Theater Shelf: Sheldon Harnick, Melissa Errico, Jekyll & Hyde & Jekeyll & Hyde & Jekyll &….

comtrag2lgTheater Shelf, a recurring feature, reviews recently-released books, CDs and DVDs of interest to theater lovers. Some are popular titles like a new Original Cast Recording, others are works you’ll be intrigued by, but didn’t even know about.

By Brad Hathaway

Sheldon Harnick: Hidden Treasures, 1949-2013 (CD)

One storyline in the history of the evolution of what we now know as “a musical” has been the progression of lyric writing from light verse to less rigid but often more potent forms of poetry.

Those of us who love the genre feel a great appreciation and respect for the works of W. S. Gilbert, P. G. Wodehouse, Ira Gershwin and Larry Hart on up through the best of today’s practicing wordsmiths.

But there is one man who seems to have travelled that evolutionary path in a single career: Sheldon Harnick. A new, two-disc set from Harbinger Records’ Musical Theater Project reveals that evolutionary trek in one fascinating package.

In the process, it presents and preserves some previously unknown gems written with legendary composers including not just Jerry Bock, his long-time partner with whom he wrote Fiorello!, She Loves Me and, of course, Fiddler on the Roof, but Richard Rodgers, with whom he wrote Rex, and Michel LeGrand who composed the music for his version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

These gems have been gathered from Mr. Harnick’s personal collection. Mostly, they are “demos” made to demonstrate a song or a full score for potential producers or investors, or to give creative colleagues something to listen to — to understand how Harnick and his composing partner see a particular song working.

Harbinger did a great job two years ago doing a similar project with the “hidden treasures” of Hugh Martin, and now they match that with these 52 recordings of Harnick’s.

The audio quality of almost all of the recordings is amazing, having been cleaned up to a crisp clarity that brings Harnick and his colleagues into the room with you. Obviously, however, restoration engineer Alan Silverman struggled mightily with one track, “Every Man For Himself,” which had more noise than the others. He wasn’t completely successful, but since the song was part of the score for The Body Beautiful, which wasn’t preserved with a cast album, it is good they included it along with four other songs from that almost lost score.

The album starts, however, not with songs from Broadway book shows, but with songs Harnick wrote for comic revues and cabaret shows which called for the kind of light verse set to music that has flavored the genre from the days of Gilbert and Sullivan.

With their emphasis on word craft and playful rhyme elaborating on a single point, these bright bon mots demonstrate the wit, charm and extraordinary felicity of the youthful Harnick.

Best known of the bunch is his “Merry Little Minuet,” which many recognize as “They Are Rioting in Africa (whistle, whistle, whistle,)” but there are the “Ballad of the Shape of Things” which is a lyric show-off piece on geometric shapes (round, rectangle, triangle, etc.) and a treat about “Garbage” as well as a six-year old’s rumination on her favorite “ism,” the prism.

From that solid base of lightness it is fascinating to watch Harnick’s abilities accommodate increasingly heavyweight topics within the confines of the needs of a particular moment or scene in a full book musical.

Not all these songs made it into the final product. His lyric for “Summer Is” in The Body Beautiful is as evocative as you could possibly want, but it got cut because it gwasn’t completely appropriate for the people who were supposed to be singing it in that story about the world of boxing. Would a bunch of pugilists be likely to sing that “Winter is gloves and homburg / Winter is cold cement / Summer is Sigmund Romberg / In a music tent / Pleasure bent”? No, but the stanza is a charmer.

There is a great number that didn’t quite make it into Bock and Harnick’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Fiorello! but which delight nonetheless. “‘Til the Bootlegger Comes” plays with home-made hooch concoctions.

From Tenderloin, Harnick demonstrates his ability to get inside the mind of the characters in his plays by resurrecting from his library a demo of “I Wonder What It’s Like” in which the strictly Presbyterian unmarried church ladies who objected to the immoralities of New York’s red-light district take a moment to “Wonder What It’s Like” to be with a man.

