Friday, February 26, 2010

A Trip to the Library

Over the past couple of weeks I have been going through the house and sorting out the debris of my life. There are a lot of memories ensconced within my three rooms, and felt the need to organize it. While shuffling through some papers and sheet music, a CD fell out from the pile. It was the second cast album of Kiss of the Spider Woman with Vanessa William, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Howard McGillin. I had borrowed it from the local library about five or six years ago and had lost it. The thing was, I had gone back to college and someone else in the family was going to return it for me. Well, that didn't happen and I ended up paying $20 for it, in spite of the fact it was nowhere to be found.

Anyway, I was so surprised to see this and decided that I should return it. I checked the library system online and they had even removed its listing. In the years since, I had acquired a cheap copy of the recording for myself and felt it would be better served back in their catalog. Suddenly I got excited at the idea of going to the library. I hadn't used it in a long time since I spent so much time working at Barnes and Noble, and really didn't need. I have a lot of books and was able to borrow hardcovers from the store.

I'm an unabashed book nerd; I was legitimately excited by the prospect of using the library again. So here I was back in the building and after filling out the necessary paperwork, I had a brand new library card (my old one was lost somewhere... three days after this trip during more sorting and organization that also fell out of a pile). I felt it most necessary to inaugurate the card while I was there. I went up to the theatre arts section on the second floor, where I made frequent trips during high school and embarked on my musical theatre studies.

I checked out two books: Rodgers and Hammerstein by Ethan Mordden and Mainly on Directing by Arthur Laurents.

The former is one I've read cover to cover several times; I am tempted to pick up my own copy. It's a coffee table sized book which has the added bonus of generous history and criticism of the entire R&H canon. There are copious amounts of photographs, both color and black & white interspersed throughout. Captions abound. I don't necessarily agree with Mordden on some of his theories, but I do find it fun to read what he has to say about every work from Oklahoma! to The Sound of Music, including comments on their film and television projects. For some reason the book is out of print, but there are used copies available on amazon, and it is one to remember.

Laurents' book focuses on his career as a director. The first chapter is devoted to his immense dislike for the 2003 revival of Gypsy starring Bernadette Peters. The star emerges unscathed, but there are very few kind words for director Sam Mendes. The majority of the book is devoted to his direction of the Patti LuPone Gypsy reviewing the course of the show from the City Center to Broadway. The general feeling I get as I read is that Laurents feels he's the only one can direct any of the works he has written. He takes the usual swipes at Merman and Robbins, for whom he had little love in his memoir Original Story By. But this time there are a couple of pointed digs at Sondheim as well. The writer-director also talks La Cage Aux Folles (and again, no love lost on the revival) and his dislike of drag and how he came to rediscover West Side Story He also claims it to be about love; the book came as a tribute to his late partner, Tom Hatcher. However, the only love to be found in the text, which makes for an interesting read, is for Hatcher.

So I'm off to a solid start; there are a lot of theatre books I want to reread and others which I have yet to pick up. Mordden's series on musical theatre decade by decade, William Goldman's The Season, among others. But first? I assuage my ladies of the DLS/HWS with a quartet of Dorothy L. Sayers books.

Any suggestions as to what I should read...?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

"Like Shiloh and Valley Forge..."

The sublime revival of South Pacific is poised to end its run at the Vivian Beaumont after a monumental 1,000 performances this August. I've seen the show twice; once on its opening night and the other on the night Barack Obama was elected our President. The production is a personal favorite of mine, and I hope to make another trip back before it ends.

The musical is based on the collection of short stories by James A. Michener, and there are two simple references to the original text. They are quotations which bookend the book's introductory chapter which are projected onto white scrim; one before the overture, the other after the curtain call.

We have had an old mass market paperback edition of Tales of the South Pacific lying around the house for years. I got it in elementary school, but I didn't read it until 2005, a result of seeing the concert at Carnegie Hall. It's a collection of tangentially related short stories all revolving around Operation Alligator, a fictive military operation which took the restless Seabees and sailors out of their restless waiting and into the heart of the Pacific theatre of WWII. I couldn't put the book down, I was fascinated - as I always have been and always be - with the history of the Second World War.

I can't say that I grew up as a military brat, as my father (officially - he was Marine and it's true what they say) left the military more than 20 years before I was born, but there was an immense amount of military influence in my childhood. Many friends are veterans of WWII, Korean Conflict and Vietnam. So I have spent much of this time talking with them about their experiences, and have an immense appreciation for the sacrifices they have made and difficulties they have gone through for my (and our) benefit.

This past week marked the 65th anniversary of the famous flag-raising on Iwo Jima. Some of my time this past week was spent helping my father get ready to go halfway across the world. He is currently on a military tour with other veterans who are meeting in Guam. They will be visiting the Iwo Jima for a ceremony honoring the loss of both US and Japanese life during that bloody battle. On an entirely different note, I am seeing the new musical Yank! at the York Theatre on Saturday, so there's been a lot of WWII on my mind lately. I have seen practically every film about it, read numerous books - both fiction and non-fiction, and have seen countless documentaries about it. It's been something I've been aware of ever since I can remember and my fascination continues.

It was the Michener quote at the end of that I recall today. I didn't expect it, nor did I expect to be as moved as I was by it:

"They will live a long time, these men of the South Pacific. They had an American quality. They, like their victories, will be remembered as long as our generation lives. After that, like the men of the Confederacy, they will become strangers. Longer and longer shadows will obscure them, until their Guadalcanal sounds distant on the ear like Shiloh and Valley Forge."

-James A. Michener, Tales of the South Pacific

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Liz Ashley

One of the most memorable moments from the opening night performance of Superior Donuts occurred prior to the actual show. I was at Angus having drinks with Steve, his partner Doug and Gil of Broadway Abridged, when on our way out we encountered upon the estimable Elizabeth Ashley. The actress was seated quite casually, drink in one hand, cigarette in the other and in a moment of pure nerve I decided to speak with her. Our conversation lasted five minutes, but it was one of most cordial, invigorating exchanges I have ever experienced with an actor.

A couple weeks ago, SarahB gifted me a copy of Ashley's long out of print memoir Actress: Postcards from the Road, that she had found while out shopping in Texas. There were certain things I knew of Ashley - her Tony win and shoot to fame with Take Her She's Mine, having Barefoot in the Park written specifically for her by Neil Simon and of her marriage to actor George Peppard. But - and this shouldn't be as surprising as it was, but it is - there was a lot about the legend that I did not know. This book offered unusual candor in talking about the acting world of the 60s and 70s, and also regarding the struggles and challenges of being an artist of the theatre.

