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Decca Encores

Decca Broadway offers remastered original cast albums of shows that can be found on stage at City Center this spring. logo

Though devotees of cast albums tend to be enthusiastic about just about any release that comes along, the market for this type of thing is relatively small. So record labels do whatever they can to boost sales, and one excellent way to do that is to time the re-releases of classic show recordings to the openings of revivals of those shows. Decca has managed a grand slam this spring with its sonically refurbished editions of Broadway cast albums of Rodgers & Hart's A Connecticut Yankee and Harold Arlen & E.Y. Harburg's Bloomer Girl, along with the original London cast recording of Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni and James Rado's Hair. If those titles sound especially familiar, it's because they make up the current season of shows presented in semi-staged concert form as part of the City Center Encores! series. Indeed, at this writing, Bloomer Girl is in the midst of its five-performance run at City Center. (A Connecticut Yankee was seen there in February, and Hair is due in May.)

The 1943 revival cast album of A Connecticut Yankee (a show first seen on Broadway in 1927) is skimpy. In all, only nine cuts were preserved for posterity, totaling little more than 30 minutes in length. But the CD that contains these selections would be worth having if only for Vivienne Segal's hilariously proper, deadpan rendition of "To Keep My Love Alive," a charming song about a serial killer added to the '43 production and featuring the last lyric Lorenz Hart ever wrote. The album is also fascinating in that it allows us to hear the real singing voice of Vera-Ellen, whose warbling was always dubbed in her Hollywood film appearances. To fill out the CD, selections from two other Rodgers & Hart shows, Higher and Higher (sung by Shirley Ross) and By Jupiter (sung by the incomparable Hildegarde), have been included.

Decca's recording of the 1944 Civil War musical Bloomer Girl is far more complete at 16 tracks--though, strangely, it lacks an overture. I'll admit to a lack of familiarity with this show; it's been nice to get to know it through the CD reissue and through the Encores! production, even if it's a problematic piece. The chief selling points of the album are the performances of Celeste Holm as Evelina, David Brooks as Jeff Calhoun (a character who shares his name with the choreographer of the Broadway revivals of Annie Get Your Gun and Bells Are Ringing!), and Dooley Wilson--Casablanca's iconic, piano-playing Sam--as the slave Pompey.

The original Broadway cast album of Hair was made by RCA. Still, Decca has been able to complete its Encores! season on disc, because this was the label that issued two LPs of songs from the London production of the American tribal-love rock musical. As Peter Knight explains in his notes for the CD release, "the show contains some 34 titles but, when the initial recording [of the London Hair] was made in 1968, it was impossible to cram them all onto one 12-inch vinyl pressing. There was much debate as to which titles should be excluded and thus, after public demand, Fresh Hair [a follow-up album] was conceived to resolve the problem..." So the CD is nothing if not complete. Unfortunately, the singing here is often just as ragged and out of tune as what you'll find on the RCA disc--which means that it's very ragged and out of tune, indeed. If you want to hear Hair at home, stick to the jam-packed film soundtrack album, also on RCA.

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