The story of how Jerome Robbins identified the real theme of Fiddler on the Roof as a play about changing traditions is well known in theater circles. Less well known is that the show was originally going to open with a rousing number “We’ve Never Missed a Sabbath Yet” for Tevye’s wife and daughters followed by Tevye arguing not so much with God as with his horse in “What a Life.” Both are here, along with a song for the butcher Lazar Wolf (“A Butcher’s Soul”) and one celebrating the arrival of “Letters From America” from which Bock and Harnick salvaged the portion about “Anatevka.”

Not all of the songs found on this set have been rescued from complete obscurity. “Dear, Sweet Sewing Machine” and “When Messiah Comes” from Fiddler as well as “Where Do I Go From Here?” from Fiorello! are on Bruce Kimmel’s Lost in Boston series and “Christmas Eve” is on his A Broadway Christmas compilation.

Previously unheard songs abound however.

There are three new recordings made specifically for this project of songs from the Tudor musical Rex that Harnick did with Richard Rodgers, one of the musicals Rodgers wrote after the death of Oscar Hammerstein II. Two are their premiere recordings: “I Brought You A Gift” which King Henry VIII was to sing to the body of his third wife, Jane Seymour as she lay in state and “The Pears of Anjou” in which Henry laments that he himself was to die before fruit could be expected from newly-planted pear trees.

Not all the tracks are sung by Harnick and his composers. There are tracks by Charlotte Rae and Betty Garrett from early in Harnick’s career and two from much more recent efforts: Brian d’Arcy James demonstrating “Wine, Wine, Wine” which was to be in a musical based on Moliére’s The Doctor in Spite of Himself, and Audra McDonald singing “You Made My Day” which was written for a project of Marlo Thomas’.

With 52 tracks on two discs, this package is something of an immersion course in Harnick’s work – a rich feast indeed.

As such, it is best taken in something other than a single evening. Sample a portion and take a break – perhaps take time to listen to the full score of the shows for which some of these songs were written. After hearing these recordings of “That’s How Much I Missed You” and “In My Own Lifetime” from The Rothchilds I just had to put on the Original Broadway Cast recording.

The riches here are sweet enough to overwhelm the taste buds if gobbled down in one sitting. It took the man half a century to create these marvels. If you can take time to relish the details you will find individual lines and couplets that deserve multiple uses of the pause and repeat buttons on your disc player. This is the best way to savor delights like “No matter how badly or goodly it’s done / The doing and trying can be great fun” or the marvelous string of double meanings for “collected,” “incinerations” and “beyond the pale” in reference to “Garbage.”

Enjoy.

—-
Sheldon Harnick: Hidden Treasures, 1949-2013
Harbinger Records catalog HCD3002
Running time 1:44 over 52 tracks on two discs
Booklet includes Mr. Harnick’s notes regarding each song
ASIN: B00K1BFRGK

Melissa Errico: Legrand Affair (CD)

A Theatre Shelf reader, in a comment to the column on Kate Baldwin’s album of songs by Sheldon Harnick, said she really liked collections devoted to one composer or lyricist. I resolved to include more of them in future columns I got the opportunity when Ghostlight Records released a delicious collection of Michel Legrand songs sung by Melissa Errico backed by a 100-member orchestra playing new orchestrations by M. Legrand.

The more you know about a lovely piece of work the more you can appreciate it. That is one reason why the text in a CD’s booklet is so important to those who want to delve into a recording, not just listen to it.

This new album could well have come with a 48- page book with lyrics, details on the recording process, explanations of the orchestrations and the process by which it all came together. Instead, its paltry 12-page booklet wastes half its surface on snapshots and art photos, the relevance of which goes unexplained.

This is a pity both because the music on the disc is beautiful beyond measure and because the story of how this compilation took six years to get into the stores is worth the telling. It is only hinted at in Ms. Errico’s two-page “musing” about the time she and M. Legrand spent trying to plan an album of his work. She tells you that was in February of 2005. Then M. Legrand went off to write the orchestrations for the songs they had chosen. So how come the result is only now getting into our hands?

Apparently it wasn’t M. Legrand’s fault. His orchestrations were ready in time for the orchestra tracks to be recorded under his direction in July, 2005 in Leuven, Belgium. That was so long ago that the orchestra’s name wasn’t even the same as it is today. Then it was the Flemish Radio Orchestra, a 100-member symphonic orchestra. Now it is The Brussels Philharmonic.

