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Mono a Mono

Filichia's amplifier is busted, so his stereo cast recordings don't sound that great. What to do?

So there I was, listening to "Come Play Wiz Me" on the Anyone Can Whistle album, when I realized that I could barely hear Lee Remick singing. Harry Guardino was coming out loud and clear, but not his leading lady. I sauntered over to my speakers and, sure enough, one was silent. A check of the wires showed that nothing was loose. Well, I had to get to a show, so I just shut off the amplifier -- but when I got home that night (after half-enjoying People Be Heard at Playwrights Horizons), I turned it on. And again I heard a loud CRACK come out of the one working speaker.

So it's been for the last few weeks. Power on, CRACK heard, sound out of only one speaker. My amplifier is sick; it has mono. I clearly need a new one, but that's easier said than replaced. There are so many wires snaking through bookcases, not to mention that the amplifier itself is holding up a totally filled bookshelf (which may be one reason why I'm having trouble with it). Still, I'll have to replace it -- one of these days. But until I do, I'm making the most of a bad situation. I can't play stereo albums to my satisfaction, but I still have my mono albums. Listen, I've been through worse -- such as the time when my amplifier totally went and I had to take the comparatively few cast albums I own on cassette tapes and play them on my telephone answering machine.

I say it's time to have a Mono Cast Album Festival, going alphabetically. This won't be comprehensive, since there are plenty of mono cast albums (The Boy Friend, Brigadoon, Can-Can, etc.) that I never got on CD because I had the LPs. But my turntable broke many moons ago and -- well, I'm sure you've already inferred that I haven't replaced that, either. Anyway, here we go, mono a mono:

  • Ace of Clubs: Here's a Noel Coward musical that was done in Britain in 1950. It starts off sweetly enough, but a real shock comes during the second cut, in asong called "This Could Be True." After two lovers twice sing the title, they state, "Let's be terribly careful what we say or do." And yet, in the midst of this minor fox trot, we learn a great deal -- too much, really -- about the tenor of the times when a now-shocking word is cavalierly used. Listen at your peril.

  • Ankles Aweigh: I thought I'd listened to this disc for the last time when I played it endlessly while writing the notes for the recent Decca Broadway re-release. But may I point out that the editors at the label censored something I wrote? I had mentioned that the song "Nothing Can Replace a Man" insists that 'Throughout the world of science, no one's found a new appliance that ever can replace a man.' " Then I added a comment that prim and proper Decca Broadway excised: "Oh, really? It can be bought in any contemporary drugstore."

  • Annie Get Your Gun: I was surprised that, in "Doin' What Comes Naturally," when The Merm gets to the lyric, "sing off-key," she doesn't purposely sing off-key here -- which I believe she does on the 1966 revival album. Hmm, does Mary Martin purposely sing the line off-key in her studio cast album with John Raitt? When I played that, I discovered that she doesn't. Could it be that Vivian Blaine was the first to do this? You'll hear that she does it on the recent Decca Broadway re-release of her Annie Get Your Gun and Pal Joey studio cast album cuts.

  • Bloomer Girl: How potent is Stephen Sondheim's influence over those of us who were paying attention to musicals in the '70s? Let me put it this way: Whenever I play this album and hear Dooley (Sam in Casablanca) Wilson sing "Every day, since the world was an onion" in "The Eagle and Me," I always think of Sondheim because, in many an interview, he has cited this as one of his favorite lyrics.

  • By the Beautiful Sea: I'm a stickler for perfect rhymes, which can be frustrating for one who listens to early 21st century musicals, but there's one imperfect rhyme here that I've always forgiven because the idea is so delicious. When Shirley Booth sings, "I'd Rather Wake Up by Myself," her character ruminates on all the men whom she might have married but wisely didn't. The second B-section goes, "Joe made big dough / His business, he said, was printin' / What Joe was printin' / Got him San Quintin." Granted, San Quentin (with an "e") is the real name of the penitentiary, but I'll gladly forgive Dorothy Fields for the wit she employed.

  • Call Me Madam: "A Decca Broadway Original Cast Album," says the banner on the back, but it's simply not true. Decca had Ethel Merman under contract but RCA Victor had snagged the cast album rights. You'd think the two companies could have worked something out, but no; Decca made its own album with Merman and a few ringers, while RCA used everyone else from the original cast and brought in Dinah Shore, a pop icon from the '50s. I'm so glad that this sort of thing didn't catch on. Remember that Capitol got the cast album rights to Funny Girl but Columbia already had Streisand under contract -- so imagine Nancy Wilson filling in as Fanny Brice!

  • Carmen Jones: Oscar Hammerstein II's resetting of Carmen in an African-American milieu is a terrific adaptation of what many consider to be the world's first musical. I've heard a lot of people in recent years complain that Hammerstein was condescending to blacks when he had them sing less-than-standard English in "Dat's Love," "You Talk Just Like My Maw," and "Dere's a Cafe on De Corner." But when I listened to...

  • Carousel: ...also by Hammerstein, I couldn't help noticing that I was hearing New Englanders sing "jest" for "just," "winder" for "window," and "keer" for care. And when I get to Hammerstein's Oklahoma! I'll hear Oklahomans sing "jist" for "just," "fur" for "far," and, of course, "cain't" for "can't." It's something Hammerstein enjoyed doing, and this great humanitarian certainly meant no harm by it.

  • A Connecticut Yankee: Decca Broadway made this album in 1943 and released it on 78s, yet there are nine selections from the show on the not-long-ago released CD edition. Was one side of a platter left blank? Ah, I figured it out. Given that eight of the songs have timings ranging from 2:56 to 3:24, why does one ring in at 6:48? Because this was Lorenz Hart's masterpiece of wordplay, "To Keep My Love Alive," which was structured to have two encores. So one 78 must have offered the song itself and the other side must have held the encores. (Still, there wasn't enough room for the whole song; the devilishly clever verse had to go.)
Finally, considering that "To Keep My Love Alive" is believed to be the last lyric that Hart ever wrote, it's a good place for me to end this column. We'll see if I get a new amplifier soon or have to listen to Decca Broadway's The Desert Song. In the meantime, no matter what shape your stereo's in, give these warhorses a whirl. You'll be surprised at how good they are.


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

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