Revivals of the Fittest
When it comes to multiple recordings of a show, which do you prefer -- original or revival cast albums?
I've been in love with the Finian's Rainbow score ever since I got it from the RCA Victor Record Club in early 1962. (Join one of these clubs today and see if you can find a single cast album offered among the "free" selections. But, back then, cast albums were still on the public's radar and thus readily available.) I loved Finian's from the first note of the overture that was created from Burton Lane's marvelous melodies and also because of E.Y. Harburg's incredible lyrics. If I had to name one of the most clever lines in Broadway history, I'd include the promiscuous leprechaun Og's "When I can't fondle the hand I'm fond of, I fondle the hand at hand." And how many other lyricists have managed to rhyme three words that sound alike but are spelled completely differently: "Tennis," "Venice," and "Menace" (all in the deft "Necessity")?
In retrospect, I must admit that I'm surprised I enjoyed the 1960 disc at all when I heard it in 1962, for by that point I had also signed up to buy six selections from the Columbia Record Club and an equal number from the Capitol Record Club How well I remember that night when it hit me in bed that I was into these companies for, at the very least, $89 -- all the money in the world for a 15-year-old who wouldn't get his first job for a year. I didn't sleep well at all that night so I got up and read the liner notes on each of my new albums.
One of the discs that wasn't offered from the Columbia Record Club was the original 1947 recording of Finian's Rainbow. Not until mid-1965, when I made the pledge to get every recording of every cast album, did I buy that one. I'd fully expected that I'd like it more for, by then, I'd read a great deal in musical theater history books about the stunning debut that Ella Logan had made as Sharon McLonergan, the lovely colleen who's just emigrated to America and is terribly homesick. But I was quite surprised to find that I didn't take to her mannered, over-brogued, pretentious delivery of "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" "I hear a burrrrrrd," she sang, as if she had one stuck in her throat. Logan didn't sound as if she were a real down-to-earth human being, which Sharon must be if we're to care for her. And we must.
While I certainly enjoyed the vest-pocket production of Finian's Rainbow at the Irish Repertory Theatre, I certainly don't expect that the new cast album will be my favorite recording of the three. There is something pulsatingly exciting about the 1960 recording, with an orchestra that sounds great in true stereophonic sound. Is this simply a case of liking the first cast album of a score to the point where you can't really enjoy any subsequent one? I don't know many people who prefer the 1960 Finian's to the 1947 disc but I've noticed that everyone who does got to know the revival album first. We're much happier with Jeannie Carson than we are with Ella Logan. As Jason Flum recently wrote to me when taking issue with the new Fiddler recording, "In a way, it's what I imagine a drug addiction is like. The original recording of a show is the ultimate high and you try to repeat and capture that moment over and over again by re-listening to it. Then it becomes too familiar and the feeling wears off. But a revival CD is not quite the same and can't give you the high you got the very first time."
He's right, of course. "So," you ask, "why do you want the new Finian's Rainbow?" Because it will feature the current production's two-piano orchestration. "But," you shriek, "you just said that you love the sound of the orchestra on the 1960 recording!" Yes -- during the day. But when I come home at midnight or later, which is my wont, that's not a time that I want to play it. This is also true of Lorelei, one of the loudest original cast albums ever. When I'm decompressing before bed, I need a kinder, gentler sound. That's why I love the 1992 revival cast album of The Most Happy Fella with its two-piano arrangement. It is, to quote a lyric from a show with an original cast album that may be even louder than Lorelei, "small and funny and fine." Of course, many a morning after I've awakened, the brass of the original Fella has perked me right up and made me fit to greet the new day.
So that's why I will soon have three Finian's Rainbow cast albums. Of course, I could have had three recordings of the score for more than three decades now if I had ever decided to get the soundtrack of the 1968 movie version -- but nobody has to stoop that low.