She doesn't consider herself to be much of a writer, but with the help of Ross Firestone, she told her stories and he magnificently captures her voice in the text. The book is rather episodic and conversational - she establishes who she is and what she's doing in her brief introduction. In the book she's not going to separate her public and private persona and vows to be blunt:

"I know one thing for sure: You can tell an American the truth about anything and if you are really straight you are probably in for a terrific conversation. You may not get agreement, but you will almost certainly have a good, hot, rich exchange. Curiosity, compassion, and imagination are the most consistent spiritual characteristics I have found in the American psyche. This book is not an autobiography. It is about how I found my ticket to ride..."

She starts off with a breakdown during the run of Barefoot in the Park, where she felt she wasn't good enough and sensed that everyone, especially co-star Robert Redford was aware of it. Highs and lows are traversed - the betrayal of her confidence by Sydney Pollack that cost her the lead in The Slender Thread, her volatile marriage to alcoholic Peppard, for which she gave up her acting career, the birth of their son, Christian, who really gave her the first real sense of identity she'd ever known. She left Peppard when alcohol started dictating violence and jealousy, culminating in an episode where she had to place a gun at the back of his skull to get Christian out of his drunken clutches.

She had given up on her career after turning down the film version of Barefoot in the Park and needed to work from the bottom up to get back into shape as both a performer and a professional. This involved one-shot appearances on minor television shows and appearances in movies of the week; anything to get her back into shape and so she could earn her stripes. In one episode of Mission: Impossible, she challenged herself to work as hard as possible on a climactic scene, and the director saw the effort she was making and why she was making it and it really clicked. Her comeback was fully realized in her highly acclaimed turn as Maggie the Cat in the revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that opened in Stratford, Connecticut, moved to Broadway and became the hottest ticket in town.

However interesting her acting career, it is always the personal information that is the most fascinating; alternately amusing or harrowing. On the former path, she relays with considerable non chalance an affair with screenwriter Thomas McGuane. She and McGuane dallied for quite some time - with the full approval of McGuane's wife who became one of Liz's good friends. The three of them, taking sexual liberation by the horns and exercising their free love thought they had established the great sexual utopian experiment. Though she doesn't mention her by name, merely a polite but terse "star-lette," she mentions how Margot Kidder came along, snatched up McGuane ending his relationship with both his wife and Ashley.

The harrowing - and one of the most personal stories she relays was a recollection of her first pregnancy, with actor James Farentino (also her first husband) in the early sixties. She was about to go into Take Her, She's Mine when she discovered she was unmarried and pregnant. She recounts with grim precision the abortion she had, up to and including her need for hospitalization afterward. It's a devastating, chilling account of what things were like in our not so distant society. And she does not hold back.

Ashley takes is a no-nonsense, Southern gal: she suffers no fools but it brutally honest about herself and the events in her life. There is no glossing over her insecurities - from acting school, to the dismissal she received from her peers from the success of her first Broadway play (seen as commercial and not art). There is no stone which she leaves unturned in talking about her chosen profession, or the work she's had to do and speaks of her successes and failures with considerable nonchalance.

She doesn't delve very deeply into her childhood or her family life - just glimpses here and there of an impoverished upbringing, her lack of education, etc. The book is more a window into her life as a reflection of her career; all the more interesting since she wrote this in 1978. Her career has continued steadily, becoming one of the prime interpreters of her friend Tennessee Williams' plays and taking Broadway by storm last year in Dividing the Estate and August: Osage County.

I had great respect for Ms. Ashley prior to reading her book, but now that respect has grown tenfold and I hope she might consider a follow-up. These last thirty years must have given this salt of the earth actress many more tales to tell. And I sure as hell would love to read about them.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Uta Hagen as Martha

For the first time in years, I watched the 1966 film adaptation of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as part of my own "31 Days of Oscar." In the time since I have last watched the film, I have gained a considerable understanding of the play through multiple readings of the text, two viewings of the phenomenal 2005 revival and (the apotheosis) the acquisition of the incredibly rare original Broadway cast album.

The film does hold up quite well, in its text and especially in Burton's brilliant performance. Oscar-winner Taylor is fascinating, once you get over the fact that she's Liz Taylor and the makeup used to make her look older. She has to work harder than other actresses I've seen in the part but it's still a worthy performance. George Segal is a bit too stiff as Nick, and Sandy Dennis is her usual otherworldly self in her Oscar-winning turn as Honey. Albee's qualms about music and expansion of the play from its unit setting are merited, but those don't detract from the overall experience. It's said that screenwriter Ernest Lehman tried to rewrite some of the script, but the leading actors insisted on performing Albee's text (with the exception of a couple of lines that Lehman contributed).

However, while watching the film, I couldn't get Uta Hagen's Martha out of my head. Her performance in the original Broadway production has been regarded in textbooks as one for the ages, so I'd been curious about her work for years. Co-starring with Hagen were Arthur Hill as George, George Grizzard as Nick and Melinda Dillon as Honey. All four were acclaimed for their work, but it was Hagen's performance that stood out from the rest. The actress and teacher received some of her best reviews (and a second Tony), in what would become the defining performance of her career. One of the most thrilling days to me as a theatre historian was the day I acquired the recording of the original Broadway cast, allowing me the opportunity to finally hear what all the fuss was about.

Well, after seeing Taylor and Kathleen Turner (who was quite good opposite Bill Irwin), it amazed me that a mere aural capture of the performance could be so thrilling. My general opinion of the two booze-soaked leading characters in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is that Martha is the showier role, but George is more interesting. But here on this album, as interpreted by Hagen, Martha is showy and interesting. Riveting, fascinating, gutteral. I'd never experienced any of her acting work before, just clips of her acting classes at HB Studios (she was married to Herbert Berghof until his death) and also from her interview in Rick McKay's brilliant Broadway: The Golden Age documentary.

It's a titanic performance. It's rare that an iconic performance lives up to its hype, but hearing Hagen tear through Martha, you realize that she is simply definitive. She is funny, vulgar, volatile and ultimately devastating. She pulls out all the stops as Martha, triumphant in an incredibly difficult, demanding role. The producers insisted upon matinee alternates for all four actors. Hagen didn't want that - she wanted to do all eight. But it was probably a good decision that she didn't. Matinees were performed by Kate Reid. Mercedes McCambridge and Elaine Stritch also played the role during the original production's 664 performance run. But it is Hagen who is best remembered from this cast, and rightly so.

