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Twelve Days to Christmas

Filichia suggests some rare cast recordings that would make great stocking stuffers for show tune lovers. logo

The 1997 studio cast recording
"Twelve days to Christmas, twelve days to Christmas, plenty of time to do our Christmas shopping," sing the merry bunch of consumers in She Loves Me. Well, they're right: It IS twelve days to Christmas as I write this. So "What do you give to the man who's had everything?" as the song from Sugar (and now, Some Like It Hot: The Musical) goes? Except that, when all is said and sung, most musical enthusiasts you know really don't have everything -- especially not in this age of so many reissues. So I'm going to recommend the discs they probably don't have, ones that they wouldn't necessarily buy but would be happy to receive as gifts.

Like Drat! the Cat! (on Varèse Sarabande, whose titles are available through Someday he'll come along, the man (or woman) I love, who'll produce a full-scale revival of this wonderfully funny show with a bona fide hit tune: "She Touched Me," though people know it as "He Touched Me" from Barbra Streisand's recording. But this story of a dumb cop and a smart debutante -- whom he wildly and recklessly loves -- has one fetching tune after another, with music by Milton Schafer (please buy this rather than his Bravo, Giovanni score!) and hilariously deft lyrics by -- yes -- Ira Levin, best known as the author of Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives. The 1997 studio cast album also has Elaine Stritch on it for a line or two. Honestly, even if I hadn't written the liner notes, I'd be hawking this one.

Dude (Original Cast Records). Yes, it was one of Broadway's legendary disasters, and maybe it made no sense on stage, but I swear that the overture is genuinely majestic and the Galt (Hair) MacDermot songs that follow are tuneful and fun. The title song has a driving force that's irresistible. But if you've got a little more money to spend, get a different MacDermot score: The two-disc set of The Human Comedy (Kilmarnock). "I Can Carry a Tune" was one of the more charming moments in '80s musical theater, in which a young boy wants to get a job delivering telegrams only to find that his two prospective employers insist on hiring someone who can sing because singing telegrams always crop up. MacDermot came up with the wonderful idea of having the kid sing beautifully when he's telling his would-be bosses that he can do the job -- but then, when the honchos demand that he show them what he can do, he sings a woefully flat and almost unrecognizable "Happy Birthday to You." (This is also a Smart way to get around having to pay royalties to those two ladies who wrote "Happy Birthday to You.") And how wonderful it is, after the kid has worked so hard to impress the guys, that they say: "That's good!"

There have been a number of nice CD reissues from Bayview Records, including Maggie May. I was brokenhearted when Andrew De Prisco (a usually bright guy who runs Cabaret for Life, a New Jersey organization that mounts composer-tribute revues and donates the funds raised to AIDS-related charities) said he didn't like this disc, but I'm expecting more from everybody else. Dame Edna, when he was merely Barry Humphries, opens the disc with "The Ballad of the Liver Bird," letting us know that composer-lyricist Lionel Bart is far from his work on Oliver! and is doing something in a Brecht-Weill mode. If you think "As Long as He Needs Me" is a beautiful song, just wait till you hear "It's Yourself."

Bayview also has Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be, which Bart wrote all by himself. It could be described as a darker Guys and Dolls set in the Cockney world, and this live-in-the-theater recording, with lots of appreciative laughs from the audience, will make Americans scratch their heads at the references. There's even one to the show's director, Joan Littlewood, who was making such a name for herself at the time that Bart included her in a lyric in the felicitous title song. And that song is really the reason to buy the disc. Granted, it does bear a terrifically strong resemblance to Frank Loesser's wondrous "Heart and Soul." In fact, I wonder: When or if Big: The Musical is done in London, will they play the title tune from Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be on that giant piano keyboard? (Oh, and while I'm on British musicals: If you're thinking of getting Pickwick, choose the 1993 recording on TER because it has a much longer version of the show's most delightful song, "The Pickwickians.")

I must recommend The Grass Harp (Varèse Sarabande), the most gloriously melodic score of the 1970s that nobody knows. Or should I say the '60s? That's when I first heard it in Providence, Rhode Island, where the show opened to lethal reviews but I found that Claibe Richardson's music and Kenward Elmslie's lyrics were no less than astonishing at every turn. How well I remember staying in my seat through the last notes of the exit music, for I assumed I'd never hear this golden score again. I've never been more happy to have been proved wrong. Please, give this as a gift to friends or to yourself. Once you or they listen, you'll all rush to the Musicals in Mufti concert version of the show that the York Theatre Company will present on the weekend of January 17.

The following weekend, the York will do A Family Affair, the 1962 musical that Kander wrote without Ebb but with James (Follies) Goldman and William (The Season) Goldman. Alas, this score, admired by many, has never been on CD -- and that brings up a whole new issue. Many people these days are burning their own CDs from old-fangled vinyl records. If you're one of these folks, I'd suggest you get yourself into used record stores or onto internet auction sites and track down a copy of this album, which was encircled by a ribbon-like wrapper that proudly proclaimed "the first musical to be recorded on 35mm film!"

While you're searching through vinyl, look for Inner City, composer Helen Miller and wordsmith Eve Merriam's rock musical from 1971-72 that tells of life in the less desirable New York neighborhoods. "Hushaby," in which a young unwed mother promises her new baby a better life, is a song that Brecht and Weill would have created had they been Americans writing in the '70s. A song by a prostitute and a drug-pusher (and a pickpocket, which was in the show but didn't make the album) used the same delicious melody and the same rationalization sentiment: "You do it your way, I'll do it mine, and that's fine."

Faggot, by Al Carmines, the controversial
author of the hard-to-find Joan
Also try to find Joan, a two-disc set of the entire show that was released on a non-commercial label, which won't make it easy to find. It's a 1972 musical by Al Carmines, the best work by the always-controversial composer-lyricist of Faggot, In Circles, and Promenade. The show is an updating of the Joan of Arc story wherein Joan supports the anti-war movement and other social causes. She lives with two guys and they croon, "It's so nice to cuddle in a threesome. Three's the magic number for love. Surrounded everywhere by tenderness and care, on the left and on the right, below you and above you." Eventually they come to the conclusion, "Now we understand the trinity" -- a surprising thing for a minister to write, which is what Al Carmines was when he wrote the show. More controversial still is "Take Courage, Daughter," in which a nun (dazzlingly played by Julie Kurnitz) pointedly tells Joan, "Faith won't do a single thing for you. You still gotta suffer! You still gotta die! And God won't even tell you the reason why!" All of these atypical words are set to happy-go-lucky, ricky-tick melodies that have to be heard.

Look for the London cast album of Songbook, which was produced here in 1981 -- at least for one official performance -- as The Mooney Shapiro Songbook. It's a wonderful idea: A mock-revue of a mythical songwriter's work, from the days when he was writing operetta all the way up to his Beatles-like hits. The parody song of that group's work, "I Found Love," is particularly on-the-money. (On second thought, don't get this album; I just realized that there's a terribly racist lyric in a song about the 1936 Olympics.)

Whatever you do, don't buy Christine for anyone -- not if you want the friendship to last. My longtime friend David Wolf bought every cast album ever made on LP and has replaced every possible one on CD, but he won't even take for free my extra copy of Christine. And he's right not to do so.

Given that it was a song from She Loves Me that inspired this column, I must ask: You and all your friends do have that heavenly 1963 recording, don't you? If not, we shan't be speaking any more.


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

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