The vocal recording for “Once Upon a Summertime” was done in New York in September of 2005 but the rest of the vocal tracks were laid down in New Jersey in 2009.

Why the four-year delay between recording the orchestra and the vocals? Apparently, it wasn’t just the result of the busy schedules these successful people had. It was, instead, the arrival of three children into the family of Ms. Errico and her husband, former tennis star Patrick McEnroe.

Pregnancy, labor, delivery and parenting prevented the completion of the project but the results were worth waiting for. There is a compatibility of sensibility between vocalist and composer/orchestrator/conductor that permeates the entire 16 song disc.

It seems that Ms. Errico and M. Legrand formed a friendship in 2002 when she starred in the only full musical by the French composer to reach Broadway, the rather unorthodox Amour for which he was nominated for the Best Score Tony and she a Best Actress in a Musical Tony. While the show ran only two weeks, it remains strong in the minds of those fortunate enough to have seen it. I, for one, cherish the memory of hearing Ms. Errico sing “Other People’s Stories” on the night I attended and I was so very pleased when Ghostlight records released an Original Broadway Cast recording (ASIN: B0000A1HSI).

This new album starts out as something of a survey of Legrand’s greatest movie songs. Songs from 1964’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, 1968’s The Thomas Crown Affair, 1970’s Wuthering Heights and 1971’s Summer of ’42 wash over you from speakers or earphones with a familiarity built of decades of familiarity, but with such tender affection they feel more whispered into your ear without mechanical assistance.

Part of the reason for this unaccountable effect is Errico’s hushed tones as if she combines an awe at the creations of the composer and a deep love of whomever she is singing to. Of course, it helps that, when I’m the one listening on speakers or earphones, she has an audience that has been under her spell for at least 15 years. That was when I saw her, as lamentably miscast as she was, charm the heck out of the audience at a poorly conceived Broadway mounting of Cole Porter’s High Society.

The flood of lush movie songs is followed by a new Legrand piece with lyrics by long-time Legrand collaborators Alan and Marilyn Bergman titled “In Another Life.” They compiled a chain of poetic similes describing the alternative environment in which a love affair might have a different ending.

Sample lyric:

“In another life / on a different shore / in another room / with a different door.
In another place / in a distant part / with the different beat / of another heart.
In another time / when our eyes are dry / in another life / there’d be no goodbye.”

Legrand has devised a sliding repetition that climbs to a crescendo as his orchestration trickles down like the collected droplets on a misty window. Errico’s singing is so tender and so lovely, one just has to hope someone makes a romantic movie for which it could serve as the appropriate theme song.

Not all the lyrics on this album are by the Bergmans. Johnny Mercer’s wonderful “Once Upon a Summertime” is probably the best of the others but there’s also Norman Gimbel’s setting of Legrand’s theme for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, “I Will Wait For You.”

Whoever wrote the words – in English or in French as on the tracks “Dis Moi” and “Celui-La” – it is the music here that is most enchanting. In Errico’s hushed intimacy and LeGrand’s soft orchestral sweep, this is a lovely album.
—-

Legrand Affair: The Songs of Michel Legrand
Melissa Errico
Ghostlight Records 8-3336
66 minutes over 15 tracks
List Price $14.99
ASIN: B005JRM700

Nothing Like a Dame, by Eddie Shapiro (Book)

Who is this Eddie Shapiro? How did he get to spend all this quality time with 20 (or 21 – more on this later) Tony Award winning leading ladies of Broadway fame including the likes of Chita Rivera, Angela Lansbury, Carol Channing and Elaine Stritch (to name four in their 80s or 90s) or Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Sutton Foster and Laura Benanti (who are much younger)?

Here’s a guy who got to spend Thanksgiving with Elaine Stritch, was invited out to Patti Lupone’s beach house, and was served tea by Angela Lansbury.

Of course, it helped that he had a contract with Oxford University Press to prepare a book of interviews with these divas. I doubt if anyone could just call up these women and say “I’d love to come by and discuss your career with you.” Shapiro had to go through agents and managers and personal assistants to set up these sessions so he needed some credentials.