Goddard Lieberson at Columbia was the one had the foresight to put the play on record, released in a 4-LP set. There were some who took issue with Albee's text, as it made great use of various vulgarities not often heard in polite conversation (it's believed that the controversy is what led to the denial of its Pulitzer Prize). That didn't curb Lieberson, who was adamant about making the record. Even Albee didn't think there would be a large audience for it, as he observed in comments he wrote for the LP booklet. But nonetheless, the performances were captured, complete with atmospheric sounds from their stage action, most notably the clinking of ice in their glasses.

Hagen died in 2004, leaving behind a great legacy as actress and acting teacher. Before the stroke that ultimately led to her death, the octogenarian revived the role of Martha in a couple of staged readings of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The evenings were to benefit the HB Studios, and actors held scripts. But the critics came out in droves and were full of superlatives for her performance. Thirty-five years removed, her performance was as prescient as ever.

The album went out of print on LP and has never been reissued in any format. Rare copies can be found in Amazon z-shops and occasionally on Ebay. I have long hoped that perhaps one of these days it would be released; I thought the DRG release of the film's soundtrack was supposed to be this first recording. I hope now that Masterworks Broadway is intent on paying homage to all the musical theatre recordings in its catalogue (of Sony & RCA) that they will consider issuing a remastered edition of this play. It is an original cast recording, an important documentation of one of the most iconic plays of the 20th century. Drama students would be well-served by access to this landmark recording.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the recording. First up is from the opening scene of Act I, "Fun and Games"

Act III, "The Exorcism" - "Our Son." Since it comes toward the end of the play, I warn those that are unfamiliar with the piece of the possibility of spoilers.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Remembering Kathryn Grayson (1922-2010)

Kathryn Grayson, blue-eyed, button-nosed brunette star of MGM musicals who played opposite Gene Kelly, Mario Lanza and Sinatra, has died at the age 88 in her home in Los Angeles. The first time I ever heard Grayson sing was while watching That's Entertainment on television years ago. I have always been drawn to soprano voices, and knew several accomplished sopranos myself. But this was the first time as a kid that I ever heard anyone applying the coloratura technique, which fascinated me. I made it a point to seek out her other films, including the 1951 adaptation of Show Boat and Kiss Me Kate, both co-starring Howard Keel, who once said she was "the most beautiful woman in the history of movies."

She was born Zelma Kathryn Elisabeth Hedrick on February 9, 1922 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and would relocate to St. Louis and finally Los Angeles. MGM was desperately seeking a rival for Universal star Deanna Durbin, a young soprano whose career unexpectedly skyrocketed after MGM let her go. A talent scout for Metro gave the teenage Kathryn a screen test and she reluctantly signed (she wanted opera, not film). After she signed her contract, she was offered the chance to sing Lucia at the Met, but was convinced by Mayer that she should turn it down. Grayson wouldn't appear onstage in opera for years, though she would sing many of the famed operatic arias in her films.

Her film debut was in 1941's Andy Hardy's Private Secretary who unwittingly caused Mickey Rooney's eye to wander away from Ann Rutherford. Typical of the studio system, her role was basically an excuse to showcase her talent and to test her bankability; she sang Johann Strauss' "Voices of Spring" in Italian, capping it off with a coloratura cadenza that culminated on a G above high C. After a few more roles, her career would take off as the top-billed star of Anchors Aweigh, in which she would introduce the song "All of a Sudden My Heart Sings."

She would prove a cross-over artist as she brought much of the classical repertoire to film audiences, playing many characters were either aspiring or established opera stars or headlining numerous stage to screen adaptations. In many such films she was often paired with piano virtuoso Jose Iturbi, who served as an onscreen mentor of sorts. In The Toast of New Orleans (1950), Grayson would introduce the standard "Be My Love" only to be upstaged by Mario Lanza, who was the one co-star with whom she didn't get along.

Though I have seen better singing-actresses (particularly coloraturas) in the years that have passed since I first encountered Grayson, I hold a special place for her for being that first. Many of the roles she played are negligible, excuses for a beautiful soprano to sing. For what it's worth, I think her finest moment onscreen was as Lilli Vanessi in the bowdlerized film version of Kiss Me Kate, it offers her the rare chance to be something other than an ingenue, and she really took the opportunity to heart. She was slated to star in the film version of Brigadoon, but her contract expired and Kate would prove to be her final film as an MGM player. She would make three more films, none of them very successful. The last, a Paramount produced adaptation of The Vagabond King, proved a misguided flop and one that Grayson herself admitted should never have been made.

Grayson appeared in regional and stock productions of musicals and operettas after her film career waned, recreating some of her film roles in their original stage incarnations. She made only one appearance on Broadway, as a replacement Guenevere in the original production of Camelot in 1962 (where she reportedly sang the score up a third and added unnecessary coloratura flourishes). She would take star in the show's national tour for almost a year and a half. In the '60s, she also made many appearances in various operas with companies around the country.

There were a few TV appearances, including a recurring bit as Ideal Molloy on Murder She Wrote. She lived in peaceful retirement, teaching voice and making appearances about her MGM days and taping a few recollections for TCM.

Grayson was married twice. Her first husband was actor John Shelton, her second singer-actor Johnny Johnston. She is survived by her daughter Patricia Kathryn Johnston and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

From Anchors Aweigh, "All of a Sudden My Heart Sings" & "From the Heart of the Lonely Poet":

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Well, that's interesting...

"Since Bobby also played Younger Brother in the recent Ragtime revival, we talked about its untimely closing. The devastating thing he said was that the producers were willing to keep the show running (!), but the theatre made them leave because they had another show that wanted to come in. So, Ragtime had to close to make way for The Orphan's Home Cycle to open at the Neil Simon…but then it wound up going to another theatre! So, now, the Neil Simon is empty. Wah! The other sad news is, there is no full cast album. But, the good news is there's going to be a Flaherty/Ahrens compilation CD coming out, and the new cast of Ragtime is going to record four songs for it!"

