A Saturday Kind of Love
A British record label lets us hear the cast recordings of some famous flops -- and a few hits, as well.
If Must Close Saturday is stringent about limiting its releases to shows that closed on Saturday, it would automatically have to eschew a few Broadway flops. Wild and Wonderful closed on Tuesday, December 7, 1971, while Hurry, Harry closed on Friday, October 13, 1972. The cast album of A Broadway Musical (December 21, 1978) would have had to be on the Must Close Thursday label, though Must Close Wednesday would have recorded Dance a Little Closer (May 11, 1983) and Rainbow Jones (February 13, 1974). The reason for all of the above is that these shows closed on the same night they opened; a single performance was all they could muster. On the other hand, Breakfast at Tiffany's (December 14, 1966) and Truckload (September 11, 1975), didn't even open officially on Broadway. But the crown jewel of Must Close Wednesday, had it not already been recorded by Project 3, would have been Cry for Us All. The musical shuttered on Wednesday, April 15, 1970 -- not after one performance, but after nine. How strange that a show that opened to mostly negative reviews but dared to try for a second week should give up smack dab in the middle of it.
Anyway, all of this is moot, for Must Close Saturday is only concerned with reissuing musicals that played in London, where shows still routinely have a Monday-to-Saturday schedule (unlike our Tuesday-to-Sunday schedule). Those whose musical theater tastes are limited only to the newer sounds and who believe the British musical didn't exist until Andrew Lloyd Webber won't find much to celebrate on Must Close Saturday records. When people ask, "Where are the shows of yesteryear?" one answer is, "On Must Close Saturday records." So, for those of us who have an appreciation of what came before our own theatergoing time and get a kick out of the occasionally effete sound of British musicals, here's a worthy label. It sure has given me much pleasure in introducing me to some terrific material.
Take, for example, "Pardon My English" -- not the 1932 Gershwin score of the same title, but a song from the 1934 musical Jill, Darling. Star Frances Day adopts a Hungarian accent to put over a ruse and uses it in this utterly charming ditty by Vivian Ellis. Tom Brown's Schooldays, a 1972 musical about a young boy trying to be part of the gang while at a boarding school, has a smashing, eight-minute opening sequence that goes from main theme to mini-theme to quodlibet to new song, each ingredient as delicious as the other.
For those of us who missed the initial CD release of the cast album of Salad Days, the 1954 British mega-hit, Must Close Saturday will give us another chance when it re-releases the recording in 2006. This means that "We Said We Wouldn't Look Back" will make me push my CD player's "Repeat" button for weeks to come -- just as, for the past few weeks, "We Shall See What We Shall See" has ruled my car's CD player for hundreds upon hundreds of miles. That song is from The Amazons, which had a book by Michael Stewart, Broadway's reigning libretto champ of the '60s; the four musicals he wrote that decade ran an average of 1,150 performances. The Amazons opened in 1971 and wasn't a hit. Still, it had a high pedigree thanks to Stewart, lyricist David Heneker (Half a Sixpence), and composer John Addison, who provided that delicious, Oscar-winning background score for the 1963 film Tom Jones. Other must-plays on this Must Close disc are the jaunty "The Coast Is Clear" and the rousing 11-o'clocker "Stag Party."
Contrary to what you might assume, a show needn't be a humiliating flop to end up on Must Close Saturday. After all, even the biggest hits must eventually close on some day of the week. So the 1961 London cast album of the hit Stop the World -- I Want to Get Off is now part of the company's catalogue. On the cover, there's no logo but there is the youngest picture of Anthony Newley you're likely to see (unless you catch his performance in The Artful Dodger in the 1948 film of Oliver Twist). The company did reproduce the logo for No Strings -- one of the best-ever for a musical -- for its reissue of the 1963 London cast album. It was the last stage success that Richard Rodgers would ever have and the first show for which he wrote lyrics, which are damned good. (Given that Rodgers' next four shows, all written with lyricists, didn't succeed, perhaps he should have continued working by himself.)
Moreover, a show needn't be decades old to be embraced by Must Close Saturday. The 2004 British musical Zipp! is part of the inventory, though one could argue that this is indeed an old musical in that it takes snippets of 100 vintage shows and splices them together. ("With So Little to Be Sure Of" from Anyone Can Whistle does get a full rendition, and it's as good as you'll ever hear). Zipp! has plenty of medleys, too. One of them goes through the Andrew Lloyd Webber canon, "though in reverse chronological order," says the show's narrator, "working back to the ones you actually know -- and like."