Credentials he had. He’d been published in a number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender magazines, wrote a book which was a gay guide to the Disney theme parks, and co-authored The Actors Encyclopedia of Casting Directors.

He’d already done interviews of actors like Alan Cumming, Nathan Lane and Ben Vereen as well as actresses such as Stockard Channing and Gwen Verdon and the uncategorizable Dame Edna. There had been interviews of writers as well (Jon Robin Baitz, Terrence McNally).

He’d begun to build a reputation for interviews that had more substance and less fluff than many of his peers. Perhaps that is why Oxford University Press was willing to give him the “go” for a book of deeper interviews with a select group of the biggest stars under the oh-so-Broadway-ish title Nothing Like a Dame.

He established some criteria for which actresses he’d try to interview. He wanted women who had “devoted the majority of their careers to the theater” not those who emerged on Broadway but moved on (such as Barbra Streisand) or who came to the Great White Way as an additional stop in a mass media career. He limited the list of actresses he’d ask to interview to those whose names “are likely to be above the title in their next show” and who had at least one Tony Award.

He then spent nearly five years requesting (or pleading for?) appointments, conducting the interviews and sometimes following up with a second interview, preparing edited transcripts and running these drafts by the women themselves to make sure that they stood by what he thought he had heard.

And what he had heard was fascinating!

Laura Benanti, who went in for Rebecca Luker as Maria in The Sound of Music at the age of 18 tells of how she had sleep overs at her house with the kids playing the kids – “We would do Easter egg hunts. We’d call it ‘Easter every day.'”

Betty Buckley reveals that when she “blew” the audition to appear in Promises, Promises, an inner voice told her to go talk to the show’s stage manager and beg him to coach her on the song for the audition and to let her come to the call back – she got the part.

Judy Kaye tells that Ragtime’s producer Garth Drabinsky called personally to ask her to read the role of Emma Goldman saying “he wouldn’t have a casting person call.” On the other hand, she related the time she asked Andrew Lloyd Webber about doing the role of the girl in his Aspects of Love only to be told “She’s got to go from 15 to 55.” When she pointed out that she had gone from seventeen to eighty in I Do! I Do!” he replied “Oh, yes, yes, of course … but she does have to be a great beauty.” Ouch.

The interview with Angela Lansbury is filled with Broadway stories of note but it is her story of telling Howard Ashman and Alan Menken that the song they wanted her to sing in Disney’s movie Beauty and the Beast was not “quite my style” that jumps off the page. “They said ‘we don’t mind, you do it the way you’d like to do it if you were playing this tea pot.” She made a demo for them the way she’d sing it and “that’s how that came about.”

Donna McKechnie’s comments on the duty performers have to the audience: “The art of our work is that you re-create an opening night every night of the week. It goes right to the hard-earned money of the audience. Even when tickets were only $10 apiece, it’s still their hard-earned money. For me, the great challenge was to re-create that experience every night because it’s an opening night for that audience.”

Chita Rivera’s legendary positive attitude toward life and the stage comes through. She also details her habit of standing in the wings to watch with every spare moment she had for all of her shows. “That’s how I learned” she says.

In all, there are 20 interviews in the printed book but the table of contents lists a 21st with a website address where you can call it up on your computer. That one is of Tonya Pinkins, whose Tony Award was for her performance in the title role in Caroline, or Change. Exactly why it is missing from the book or why it is available on line is unexplained.

You can read that one here oup.com/us/nothinglikeadame, which will give you not just a chance to get to know Ms. Pinkins but a feel for what the entire collection is like. But beware. It is the most negative of all the interviews and Shapiro seems to have been off his stride a bit, neglecting to probe deeply enough to clear up such mysteries as just what happened to Ms. Pinkins’ Tony Award which she says she doesn’t have. Somehow “it’s a long story” isn’t a sufficient answer.

In his introduction, Shapiro says he hoped the reader would “feel like a fly on the wall, experiencing these chats as they unfolded.” In that he succeeded.