- Seth Rudetsky recalling his interview with Ragtime and Yank! star Bobby Steggert in his Onstage & Backstage Column, 2/15/10

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mitzi Gaynor to Make NY Debut in May

It seems unbelievable that Mitzi Gaynor has never played the Big Apple, but finally after decades of television, film and touring, the South Pacific star is excited to make her New York performance debut. The star will bring her one woman show Razzle Dazzle: My Life Behind the Sequins in an intimate setting like Feinstein’s to get up close and personal with her fans. In her show, Ms. Gaynor will bring her incomparable brand of showmanship to the stage in a glittering multimedia one woman tour-de-force of music and memories from her show-stopping life and career.

Gaynor says “over the years I’d been asked to play New York on numerous occasions but the stars never quite aligned. That’s why I was thrilled when Michael Feinstein asked me to bring my show to his club and said I could have the Regency’s Ballroom so I’d have more room to play. I really can’t wait to be there. There’s no city in the world like New York.”

It's interesting that Mitzi has never played Broadway, yet has done so many great roles in tour and in stock. I, for one, think she would have been a fantastic replacement in the original production of Mame (among many other shows). But it's better late than never. I'm going to be with there with a certain Elsa-in-crime. And whenever Miss Mitzi is onstage, it's bound to be an event.

Gaynor will play five engagements at Feinstein's at the Regency from May 18 to May 22. Tickets are available online or via phone (212-339-4095) and mention the code MG101 for complimentary presale seating upgrade.

'A Little Night Music' goes to Paris

Here is a brief video clip containing scenes from the production of A Little Night Music that is playing a strictly limited engagement this week at the Théâtre du Châtelet. This marks the Paris debut of the Sondheim-Wheeler classic, which is also currently a sell-out in a new Broadway revival (by way of London). Gretta Sacchi is Desiree; Leslie Caron her mother Madame Armfeldt. It's a full-scale production with sets, costumes, 31 piece orchestra and it's being performed in English. The theatre's youtube channel has a lot of other clips, including interviews with the cast and clips from other productions they have done.

Our very own KariG is currently in Paris and will be seeing this production tomorrow evening; looking forward to what she has to say about it (she's a tough cookie on this one - it's her favorite musical).

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Beverly Sills as The Merry Widow. The widow is entertaining guests at a party she has thrown and sings this particular aria. The lied tells of a mountain nymph named Vilja who entrances a hunter with her great beauty.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

"Shall We Dance?"

It took me until I was in high school to learn that the Gershwins had written a classic song with this very title, but for me whenever I hear those three words, I always think of The King and I. My introduction to the piece came in early 1995 when I saw the Oscar-winning film adaptation. Up until that point I had no idea Rodgers and Hammerstein did anything other than The Sound of Music and South Pacific. But as a result of this discovery, I started to take special notice of Rodgers & Hammerstein; that same year The Sound of Movies documentary aired on A&E and read Ethan Mordden's comprehensive coffee table book Rodgers & Hammerstein ad nauseam. It could be argued that that was the creation of this encyclopedic monster known as me.

Looking back, I was staying with a friend for a weekend off school, and our classmate and friend lived next door to him and brought the film with her. She had picked it up, and with little resistance we decided we'd watch too. There we were, three 12 year olds watching The King and I in my friend's living room. (Once an old soul, always an old soul...)

It was my introduction to Deborah Kerr. I was watching the film and thought, "Who is this gorgeous redhead and how have I never heard of her before?" Checking out the box, I made special note of her name and proceeded to watch as many of her films as possible. I had already seen Yul Brynner in The Ten Commandments, and found I liked him much better here. Little did I realize at this time just how iconic his performance was. (Brynner played the role 4, 525 times; he appeared as the King onstage, onscreen and in a short-lived TV series. He won two Tonys and an Oscar for his performance). I enjoyed the score, the story and impressive CinemaScope and Deluxe color (such vibrant art direction, costumes and cinematography, it was such a feast for the eyes). There was Rita Moreno as a doomed Burmese "present" and the little kid from All Mine to Give (Rex Thompson) as Anna's son.

When the film aired on the Family Channel, I popped in a cassette and wore that out. The TV print was lackluster; color was unimpressive and a few shots had been snipped out for whatever reason. But it was still The King and I. I upgraded to the Rodgers and Hammerstein collection VHS and purchased the soundtrack LP (and have since upgraded to the comprehensive 2-disc DVD and the special edition CD). I have ten recordings of the score, but this particular one though not the most complete, always remains my sentimental favorite.

The film is easily the best of all Rodgers and Hammerstein stage to screen adaptations, with an explicit attention to capturing the magic of the stage show. Though I miss the soliloquy "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?" and "I Have Dreamed," the cinematic treatment is resplendent. Kerr, who had no musical experience, worked diligently with the young singer who was going to dub her voice. That person was Marni Nixon, who would go onto a successful career in Hollywood voicing many soprano heroines. The combination of Kerr and Nixon is the best vocal dubbing of any screen actress on film; so successful they were reunited a year later on An Affair to Remember.

But it was "Shall We Dance?" where I really became enraptured. We were all so blown away that one of us reached for the remote as soon as the film was over and watched the musical number over and over again. Throughout the plot Anna and the King have been at odds with one another, with their West vs. East culture clash. However, in Hammerstein's treatment of the story (based on a heavily fictionalized myth of Anna Leonowens) there is a great deal of chemistry between the pair, which culminates in this particular moment. The back and forth, and the success of their mission to impress the British emissary (and thus save Siam from becoming a protectorate of the Empire) comes to a head as they discuss the idea of a man dancing with a woman (who is not her husband).

In a musical where the two main characters never share anything explicitly romantic, the simple act of dancing a polka with one another becomes, in effect, a consummation of their unspoken feelings for one another. The King becomes playful and flirtatious, they reach a sort of understanding between the two and never is that attraction stronger than the moment when he places his hand on her waist to literally sweep her off her feet. Whenever I've seen this live in performance, it has never failed to receive applause. (I used to sell the number to people by saying, "It's the sex.") Take unspoken emotions, add subtext, music and dance, and you transcend all.

When I was in college, I was a TA for the American Musical Theatre course for several years. One of the things I enjoyed was when the professor allowed me to either guest lecture in his stead, or to choose various clips for discussion. I was given the choice of eleven o'clock numbers, and I made sure to include this among the three clips (the other two were Bernadette's "Rose's Turn" and the 1992 Guys and Dolls "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat"). I still recall that Shall We Dance?" seemed to generate the most responses by the students in the classroom. And if I ever teach a musical theatre class again, you can bet that I'm going to include this clip.

In the meanwhile, here's "Shall We Dance?"


