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It Says Here in This Book...

What's contributor Filichia's reaction to the TheaterMania Guide to Musical Theater Recordings? logo
Well, here's another night when I won't get any sleep -- but I'm not sorry I'm staying up. Bed? Bed? I couldn't go to bed! The TheaterMania Guide to Musical Theater Recordings is out.

Of course, I knew it was in the works. I even wrote a few reviews for the 416-page tome that editor Michael Portantiere compiled. He got 16 writers (himself included) to sit down and give their opinions of most of the cast albums ever issued, plus the soundtrack recordings of films and TV productions based on those stage shows. They also wrote about properties that first had soundtracks because they were initially films or TV shows, and about the cast albums that followed when these screen items became stage musicals. The sweet (and sour) 16 also included London, studio, and revival cast albums in the mix, rating each and every disc from zero to five stars. (To order the book from TheaterMania at a discount, click here.)

Now I'm reading what my 15 brother wizards thought of all those records, CDs, cassettes, and, yes, even eight-tracks that have lived with me for anywhere from a couple of weeks to 43 years. (Bye Bye Birdie was the first cast album I ever owned.) Given that the book's contents are arranged alphabetically, I've decided to achieve an element of surprise by opening up the book randomly here and there.

First stop: page 71, where Marc Miller wisely notes that Carmelina, the 1979 Alan Jay Lerner-Burton Lane failure, "was critically excoriated as 'old-fashioned,' which is sort of like complaining that snowfalls and Courvoisier are old-fashioned." You bet! Miller awards the cast album three stars, which I think is nice 'n' fair. Off to page 390, where Robert Sandla gives one star to the soundtrack of The Wiz: "Diana Ross was too old for the role of Dorothy, and although she sings well enough here, she begins every song as if she's just been on a week-long crying jag." (Yeah, the filmmakers should have never made Dorothy an adult. A teenage Dorothy would treat Oz and the oddities whom she meets as adventures; an adult put in the same circumstances would be scared straight and have a nervous breakdown.)

Flipping back, I'm astonished to see that David Barbour gives New Faces of 1952 one star (too low!) while Richard Barrios deems New Faces of 1956 worthy of four stars (too high!). I do agree with Brooke Pierce that "The Mice" is the best part of 3hree but I strongly disagree with Ken Bloom's judgement that The Mad Show deserves four stars -- though not as much as I carp with David Finkle for giving five stars to The Happiest Girl in the World. Of course, we all can't agree on everything, and I'm sure that I'll hear from my fellow writers about some of my appraisals. I don't agree with Seth Christenfeld's opinion that One Night Stand -- a musical that didn't even open -- had "as dynamic a score as Jule Styne ever wrote," but maybe that's because I actually saw the execrable production. Perhaps Seth is right; I'll have to give One Night Stand one more listen. I violently differ with David Wolf's giving one star to the New York cast album of Canterbury Tales and no stars at all to the London disc that preceded it, but he and I have talked about this many times in the past. "Peter," he always says in a weary voice, "you're the only American I know who likes Canterbury Tales."

Jeffrey Dunn describes Kristin Chenoweth in The Music Man as "enchanting," and I guess she is when you're just listening to the soundtrack and not watching the atrocious TV movie. I laugh hard at David Barbour's quip about Bring Back Birdie: "Clearly, Elvis had left the building." I laugh harder still when I read what David Wolf has to say about Greenwich Village, USA: "Some of us have a blind affection for 1950s and 1960s revues, but being blind doesn't mean that you have to be deaf and dumb, too." I'm so glad Gerard Alessandrini feels that the Silk Stockings soundtrack is better than the cast album; Fred Astaire makes the songs sound warm and wonderful, whereas Don Ameche is cold and brittle. And I love Gerry's remark that playing the George M! recording is "like setting off a box of firecrackers in your living room." (By the way, in case you're wondering, Gerard didn't review his own Forbidden Broadway albums; Marc Miller did.)

I appreciate Charles Wright starting off his review of the not-so-hot I Remember Mama by putting things in perspective: "Richard Rodgers' musical imagination persisted throughout his life, despite depression, a heart attack, and cancer of the vocal cords." It's nice to learn, thanks to David Wolf, that in Panama Hattie, "eight-year old Joan Carroll...speaks her lines rather than singing them because of the child-labor laws of the era." I almost get whiplash from snapping my head in agreement with Richard Barrios on the original cast album of Follies: "The decision to edit this lengthy score to fit on one LP disc was penny-wise and posterity-foolish." I wonder what Robert Sandla really means when he writes that A Chorus Line is "funny as hell." That it isn't funny at all, for hell itself undoubtedly isn't funny? That it is quite funny, as the idiom is often meant? Whatever the case, he gives the original cast recording five stars, which gets no argument from me. (How well I remember that the first reviews of the show didn't really embrace the score.)

I nod when I read Ken Bloom's statement about Aladdin that the show came from "a wonderful era wherein most entertainment suitable for children was equally enjoyable for adults." I smile at Richard Barrios's observation about the soundtrack of Best Foot Forward: "The Harry James orchestra is decidedly upscale for Winsocki High." I shake my head "no" at Marc Miller's opinion that "Jimmy can't come up with a single memorable melody," for I've always liked "Riverside Drive." I guess I should give another listen to Chu Chin Chow, since it gets four stars from Jeffrey Dunn. Matthew Murray feels that City of Angels has some of the best exit music ever, but I say that it has the best ever. I didn't know that Fay de Witt, who was in Flahooley, also shows up on the Nite Club Confidential album until Marc Miller told me so. And I agree with David Wolf that "One Touch of Venus misses by more than a touch."

Michael Portantiere
Michael Portantiere is the book's Most Valuable Player, not just for putting it together (though Robert Sandla reviewed Putting It Together) but also for tackling not one, not two, but seven different recordings of Porgy and Bess. He's going to take a great deal of heat from some readers for his low opinions of Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, and Miss Saigon, but others will carry him around Broadway on their shoulders.

I keep flipping pages. Smart of Matthew Murray to notice the "mile-thick shell of artifice" that Streisand displays on the Funny Girl film soundtrack. I'm so glad that Marc Miller likes "All the World Is Dancing Mad," a wonderful instrumental in Sitting Pretty. Even though Morgan Sills doesn't have much good to say about Here's Love -- and who can blame him? -- he concedes that there is worth in "The Big Ca-lown Balloons" and the title song. Gerry Alessandrini remembers Gigi well (he once directed it for the fondly remembered Equity Library Theatre), so I'm surprised he doesn't mention that the Broadway cast album sports the last great lyric that Alan Jay Lerner ever wrote: "The Contract."

But I'm delighted with the book. This is the first tome I've ever seen that gives me opinions on The Streets of New York, Cry for Us All, Shelter, Jennie, and hundreds of other shows and recordings. So I'm flipping back to the very beginning, for I don't want to miss a single review. I'll start with David Barbour's report on The Act and I won't stop until I finish Jeffrey Dunn's evaluation of The Zulu and the Zayda.


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

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