Perhaps it is because of the enthusiasm he brings to each interview and to the research he did prior to each one. He doesn’t ask dumb questions, nor does he ask questions these women have had to answer dozens, hundreds or thousands of times over the course of careers where press interviews and “meet and greets” are part of the game. For example, when Laura Benanti said that as a girl of four she was obsessed with Snow White and would fall to the floor anytime she bit into an apple, Shapiro asked what I doubt anyone had asked her before: “Would you lie there and wait to be kissed?”

Mostly, however, he plumbs the depths of their memories of highs and lows in careers that by the very nature of show business had to have many of both. They provide a view into the peaks and valleys of Broadway as well.

I’m glad I was a fly on his wall – and I think you will be too.


Nothing Like a Dame:
Conversations with the Great Women of Musical Theater
by Eddie Shapiro
384 pages with 65 black and white photos
ISBN 978-0-19-994120-9
List price $39.95

Jekyll & Hyde – 2012 Recording (CD)

Another Jekyll & Hyde? Yes. There was a new production of Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse’s gothic musical thriller in 2012 on a national tour route that landed very briefly on Broadway. There was also a new recording of the score.

While the stars of the tour and of the recording were the same – Tony Award nominee (Rock of Ages) Constantine Maroulis as the good doctor and his evil alter ego, Deborah Cox as the prostitute who turns to the doctor for protection from the monster, and Teal Wicks as the doctor’s supportive betrothed – the new disc is not, strictly speaking, a recording of the tour production.

For one thing, the supporting cast members used for the two songs that appear on the recording that require other singers are not the same. Instead of Richard White in the role of the doctor’s good friend and attorney and Laird Mackintosh as the bride-to-be’s father, the song “His Work and Nothing More” finds their parts sung by Corey Brunish and Tom Hewitt. “The Girls of the Night” has the voices of Shannon Magrane and Carly Robyn Green, neither of whom are on tour with the show.

Another, significant difference is the sound of the orchestra. The show is traveling with four musicians (two on keyboard plus a guitar and a percussionist) who are joined by seven local musicians for a total of eleven players. These include a woodwind player who handles a flute, an alto flute, a clarinet, a bass clarinet and an oboe. In San Diego, where the tour had its official opening, Jay Mason was the multi-capable player who earned the extra pay that comes with extra instruments.

The recording’s orchestra totals twelve with an extra guitar and two brass players (a trumpet and a trombone) but no woodwind player.

Both have arrangements by Jason Howland, but while he also orchestrated the charts for the recording, the show’s charts are by Kim Scharnberg who handled orchestration duties for the 1990 concept album staring Colm Wilkinson and Linda Eder, the 1994 recording of the score with Anthony Warlow, Linda Eder and Carolee Carmello and the 1997 original Broadway production staring Robert Cuccioli, Linda Eder and Christiane Noll.

It is interesting to note the forces available for each of these iterations. In 1990, Scharnberg was writing for (and conducting) as many as 43 string players, five woodwinds and six brass plus harp, keyboard, guitar and percussion. By 1994 it was 21 strings with 16 woodwinds and 11 brass plus percussion. When they reached Broadway they could only use 14 players because there was no room in the Plymouth Theatre for an orchestra pit. They had to place the orchestra on a platform built into the wings as part of the set’s structure.

The difference in sound isn’t simply a function of the number of musicians or the choice of instruments. The balance in the recording is superior to the balance in the theater where the instrumental forces are amplified to the same level as the vocals rather than sitting under them as support. It isn’t a matter of volume, although as is the case in many modern musical productions, the theater does reverberate with high decibel counts. No, it is the balance between vocal and orchestral sound. On the disc, you can appreciate the mix of elements much better than in person.

The disc also allows you to explore portions of the score without some of the damaging distractions in that revival which was something of an unfocused jumble. The set by Tobin Ost with projections by Daniel Brodie established a certain “goth” feel for the production, and had moments of memorable images, but few of the settings or effects helped establish location or tell the story. The dark London dive in which the prostitute works was made to look a bit silly with strings running from platform to chairs in a web reference to her pimp’s name, “Spider” (ably played on stage by David Benoit who doubled deliciously as the corrupt Bishop of Basingstoke). The good doctor’s laboratory was laughably un-scientific and un-functional with bubbling vials that have to be cranked up in order to let their contents flow via gravity into the test subject’s body through tubing that looks like it was snatched from a host of Bunsen burners.