Leave it to Sesame Street and their brilliant writers to come up with this gem. While perusing the Youtube for the clip above, I came across this one. Here's Monsterpiece Theater and host Alistair Cookie presenting The King and I, starring Grover:

"Ditties for an Opening Night"

I enjoy perusing my Playbills and usually there are some fun features... But sometimes they are not so good...

From the opening night Playbill of the flop musical Jimmy, by Maureen Cannon:

"Who's with whom?" and "What's she wearing?"
Seems the order of the day
While the actors wait, despairing
Of the audience's caring
Just a bit - a flop? a hit? - about the play!

There was a young usher named Marge
Who said to herself, by and large,
As she led the elite
In the dark to each seat
"From where I squint, the play's a mirage!"

The theatre's sweet magic
Turns sour, or tragic,
Each time that I sit down to find
My legs and knees poking
Whoever, not joking,
Glares round to see who sits behind!

When is it that
A flower hat
Infuriates, enrages?
When, blooming, it's
On her who sits
'Tween me and where the stage is!

Granted, two-on-the-aisle
May be chic and in style,
But I've suffered, and more than a little,
Playing jack-in-the-box
To latecomers (a pox
On 'em all!) Give me two-in-the-middle!!!

Sardi Party:

Opinions are plain
And not murky:
The playwright's new brain-
Child's a turkey!

Friday, February 12, 2010

For the Love of Buckley

I would know that belt anywhere. Its distinctive timbre and resonance is the trademark of a voice that has wowed audiences with its agility for over forty years. Its possessor has always been noted for her ability to sing seemingly unattainable high notes with considerable ease. But up until last Saturday night, I had never had the privilege of seeing Betty Buckley live in performance. I've heard such great things from SarahB and Kari over the past few years, as they turn Betty's annual gigs at Feinstein's into the event of the season. One year they went twice in the same evening when the Tony-winning legend was performing two different shows. Much to my delight, the ladies asked me to tag along this year, as Betty returned with a brand new show of all material she had never sung before in public titled For the Love of Broadway.

The venue has fast become one of my favorite places to be in the last couple of months, with memorable evenings spent hearing Kate Baldwin and Tyne Daly. Last Saturday night I hit a trifecta with Ms. Buckley, who was once again working with her trio led by her long-time musical director Kenny Werner. Buckley's new show is all Broadway music (as most people never want to hear her sing anything else), with an eclectic range from standards to cult favorites to a few contemporary numbers thrown into the mix. Aside from a brand new specialty written for her by John McDaniel and Erik Kornfield called, fittingly, "Belting", I had heard almost every other song she sang before.

A magnanimous presence, she took the stage and launched into a medley of Rodgers and Hart tunes. It was clear to me instantly why my friends have been raving so rapturously. Betty picks up the microphone and immediately radiates warmth. She goes out of her way to include everyone in the venue including those on her periphery, like a hostess making sure every one of her guests is comfortable. Then she lets the music take over. Her patter was spare and concise - she was there to sing and did she ever. The song takes over her body, whether she is dancing along during an instrumental break or she is holding the microphone away from her to rip into a high note.

Betty loves jazz, and alluded tongue in cheek to those folks who want her to sing Broadway and only Broadway. Her response was the aforementioned specialty "When I Belt" which incorporated that full-throttled voice, with references to the many songs that have become her trademarks - and even a nod to that famed Cats gesture. But she got the last laugh as her entire evening was infused with jazz arrangements by Werner (who plays piano; the other two players were Billy Drewes on reeds/percussion and Tony Marino on bass). So she's giving us Broadway, but on her terms. Now that's a star.

I fell under her spell the moment she locked eyes with me during this opening set. The song was "This Can't Be Love" and the lyric was "But still I love to look in your eyes." I was sitting to her left right by the stage area, and she stood there and just gazed down with a big smile. I was hers for the next hour.

She jumped from Rodgers and Hart to Rodgers and Hammerstein singing a combination of "We Kiss in the Shadow" and "I Have Dreamed" from The King and I. There were many similar combinations from Golden Age shows. Here she paired "Bewitched" from Pal Joey with "Hey There" from The Pajama Game. While she sang the former, I couldn't help but wonder why she didn't play the role in the recent revival. I don't think I've ever thought of anyone putting Come to Me, Bend to Me from Brigadoon with "This Nearly Was Mine" from South Pacific, but there it was in seamless combination.

However, there were some contemporary pieces tossed in for good measure. She did quite well by "I've Been Here Before" from Closer Than Ever, but it was her funny and sincere rendition of "There's a Fine, Fine Line" from Avenue Q that stood out.

She paid homage to Elaine Stritch with the eleven o'clock number from the forgotten Goldilocks, "I Never Know When to Say When," an introspective bluesy ballad that allowed Buckley to channel many Stritchisms (and also to celebrate Stritch's recent 85th birthday). For a novelty, she brought up an audience member to be Clark Kent to her Sydney in "You've Got Possibilities" from It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman. The night I attended, she chose her pal Michael Buckley (no relation), an online personality, whose eagerness to ham it up distracted from the set rather than contributed to it. On a side note, her younger brother Norman Buckley, a Hollywood director, was on hand and she deservedly gushed over his achievements.

The dramatic apex of the set appears in "If You Go Away" from Jacques Brel, with a heart-tugging reading that could well be definitive. It was the culmination of the lyrical color she had provided in her interpretations all evening - there was something warm but hard-edge. When she sings one of these songs, she will rip your heart out with her uncompromising honesty, but avoids becoming either overly sentimental or maudlin in doing so. It's the balance that she finds that transforms Betty into a cabaret superstar.

The last number in the set was "Home" from The Wiz, which was unexpectedly moving. I don't think that I had ever paid attention to the lyric, or perhaps I have never heard a rendition that highlighted the words quite like hers. For an encore she dipped into West Side Story for an understated rendition of "One Hand, One Heart" from West Side Story. On her way out to sing it, she clutched our Sarah on the top of her head with affection. It was a sight beyond compare; a diva so much in love with her audience.

Betty's For the Love of Broadway runs until February 27 at Feinstein's at the Regency. After that, I can only hope her next stop will be Broadway. Strike that, I hope the next stop is the recording studio because she needs to lay down these tracks as soon as possible. Then Broadway. (How about it, Betty Lynn?)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Mini Play for Today

At rise: "A Weekend in the Country" is playing in the house. Kevin is looking out living room window at the snow, pausing briefly on his way to the iPod.

