Yes, I've been having a Mono Cast Album Festival, going alphabetically from A-to-Z. What I've found is that old mono records are just right for a shower, a shave, and a quick breakfast because it takes me about 40 minutes to get ready; today's newly recorded CDs are often almost twice as long, so I only wind up listening to half of one before I leave for work each morning. (Earlier this year, I kept telling people how much I liked Bounce, but then I realized that I'd been playing it from the beginning day after day after day after day, and had only gotten about halfway through. When I did get to the end of it -- well, I didn't like it nearly as much overall.) In my apartment these days, it could be 1956. If you drop by and overhear "Keep It Gay" playing, it'll be the song from Me and Juliet rather than the one from The Producers. My last column on this subject went from Ace of Clubs to A Connecticut Yankee, so here we'll continue alphabetically:
- The Desert Song: I'm a great fan of "The Riff Song," which I judge to be the great-grandfather of "Into the Fire" from The Scarlet Pimpernel. When I listen to this album, I remember that summer Sunday in 1973 at the Opera House in Washington. I was 27 years old, sitting in my front row seat, ready to see a Broadway-bound revival of this antique, when an ancient man struggled to get into his seat right next to me. But, oh, once the overture started, he started mini-conducting the songs that he had loved as a youth, and his face lit up so that I could actually see the 14-year-old boy in him. I thought to myself, "This'll be me with Dolly someday." And, God willing, it will -- if both the show and I live long enough.
- Fanny: Never liked it and, after this playing, still don't. Probably
never will. Apologies to the millions of you who do.
- Finian's Rainbow: My favorite score of the '40s, but the original cast album is not my favorite recording of it. Let's just say that I'm not in love with Miss Logan.
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: Of course, this original caster is the definitive recording of this score, but I do miss all the "naughty" lyrics that were excised from "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." (I came to know what I was missing from the woeful 1995 revival.) Is there some possibility that buried deep in the Sony vaults there's a complete recording of "Diamonds" -- "Goddamn" and all -- essayed by Carol Channing in her prime?
- Girl Crazy: Those of you who love Crazy for You should hear the show that inspired it. While I like the 1990 Nonesuch recording because it's complete, here's Mary Martin's much earlier charmer. And yet, my favorite tracks (songs that were cut from the 1992 Tony-winner) are Martin-less: "Barbary Coast" is a bubbly treat, and "Bronco Busters" is fun except when the cowboys sing, "We shoot the fairies, or send them back to the east."
- The Golden Apple: One of the 10 best experiences I ever had in a theater was Word Baker's extraordinary production of this show at Boston University in 1974. If only that cast had the chance to record its own album, then you'd understand. But I understand why you don't understand what a masterwork this is based on this arch, brittle, and incomplete recording. The idea of adding rhymed couplets so an actor could explain what's missing probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but it can't compare to the glorious Jerome Moross music paired with John Latouche's lyrics.
- Guys and Dolls: I tried again. I listened very carefully to "A Bushel and a Peck," "Adelaide's Lament," "Take Back Your Mink," and "Sue Me." Then I listened to "I'll Know," "If I Were a Bell," and "I've Never Been in Love Before." And I still can't understand how Isabel Bigley's Sarah beat Vivian Blaine's Adelaide in the Best Featured Musical Actress Tony race of 1951.
- Happy Hunting: Okay, even with The Merm in the cast, it stinks. But the album does prove one thing: bad show albums can sound good when a full, 25-piece (or more) orchestra is playing along. How sad that, today, we're often fed orchestral gruel.
- Hazel Flagg: I'm sure that there are plenty of people associated with the Jule Styne estate who aren't too thrilled that copyright laws in England say that anything can be released with no royalties paid to the creators once 50 years have passed, but for those of us who only had the original cast album of this 1953 album on LP (or the 1976 reissue) -- or those who didn't have it at all -- this British CD pressing is a blessing. Funny; this was the flop that derailed Helen Gallagher's burgeoning career, but she sure sings the songs as if she's in a mammoth hit. Good for her! Still, my favorite cut is one in which she doesn't appear: "Everybody Loves to Take a Bow," sung by second banana Benay Venuta. It's wonderful that this recording exists, since we don't have much from this star of yore: Nothing from Anything Goes, By Jupiter, Nellie Bly, or Copper and Brass. (Yes, I'm one of those Gentile musical theater enthusiasts who doesn't know a thing about B'nai Brith but knows everything about Benay Venuta!)
- High Button Shoes: In the time it takes to watch a sitcom, you can listen to this cast album. It's 24 minutes long. (Make that 24 minutes short.) So, alas, the music for the still-talked-about "Mack Sennett Ballet" that Jerome Robbins concocted is not on this disc -- but that's what the cast album of Jerome Robbins' Broadway is for. (You knew it had to be for something, didn't you?)
- The King and I: For years, we've all heard that Gertrude Lawrence sang terribly in this show, but my recent playing of the cast album showed that Yul Brynner is actually the one who's not so hot. And though Doretta Morrow has a lovely voice, she sounds much too mature for the young innocent that is Tuptim. (By the way, have you ever seen the 1946 movie, Anna and the King of Siam? In it, Tuptim is quite a different character. Can you say "bitch"?) I'm a little surprised that the "March of the Siamese Children" is included on the recording, for in those days when vinyl space was precious, the record producer could have omitted it without anyone really being able to protest. Tell you what I do miss, though: the Siamese kids don't say "Ahhhhh!" after Lawrence says the words "Getting to Know You" for the first time. And by the way, when they start singing, they sure don't sound like kids to me!
[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org]