The projections which climax with the “Confrontation” between Jekyll and Hyde tended to draw attention away from the narrative at a crucial moment. On stage, Maroulis sang the Jekyll part of the duet live against his own pre-recorded video of Hyde as “a face in the mirror.” On disc, you can concentrate on his impressive performance without the distraction of videos and projected explosions.

On the other hand, the distinction that Maroulis managed to create between the persona of Dr. Jekyll, a self-controlled and self-contained, buttoned up doctor more comfortable with chemicals than with people, and Mr. Hyde, an unleashed and unrestrained evil force, was dependent on his body language which, of course, is missing from the audio disc. It is a tradeoff, but the audio wins over the live performance in this regard because of the distractions obscuring his vocals in the theater.

Deborah Cox, a pop/R&B recording artist of note, has some stage experience. She starred on Broadway in Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida as a replacement for Heather Hadley in the title role for six months back in 2004. Then her acting seemed acceptable but rather mechanical. Here she seemed somewhat less comfortable on stage, with some difficulty figuring out how to let her arms stay at her side when her rock-star instinct is to raise hands to the sky as if leading the orchestra from the stage. Teal’s crystalline voice is a good fit for the role of Jekyll’s bride-to-be. Cox and Teal’s duet on “In His Eyes” is, as it was in previous productions, a major thrill.

The recording is of highlights of the score, not the full work. Missing are the big multiple character numbers such as “Facade” which on stage is sung by the members of the Board of Governors of St. Jude’s Hospital and their servants who are dressing them, “The Board of Governors” when they reject Jekyll’s proposition to test his formulas on a human subject, and the second act opener, “Murder,” which has undergone the most involved rewrite from earlier versions. Also missing is Jekyll’s “Transformation” and a number of reprises.

There’s one lovely song on the disc, “No One Knows Who I Am,” which was cut from the show on stage, and the stage duet between Jekyll and his friend, “The Way Back,” is recorded here as a solo for Jekyll.

Jekyll & Hyde has become one of the more often recorded scores in the cannon of Broadway musicals. It may not match My Fair Lady (the cast album data base – CastAlbumDB.Com – shows 48 versions of that score) or Show Boat (32 versions), but there are more recordings of this score than of most recent Broadway musicals. This is the 15h recording that I’m aware of, which does not include the two karaoke albums, the jazz cover album or the DVD of the Broadway production starring David Hasselhoff. The score has been recorded in German, Spanish, Hungarian, Swedish, Dutch, Austrian, Czech, Japanese and Korean.

My own favorite remains the 1994 two-disc concept album with a robust Anthony Warlow, the phenomenal Linda Eder and multi-talented Carolee Carmello on Atlantic. Those looking for a bit more of a raw rock influence might enjoy the 2006 single disc Jekyll & Hyde Resurrection on the Global Vision label which finally gave us Rob Evan’s strong performance backed by a hot-lick-guitar-led band using new arrangements by Jeremy Roberts.

The new recording is a satisfying sampling of the score for those who don’t yet know it. It is also a fine souvenir for those who see the touring production and want a keepsake. It doesn’t work as well the other way around, however. If you hear the album first and then attend the touring production, you may well find the experience in the theater a frustrating disappointment.

Major Jekyll & Hyde Recordings

Original Concept Album (1990)
RCA Victor Catalog 60416-2-RC
ASIN: B000003F05

Complete Work Concept Album (1994)
Atlantic Records Catalog 82723-2
ASIN: B000002J3K

Original Broadway Cast Recording (1997)
Atlantic Records Catalog 82976-2
ASIN: B000002JC2

Jekyll & Hyde Resurrection
Koch Records/Global Vision Catalog KOC-CD-5902
ASIN: B000EGDNE0

2012 Concept Recording
Broadway Records Catalog BR-DIG00512
ASIN: B008K8G530

 

 

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