Enter left, his Mother, listening attentively.

M: Is that "George in the Park"?
K: No, it's A Little Night Music.
M: Oh, the one about the barber.
K: Well, at least you're somewhere in the ballpark.

And scene.

Monday, February 8, 2010

"Fanny" at Encores

There's good reason that Ezio Pinza and Walter Slezak received the star-billing for Fanny when the musical opened on Broadway in late 1954. Though the show was named after its ingenue, and her character is most important to the entire dramatic thrust of the evening, the play belongs to two older men Cesar and Panisse, lifelong friends whose bonds of bickering friendship are further tied together by the function of this girl in their lives. A couple of codgers (as Kari called them), the wisdom and experience of the two men provides some beautiful and poignant contrast to the naive passion of the young lovers. It is the quieter moments provided by these characters where the musical reaches its emotional heights.

The two men have lived across the street from one another for year; Cesar owns and operates a popular cafe, Panisse runs a successful store. They play cards together, they drink, they bicker, etc. The widower Cesar lives in the cafe with his son Marius, who longs to escape and explore the world by sea (much to his father's disapproval). The recently widowed Panisse finds himself stepping out of his mourning clothes three months following his wife's death, looking to remarry to avoid the loneliness, compounded by the inability he and his wife had to produce an heir. Enter Fanny, a charming waif who sells fresh shellfish for her mother, Honorine. Fanny loves Marius; Marius loves Fanny but not enough to shake off the call of the sea and Panisse is smitten with Fanny. Complications arise when Fanny is impregnated by Marius, and in light of Marius running off to sea marries Panisse.

The new musical, which opened on Broadway in late 1954, was the offspring of producer David Merrick, who was looking to establish theatrical clout (after four misses). The idea was to recreate the success of South Pacific, and was hoping to enlist Rodgers and Hammerstein to write the score (and from what I understand they were very much interested in doing so). However, Rodgers was opposed to Merrick, and refused to relegate their above the title billing as producers to the novice. Merrick was; however, able to acquire Joshua Logan, who had directed and co-written South Pacific. Original stars Pinza and William Tabbert were also hired. (Mary Martin was considered but went to Peter Pan instead). Twenty year old Florence Henderson would play the title character; Austrian character actor Slezak was Panisse and walked home with that year's Best Actor in a Musical Tony.

The score was unlike anything Rome had ever been called upon to write. He was known mostly for his politically conscious revues, such as the popular Pins and Needles and the light musical comedy hit Wish You Were Here. Here he attempted his first musical play with considerable success; there are several musical scenes, intelligent use of the reprise and of course, those soaring, romantic leitmotifs. He would write other ambitious scores (The Zulu and the Zayda and the four hour Japanese language Scarlett, the first musical of Gone with the Wind), but none were as romantic or operatic as Fanny. However, the show has fallen into relative obscurity in the last half century, with revivals few and far between. It doesn't help matters that Steven Suskin's liner notes in the CD release of the now out of print cast album make frequent reference to all of the show's inherent flaws.

was selected for the 50th production in the City Center Encores! series, with direction by Marc Bruni and musical direction by Rob Berman. Having known the score, and admiring its range and depth for many years, I was very excited for that opportunity to see and hear the score in a live performance setting. Much to my surprise, I found myself finding the libretto in better shape than I had been led to believe. The script glosses over some character aspects (the victim of condensing six hours of film to 2 1/2 hours onstage) and the lyrics sometimes fail to live up to the lush underlying melodies, but I'll be damned if this Encores! wasn't one of their more charming efforts.

George Hearn and Fred Applegate headlined as Cesar and Panisse, respectively. Hearn's voice has lost some of the power it once had, but was a welcome presence in his first Encores appearance. If he relied more on his prompt script than the actors, he still managed to convey the necessary emotions and nailed plenty of his laughs. He delivered warmly in "Welcome Home" and the understated "Love is a Very Light Thing." It was Applegate who walked away with the evening, charming, warm, funny; his Panisse was again the heart and soul of the piece and with impressive delivery of his character's many honest introspective numbers, particularly the charming "Panisse & Son," the lilting "Never Too Late for Love" and the heartfelt toast "To My Wife."

Elena Shaddow was in fine voice as Fanny, but she was much stronger in her scenes in the second act after Fanny's maturation into adulthood. The evening's surprise was James Snyder. Known mostly for his pop/rock music career, and his Broadway turn in Cry-Baby, Snyder displayed a legitimate tenor of such range and emotional expression that the actor should seriously second guess ever looking back into the rock territory. Priscilla Lopez, last minute replacement for ailing Rondi Reed, was a game Honorine. Michael McCormick, David Patrick Kelly and Jack Doyle were onhand to fill amusing secondary character roles. Ted Sutherland has one of the best singing voices I've ever heard on a child actor, but wasn't as perfect in his line readings.

This was one of the first Encores! presentations to keep all action in the downstage area, and I think that worked to the show's advantage (especially after missteps with an elevated upstage area in On the Town and Juno). Kudos to director Bruni for his seamless staging; it's easy to scoff at a show so unapologetically romantic as this one. There are a couple of moments that seem jerry-rigged into the show, particularly the act one belly dance "Shika Shika," but Bruni paid attention to make those moments part of the dramatic throughline. Roxie pointed out that the Cirque Francais, which I've seen dismissed by many, was interpreted in the sense of a dream ballet. The circus, late in the second act, reflects the emotional turmoil of Fanny, as she is pitted between two men, one affluent and affable, the other young and virile (and a sailor).

Berman caressed every one of the score's nuances from the exceptional Encores orchestra (31 players!) with his usual flair. The trend is to look at the Encores! productions for Broadway transfers, which isn't entirely fair, as many of the shows presented are supposed to be titles that are considered lost, forgotten or unrevivable. However, in this case, a transfer would be lovely but unlikely - and that's okay. However, I do wish that the powers that be could raise the funds to record this particular cast, since the original (while lovely) doesn't contain all the material, and ends with "Be Kind to Your Parents," a charm song from the middle of the second act that doesn't come close to reflecting the subtle but effective finale ultimo.

The Encores! season will conclude in April with a presentation of Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents' 1964 flop Anyone Can Whistle to celebrate Sondheim's 80th birthday.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Are you old Mrs. Lovett?

Casting is a funny thing. For every role on screen or stage we see there have been numerous, oftentimes hundreds of choices. You often hear about so-and-so being in the running for a part, or a big star turning down a role that will go onto win an Oscar with some else, etc. The most notable being the search for Scarlett O'Hara in the 1939 adaptation of Gone with the Wind.

