I think "Giants in the Sky" is one of Sondheim's most beautiful songs, and I would program my CD player to play it over and over and over again. But, just like the original cast album, this revival cast album does not give the song its own separate track. Once again, two songs--"A Very Nice Prince" and "First Midnight"--precede it to make one very long cut. There's no way I can just listen to the one song without hearing the other two, which I don't like nearly as much and am not inclined to hear endlessly.

Now, on the 1991 London cast album, "Giants in the Sky" does get its own cut; but Richard Dempsey's rendition is much too quick, almost twice the tempo to which we've become accustomed. That takes away from much of the beauty of the song, so I have not programmed it to play over and over. Come on, Dempsey--you're Jack of and-the-Beanstalk fame, not the Jack-be-nimble, Jack-be-quick. Slow down; you move too fast.

Truth to tell, the London cast album overdoes the tracking. For some reason I'll never understand, the opening number has been sliced into no fewer than nine--count 'em, nine--separate cuts: (1) "Once upon a Time," (2) "Into the Woods," (3) "Fly Birds, Back to the Sky," (4) "Witch's Entrance," (5) "Jack, Jack, Jack, Head in a Sack," (6) "You Wish to Have the Curse Reversed?" (7) "Ladies, Our Carriage Awaits," (8) "The Curse Is on My House," and (9) "Into the Woods." They range in length from 3:20 ("Once upon a Time") to 0:25 ("Ladies, Our Carriage Awaits"). Now really, who wants to hear this particular 25 seconds worth of music over and over again?

Still, adding track numbers to a CD doesn't hurt; so if a company is going to err, let it err in that direction. Yet another Sondheim cast album--Assassins--errs the way Woods does. While I love "The Ballad of Czolgosz," I'm not as enamored of "The Gun Song," but they're as inextricably linked as Daisy and Violet Hilton (whose life story yielded a cast album that had the decency to follow the "one song, one cut" tradition).

"One song, one cut"? Young 'uns still find this hard to believe, but it was "one disc, one cut" when The Phantom of the Opera's London cast album made its debut in 1986. Act One was on the first disc, Act Two on the second, and that was that. No selections of songs was at all possible. It was said at the time that Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted it that way, so that we'd all have to listen to the show as one continuous piece of music. If we liked a song well enough to play it over and over--and I sure would have done so with "Prima Donna"--well, that was just tough. I'd just have to wade through the eight songs that preceded it.

Apparently a good number of people complained--or, more to the point, returned to their discs to stores, griping that they must have received a defective copy because the number "1" just stayed on the track display and there was no way to scoot ahead unless you stood at your CD player, pressed down a certain button, and didn't let up. Even then, you'd hear squeaky accelerated sounds that wouldn't particularly help you track down the track you wanted. It was, to cite another song from another show already mentioned in this article, agony.

The only reason I bought An Evening with Sheldon Harnick--the live recording of his night at Lyrics & Lyricists in 1971--was to get on CD a recording of "When Messiah Comes," a song dropped in Detroit from Fiddler on the Roof. The title may make it sound as if it's going to be as reverential in tone and tempo as "Sabbath Prayer," but the song actually is charming and wry. It begins: "When Messiah Comes, he will say to us, 'I apologize that I took so long. But I had a little trouble finding you. Over here a few, and over there a few. You were hard to reunite--but everything is going to be all right.'" Nice, no?

I first heard the song on a Herschel Bernardi recording of Fiddler that Columbia made (presumably because it was embarrassed that it lost the rights to the cast album, a true blue-chipper, to RCA Victor). Because the Bernardi disc has never been on CD, I lusted for the chance to hear "When Messiah Comes" over and over. Well, you've already guessed what happened: Not only did the song not get its own cut, but An Evening with Sheldon Harnick has much in common with that first Phantom of the Opera album: One cut fits all. Thank the Lord, I thought, when Lost in Boston II included Lee Wilkof's rendition; but he goes through the song as quickly as Richard Dempsey does "Giants in the Sky."

Please, recording executives. We live in a one-man, one-vote society. And I vote that we have one-cut, one-song on all albums now and forever.

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[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at pfilichia@aol.com]