Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Karen Morrow sings "I Had a Ball"

"She'll sing the hell out of it."

That, my friends, is Jerry Herman's ringing endorsement for the one and only Karen Morrow, who possesses one of the best belt voices I have ever heard. Morrow got her start in the early 60s with a Theatre World Award for the off-Broadway musical Sing Muse! and several shows at the City Center. Following a tour in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, she found further off-Broadway success in a hit revival of The Boys from Syracuse.

However, Morrow is another great voice cursed by a series of Broadway flops. She made her Main Stem debut in I Had a Ball playing the brassy belter opposite star Buddy Hackett (who thankfully kept his singing to a minimum and is the reason the show closed - check out Not Since Carrie or the original cast recording for details). The plot is convoluted nonsense about romance on Coney Island (gee, where have I heard that recently...?) and gave Morrow the eleven o'clock showstopper: the title song.

The first time I ever listened to the cast album, nothing really grabbed my attention. That is, until I this song popped on. I stopped what I was doing and proceeded to repeat this one song 13 times. It is, without a doubt, one of the most unabashedly joyous pieces of musical theatre ever written. The cast album features only a portion of the dance break, a bit of belly-dance music but it features one of the most brassily orgasmic transitions back into singing. A treat from start to finish.

If Karen Morrow is on the album, I have it. I'm especially grateful that "The Babylove Miracle Show," the absurdly infectious faith healer song cycle from The Grass Harp is recorded in its entirety. Morrow basically entered and sang for 15 minutes non-stop, getting the likes of Barbara Cook, Carol Brice and Russ Thacker to speak in tongues (and "Time to hang the moulah on the washline") - but that's another post for another day.

After I Had a Ball, Morrow was featured in A Joyful Noise in 1966 opposite John Raitt and Susan Watson. This show folded after a mere 12 performances and no cast album, even though Morrow tore things up with "I Love Nashville." I'm Solomon in 1968 which ran for 7 performances (and both played the Mark Hellinger Theatre). The Selling of the President ran even shorter: 5 performances at the Shubert in 1972, a musical in which Morrow didn't sing a single note - which I like to think is one of the main reasons it failed. (During her opening night curtain call, a gentleman near the stage called out, "You should have sang, honey!") Her final Broadway appearance to date was much happier: she replaced Cleo Laine as the Princess Puffer in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

In spite of those flops, Morrow's never wanted for work: performing in concerts, with symphonies around the country, numerous TV appearances (especially Merv Griffin, who adored her) - and she's even won an Emmy. She's one of Jerry Herman's favorites, and whenever there is a concert in his behalf you can count on her being there. She also toured as Parthy in Hal Prince's Show Boat and was involved with White Christmas: the Musical, and is featured on that original cast album.

Anyway, here is Karen Morrow with the dancing company of I Had a Ball. The choreography is by Onna White. Also, take note of what Buddy Hackett does during the song's big finish.

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