There's so much going in the business that makes casting a curious environment: timing, money, talent, etc. For example, take Mary Martin. She had her due on stage in One Touch of Venus, South Pacific, Kiss Me Kate, Peter Pan and The Sound of Music, but now consider if she had also starred in Oklahoma!, Kiss Me Kate, Fanny, My Fair Lady, Funny Girl and Mame. All those were roles she was originally considered for, and for one reason or another she turned them down or wasn't available.

Two of my all-time favorite musical theatre leading ladies, Angela Lansbury and Patricia Routledge, are linked to one another through their performances in NYSF's The Pirates of Penzance (Pat played Central Park in 1980, Angie did the film version in 1983 - both are preserved on video). But here is something you've probably never heard before, regarding the original production of Sweeney Todd (taken from Balancing Act: The Authorized Biography of Angela Lansbury by Martin Gottfriend, which is out of print but worth seeking out):

"Despite Sondheim's preference for Angela, Patricia Routledge remained Harold Prince's actress of choice to co star with Len Cariou in Sweeney Todd. The director even arranged for Cariou and Routledge to confer by telephone, while he was in Vienna making the movie version of A Little Night Music. In fact, that was the one reason why Sweeney Todd wasn't being produced in 1976.

Routledge, a splendid actress and a good singer, was not entirely sold on the show, and in fact, had the creeps just thinking about it. "You don't know what it's like," she told Cariou on the phone. "I was raised on that story. I'm not kidding you, it's scary having anything to do with it. For us that 'penny dreadful' is like Grimm's Fairy Tales. When we were kids, it was always something to be afraid of. Even my parents would say to me, 'You'd better be careful or we'll get Sweeney Todd after you.'"

The rest is, as they say, history. I've heard the Routledge was offered the opportunity to star in the London production but politely declined (Sheila Hancock did the honors). That said, wouldn't it be fun to get both Lansbury and Routledge in a vehicle together? They are both solid actresses (and singers) and barring some similarities have very unique personalities that I think would mesh well. The most obvious seems a revival/remake of Arsenic and Old Lace?

Oscar nominations

I'm still in the midst of my annual February screening, so I have no solid opinions yet. However, who are your picks? The Oscars are on March 7. Last year, I was pre-empted because I was en route to the Philippines, but I've my normal Academy punditry this season.

Best Motion Picture of the Year:
A Serious Man
An Education
The Blind Side
District 9
Inglourious Basterds
The Hurt Locker
Up in the Air

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role:
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role:
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role:
Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role:
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Mo'Nique, Precious

Best Achievement in Directing:
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Lee Daniels, Precious
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen:
Inglourious Basterds - Quentin Tarantino
The Hurt Locker - Mark Boal
The Messenger - Alessandro Camon; Oren Moverman
A Serious Man - Joel Coen; Ethan Coen
Up - Bob Peterson; Pete Docter; Thomas McCarthy

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
District 9 - Neill Blomkamp; Terri Tatchell
An Education - Nick Hornby
In the Loop - Jesse Armstrong; Simon Blackwell; Armando Iannucci; Tony Roche
Precious - Geoffrey Fletcher
Up in the Air- Jason Reitman; Sheldon Turner

Best Achievement in Cinematography:
Avatar - Mauro Fiore
Das weisse Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte - Christian Berger
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - Bruno Delbonnel
Inglourious Basterds - Robert Richardson
The Hurt Locker - Barry Ackroyd

Best Achievement in Art Direction:
Avatar - Rick Carter (art director); Robert Stromberg (art director); Kim Sinclair (set decorator)
Nine - John Myhre (art director); Gordon Sim (set decorator)
Sherlock Holmes - Sarah Greenwood (art director); Katie Spencer (set decorator)
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus - David Warren (art director); Anastasia Masaro (art director); Caroline Smith (set decorator)
The Young Victoria - Patrice Vermette (art director); Maggie Gray (set decorator)

Best Achievement in Costume Design:
Bright Star - Janet Patterson
Coco avant Chanel - Catherine Leterrier
Nine - Colleen Atwood
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus - Monique Prudhomme
The Young Victoria - Sandy Powell

Best Achievement in Sound:
Avatar - Christopher Boyes; Gary Summers; Andy Nelson; Tony Johnson
Inglourious Basterds - Michael Minkler; Tony Lamberti; Mark Ulano
Star Trek - Anna Behlmer; Andy Nelson; Peter J. Devlin
The Hurt Locker - Paul N.J. Ottosson; Ray Beckett
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - Greg P. Russell; Gary Summers; Geoffrey Patterson

Best Achievement in Editing:
Avatar - Stephen E. Rivkin; John Refoua; James Cameron
District 9 - Julian Clarke
Inglourious Basterds - Sally Menke
Precious - Joe Klotz
The Hurt Locker - Bob Murawski; Chris Innis

Best Achievement in Sound Editing:
Avatar - Christopher Boyes; Gwendolyn Yates Whittle
Inglourious Basterds - Wylie Stateman
Star Trek- Mark P. Stoeckinger; Alan Rankin
The Hurt Locker - Paul N.J. Ottosson
Up - Michael Silvers; Tom Myers

Best Achievement in Visual Effects:
Avatar - Joe Letteri; Stephen Rosenbaum; Richard Baneham; Andy Jones
District 9 - Dan Kaufman; Peter Muyzers; Robert Habros; Matt Aitken
Star Trek - Roger Guyett; Russell Earl; Paul Kavanagh; Burt Dalton

Best Achievement in Makeup:
Il divo - Aldo Signoretti; Vittorio Sodano
Star Trek - Barney Burman; Mindy Hall; Joel Harlow
The Young Victoria - John Henry Gordon; Jenny Shircore

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song:
Crazy Heart - Ryan Bingham; T-Bone Burnett
- For the song "The Weary Kind"
Faubourg 36 - Reinhardt Wagner (music); Frank Thomas (lyrics)
- For the song "Loin de Paname"
Nine - Maury Yeston
- For the song "Take It All"
The Princess and the Frog - Randy Newman
- For the song "Almost There"
The Princess and the Frog - Randy Newman
- For the song "Down in New Orleans"

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score:
Avatar - James Horner
Fantastic Mr. Fox - Alexandre Desplat
Sherlock Holmes - Hans Zimmer
The Hurt Locker - Marco Beltrami; Buck Sanders
Up - Michael Giacchino

