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I'd Rather Have Six Percent

Just how useful for show tune lovers is the new Zagat Music Guide? logo
"1,000 Top Albums of All Time" boasts the cover of the newest entry in the Zagat Survey series, this one simply dubbed Music Guide. I picked it up with great trepidation, figuring that our musical theater sensibilities would be roundly insulted. How many original cast albums were going to make the list? Very few, I was sure; the 10,600 Zagat voters probably know much more about such artists as Garbage, Rancid, and -- I'm not making this up -- Prick.

My fears proved to have merit when I read editor Holly George-Warren's introduction. She offers a paragraph each on rock, classical, jazz, soul, rave, hip-hop, and blues -- but nothing on musical theater. The jazz paragraph is the unkindest cut of all because it's headed "All That Jazz." Come on! If you're going to steal one of musical theater's most famous titles, at least acknowledge musical theater.

I moved to the alphabetical listings and got another slap in the face on the third page: "Ain't Misbehavin' (soundtrack)." Oh, Good Lord, was the whole book going to list original cast albums as soundtracks? Ain't Misbehavin' doesn't have a "soundtrack," which literally means the track of sound on a movie (which Ain't Misbehavin' never got) or a TV show (which Ain't Misbehavin' did get, but no album resulted from it).

Once I continued through the book, though, I found that we didn't do badly at all. Twenty-eight other original cast albums have made the list, including 23 I might have expected -- Annie, Annie Get Your Gun, A Chorus Line, Company, Damn Yankees, Dreamgirls, Evita (London), Fiddler on the Roof, Godspell, Gypsy, Hair, Kiss Me, Kate, Les Misérables (London), A Little Night Music, Mame, Mamma Mia!, My Fair Lady, The Phantom of the Opera, Rent, South Pacific, Sunday in the Park with George, Sweeney Todd, West Side Story -- and five I didn't -- Candide, Crazy for You, Hairspray (I didn't expect it only because it's relatively new), Little Shop of Horrors, and Side by Side by Sondheim. Incidentally, My Fair Lady and Sweeney Todd tied with the highest ratings.

Now, before you get outraged at the omission of many A-list titles in our canon, you should know that plenty of them are represented by their soundtrack versions. Frankly, I don't think any of the Hollywood recordings can hold a candle to their Broadway forebears, but voters listed 11 for which at least a decent argument could be made -- Bye Bye Birdie, Cabaret, Carousel, Grease, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The King and I, The Music Man, Oklahoma!, Oliver!, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Sound of Music -- and only two that are woefully inferior to the originals -- Funny Girl and Camelot. (Of the last named, editor George-Warren concedes, "show tune royalty decree 'you have to be nuts' to prefer the film recording to Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet 'in fine voice' on the Broadway album." Didn't anyone go to bat for the distinctive, clipped tones of Richard Burton, too?)

Actually, I'm surprised that the West Side Story soundtrack didn't beat out the original caster; after all, the film recording was on the charts for 144 weeks -- that's nearly three years -- with an astonishing 54 weeks in the number one spot. I would have thought that voters would have felt enough respect and nostalgia to put it on the list.

Also listed are three revival cast albums -- Anything Goes (1987), Follies in Concert (1985), and Guys and Dolls (1992) -- and one studio cast recording, the heavenly, three-disc, 1989 Show Boat. And though no cast album of Porgy and Bess is listed, two jazz interpretations -- one by Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne, another by Miles Davis and Gil Evans -- show up.

Notable omissions? I'm surprised that Jerry Herman made the list with Mame but not with Hello, Dolly!, an album that spent the summer of 1964 -- prime time for The Beatles, remember! -- in the number one spot. (Mame peaked at number 23.) Ironically, Louis Armstrong's Hello, Dolly! album is listed. And can the omission of every Man of La Mancha recording -- including that of the recent flop revival -- suggest that the public is finally catching wise to this wildly overrated show?

Anyway, if you add in Streisand's The Broadway Album and Back to Broadway as well as Rosemary Clooney Sings the Music of Cole Porter, that's an even 60, which means that 6% of the albums had a Broadway pedigree. I'd call that decent, considering the limited exposure that show music gets. And I'm not counting stage musical albums that had prequel-ish movie soundtracks -- Beauty and the Beast, Footloose, Gigi, The Lion King, Meet Me in St. Louis, Really Rosie, Saturday Night Fever, Singin' in the Rain. Nor have I counted the concept albums of Jesus Christ Superstar and The Who's Tommy's or the 1987 recording of La Bohème. Finally, don't make the mistake of assuming that the Breakfast at Tiffany's listed by Zagat is the recent studio cast album of the 1966 debacle; it is, of course, the soundtrack from the 1961 movie with that charming score by Henry Mancini.

Yet there is a little more Broadway to be found between the Zagat pages. Every album's listing also includes the title of one famous cut, so some Broadway songs are mentioned as being included on secular albums: "As Time Goes By" (the Sleepless in Seattle soundtrack), "He Loves and She Loves" (the Manhattan soundtrack), "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" (Burt Bacharach's Greatest Hits), "The Lady is a Tramp" (An Evening with Lena Horne), "Memory" (Barbra Streisand: Memories), "My Funny Valentine" (Chet Baker Sings), and "Vienna" (Linda Eder: It's No Secret Anymore). Even Herb Alpert's Whipped Cream and Other Delights benefited from Broadway via "A Taste of Honey," a movie song that would have never been written had not Shelagh Delaney penned the play A Taste of Honey in the first place. I'll count that as one of ours -- but I'll eschew the "If" that's listed as being on a Janet Jackson album for I assume it's not the Styne, Comden, and Green song from Two on the Aisle.

The one-listed-song-per-entry format is used for the Broadway albums, too. Now, one could have predicted that Annie's would be "Tomorrow" and Rent's would be "Seasons of Love," but would you have chosen "One" for A Chorus Line? Sure, it's a fairly well-known song, but wouldn't you have opted for "What I Did for Love" instead? Perhaps George-Warren and all of her 10,600 voters are Edward Kleban sympathizers!


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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