Best Short Film, Animated:
French Roast - Fabrice Joubert
Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty - Nicky Phelan; Darragh O'Connell
La dama y la muerte - Javier Recio Gracia
Logorama - Nicolas Schmerkin
Wallace and Gromit in 'A Matter of Loaf and Death' - Nick Park

Best Short Film, Live Action:
Istället för abrakadabra - Patrik Eklund; Mathias Fjällström
Kavi - Gregg Helvey
Miracle Fish - Luke Doolan; Drew Bailey
The Door - Juanita Wilson; James Flynn
The New Tenants - Joachim Back; Tivi Magnusson

Best Documentary, Short Subjects:
China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province - Jon Alpert; Matthew O'Neill
Królik po berlinsku - Bartosz Konopka; Anna Wydra
Music by Prudence - Roger Ross Williams; Elinor Burkett
The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner - Daniel Junge; Henry Ansbacher
The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant - Steven Bognar; Julia Reichert

Best Documentary, Features:
Burma VJ: Reporter i et lukket land - Anders Østergaard; Lise Lense-Møller
Food, Inc. - Robert Kenner; Elise Pearlstein
The Cove - "tbd"
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers - Judith Ehrlich; Rick Goldsmith
Which Way Home - Rebecca Cammisa

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year:
Ajami - Israel
Das weisse Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte - Germany
El secreto de sus ojos - Argentina.
La teta asustada - Peru
Un prophète - France

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year:
Coraline - Henry Selick
Fantastic Mr. Fox - Wes Anderson
The Princess and the Frog - John Musker; Ron Clements
The Secret of Kells - Tomm Moore
Up - Pete Docter

Monday, February 1, 2010

"Finian's Rainbow" Revival on CD

When it comes to Broadway cast albums I almost always have a tendency for the original Broadway cast; they are usually definitive, including those made in the aural ice age of the 78 rpm platters or the dawn of the LP in the 1940s. Stereo came into play in 1956, Goddard Lieberson at Columbia was the champion of the original cast recording.

As the art form of the American musical has evolved, the technology with which music is recorded - and played on - has changed precipitously. Time constraints, technological limitations are no longer an issue. When there is money for an album, there is now room for dialogue, bonus material and occasionally a DVD companion. The problem is in the market - the original cast album has gone from one of the most lucrative areas of the music industry in the 1950s and 60s to a niche market. Pirating makes matters even worse. However, the producers take an extra special care in making sure the album released is the best it can be.

That said, I tend to prefer the contemporary recordings of new musicals as opposed to revivals. Perhaps its my ear lacking adjustment or just my personal preference, but in spite of all the great technological advancements, many of the older shows being re-recorded tend to lack the energy that makes the show work in the theatre, or the original cast album come to life in your room. So many of the new revivals sound as though they were recorded in a small studio, whereas the originals contain palpable theatre performance preserved for the ages. Revivals such as South Pacific, Gypsy and Hair were stunners onstage, but their respective albums fail to capture the magic. However, there are many older recordings that do capture that magic, in particular those Columbia albums of the 50s and 60s.

So while I vary my listening - I can have up to as many as 10 recordings of a particular score (and I do make it a point to listen to each to listen for variations in performance, orchestration, relevance, etc) I do find myself preferring to go back to the originals. However, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Finian's Rainbow is one of those exceptions. I've never particularly cared for the 1947 original cast album released by Columbia (it was their second theatre recording; the first was the previous year's revival of Show Boat). It preserves David Wayne's Tony-winning performance as Og, but I'm perpetually bothered by the mannerisms of star Ella Logan. I don't know if she found it charming, or was trying (in vain) to mask her Scottish accent, but her consonant heavy crooning gets on my nerves. A 1960 revival album is better, but lacks star power with the exception of contralto Carol Brice's rendition of "Necessity." Then there's the film adaptation, a bloated anachronism from 1968 that fizzles on impact. A 2004 off-Broadway revival at the Irish Rep also received a delightful recording, but that featured that production's spare 2 piano reduction.

It was the recent Encores! and Broadway revival that really introduced me to the many joys of its classic whimsy. This dated, "unrevivable" mix of satire and fantasy was suddenly back in fashion, a resounding production that led to its latest cast album, a stunning effort from PS Classics. The new disc is one of the most complete recordings of the score, featuring the glorious original orchestration under the baton of musical director Rob Berman. Everything sparkles from the first notes of "Glocca Mora" in the overture to its bittersweet finale. The overture is presented in its entirety, as well as the entr'acte. Recorded here for the first time is the second act "Dance of the Golden Crock" with its haunting harmonica accompaniment provided by Guy Davis. It's noteworthy to hear "If This Isn't Love" in its entirety, dance break and all. It was a showstopper in the theatre, and remains so on disc.

I've already exhausted many superlatives on this musical production, which should still be running. Despite some reservations with the book, the ebullient cast and creative team created one of the most beguiling revivals of the year, with stellar performances and the perfect mix of satire and sentiment. I expected the show to receive good notices, but I didn't anticipate that its old fashioned charm would bring it the best notices of any show to open this season (to date).

Kate Baldwin and Cheyenne Jackson sparkle. She is entrancing from her first note in "How Are Things in Glocca Mora?" Nothing will ever erase the memory of hearing her sing this song for the first time, in the most bewitching deliveries of the ballad I've heard. Every element of her performance is captured here: her flirtatiousness, her feistiness and her unique charm. Jackson's performance comes across better on disc than it did in the theatre. If Woody seemed a bit stiff onstage, his baritenor is perfect for crooning the period score. The chemistry between the two of them here is palpable (particularly on the standard "Old Devil Moon").

Jim Norton supplies his gruff but lovable Finian, getting to do more singing than most prior actors in the role. Christopher Fitzgerald chews it up as the impish leprechaun Og, who score major points with the eleven o'clocker "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love." Terri White's "Necessity" would bring down the house in the St. James, Carnegie Hall or Giants' Stadium. Her contralto reverberates like thunder on the horizon - and rightly stopped the show at every performance. Chuck Cooper leads the second quartet "The Begat" with charm and gusto.

For those who are still lamenting its premature closing, much like myself, the recording recalls many fond memories. Those who missed it will get a feel for the treasure they missed. The resulting product is in my estimation the definitive cast recording of Finian's Rainbow and one that I plan on revisiting time and again.